The Contra Costa County History Center, which has been happily located at 610 Main St. in Martinez for close to 13 years, is moving.

Even though the new digs will be only a couple of blocks away, at 724 Escobar St., the moving job will be monumental.

There are thousands of Superior Court documents dating back to the beginning of the county in 1850. There are more than 13,500 priceless old photographs. The Louis Stein collection, which started the center's archives, totals more than 40,000 documents. There are history books, ledgers, maps and old newspapers.

And then there is the Sheriff Richard Veale collection. Veale, the county's sheriff for 40 years, never threw a piece of paper away. The collection includes even his black derby hat.

This move was made necessary because of finances. Since 1979 Contra Costa County has provided space for the center, first in an empty school in Pleasant Hill and then in Martinez. But this past July the county changed its support and now provides a stipend; the Contra Costa Historical Society (www.cocohistory.com), which runs the center, has to pay the rent and utilities.

The landlord raised the rent at 610 Main St., and the historical society found itself short. So the search was on to find new quarters. Luckily 724 Escobar St., at one time the Sheriff's Office, came available.

If all goes according to plan, moving will start Jan. 2. The center will reopen Jan. 24.

Priscilla Couden, the center's executive director, says because the new location is only blocks away, some of the material can be wheeled over in carts.

The tough job will be figuring out how to distribute the archive. Though somewhat bigger, the building is cut up into a number of offices.

The Contra Costa County Historical Society began 62 years ago, when Justice A.F. Bray, chairman of the History and Landmarks Committee of the Contra Costa County Development Association, suggested organizing a permanent historical society.

Invitations were sent out to known local history buffs, and notices were put in local newspapers. The following April, at the first meeting, sponsored by the Development Association, 250 people showed up for dinner at Nick's Place. More than 130 people joined that evening as gold charter members.

The county Board of Supervisors gave the society official status as the Historical Society of Contra Costa County in 1979. With the acquisition of the huge Louis Stein collection, the county made available an old 29-by-31-foot classroom in an empty school on Oak Park Boulevard in Pleasant Hill.

In 1998 Peter L. Spinetta, presiding judge of the Superior Court, appointed the historical society as the court's archival facility for the safe storage and preservation of old court records.

When the Pleasant Hill school was no longer available, the center moved to Main Street in Martinez. In January it starts another chapter in its new home.

Days Gone By appears on Sundays. Contact Nilda Rego at nildarego@comcast.net.