Growth of County

Following the trail of the discoverers came the Franciscan fathers, building their missions in an unbroken chain, six hundred miles long, from San Diego to San Francisco-and passing through San Mateo County.

Gradually the region which later became this county, ceased to be an unknown land because of the proselytizing work of the priests among the Indian tribes, and it began to attract settlers. For many years the advent of the newcomers was imperceptible; but as time passed their numbers increased, while the population of the native tribes correspondingly decreased, and little settlements began to form throughout the country.

Among the earliest pioneers, attracted by the lumber industry, were those who established themselves in the Redwood City region. These first comers formed a loosely knit community consisting of a few settlers grouped around the end of Redwood Creek and a number of sturdy lumber jacks who built their cabins upon the foothills and eastern slopes of the San Morenas.

The first English speaking settlers in this locality were William Smith and James Peace. At a very early (late, Smith, who was known as “Bill the Sawyer,” had some sort of a primitive sawmill in the vicinity of what is now known as Woodside. He was the pioneer of the lumbermen who cut away all the magnificent redwood forest which covered this part of the valley.

Smith found a good market for his produce at the missions and the Spanish Presidio at Yerba Buena, later known as San Francisco. Oxen hauled the lumber in the heavy old caretas to the “Embarcadero” or Redwood Creek, as it was called later; and from here it was loaded on boats and then taken to the “Cove” at Yerba Buena.

Two mills were soon built in the county, one at San Francisquito Creek by Denis Martin and another on the Old Mountain Home Ranch by Charles Brown.

Other mills were erected in rapid succession, until, as. the eastern slopes of the San Morenas were gradually denuded of their timber, the mills were moved, one by one, toward the summit of the range, and then clown upon the western slopes.

In 1850 Dr. Tripp sent the first big shipment of lumber from these woods to San Francisco upon a raft constructed for this purpose. In 1853 there were fifteen mills in operation within five miles of Woodside. So great was the lumber industry at this period that one of the chroniclers of that day made special mention of it.

“Mills have been established along the canons, and the ocean and the bay are dotted with fleets bearing their manufactured products to market.”

The main cause of this great activity in the lumber business was the discovery of gold in California by Marshall at Sutter Creek in 1848. The astonishing activity that followed almost immediately in the mining regions, and the rapid growth of San Francisco, so stimulated the development of this region, that eight years later it became a county.

As San Mateo was a producing county with industries unallied to mining, it found a ready and lucrative market for its output right in San Francisco. Everything produced, commanded extraordinary prices. The lumbermen and millmen grew rich, as this industry, above all others immediately assumed colossal proportions. Mills by the hundreds were erected in the redwood forests in the neighborhood of Redwood City and on both the bay and coast sides of the San Morena Mountains. The milled product was sent directly by water from the nucleus of what later became Redwood City, to the waterfront of San Francisco. In fact the early city of San Francisco was built almost entirely from San Mateo County’s redwood timber.

So satisfying had been the growth of the county that in the spring of 1856 the Hon. Horace Hawes introduced in the State Senate a bill entitled: “An act to repeal the several charters of the City and County of San Francisco, and to consolidate the government thereof.” This became a law and received the governor’s approval on April 19, of the same year.

The boundaries of the new county were identical with those of the southern_ portion of the County of San Francisco, up to the present northerly line where the two counties were cut apart.

A year later, because of disturbing irregularities found in the consolidating act, Senator T. G. Phelps, a resident of San Mateo County, introduced- a bill to effect the proper organization of the county. It passed April 18, 1857, which date properly marks the legal organization of the county.

This act defined the southern boundary of the county, as running from a point in the middle of San Francisco Bay opposite the mouth of San Francisquito Creek; thence to and up the middle of said creek, following the middle of the south branch thereof to its source in the Santa Cruz Mountains; thence due west to the Pacific Ocean and three miles therein.

Another section of this Act provided that Redwood City should be and remain the county seat until otherwise provided by law.

Eleven years later this southern boundary was expanded southward and made to include ninety thousand acres or 140 square miles of additional territory. This was acquired from Santa Cruz County in March, 1868, by “An Act to fix and define the boundary line between the Counties of San Mateo and Santa Cruz.” This new territory included Pescadero and Pigeon Point.

During the early years following the consolidation of county government, the choice of the county seat wavered between three places, Belmont, Redwood City and San Mateo. By subdivision 3, section 9, of the Consolidation Act it was provided that “the seat of justice shall be at such place as may be determined by the qualified electors of the county.”

At the county’s first election held in -May, 1856 at which unblushing frauds were perpetrated on an unorganized and wholly unprotected community by thugs and ballot stuffers from San Francisco; Belmont was declared the county seat, and the government of the county was set up at that place. Almost immediately, the county court held at Belmont with judge Fox presiding, declared the May election illegal, and the archives of the government were removed from that place to Redwood City, where Diller’s store building became the temporary Court House.

On February 27, 1858, the county through the board of commissioners accepted the offer of Mr. S. M. Mezes, acting as agent for the Arguellos, owners of the Pulgas Grant, donating a block of land in Redwood City for the site of the court house and jail.

During this time the county seat advocates for other locations had not slumbered, and the question was brought to an issue in an election called for May 1861, which resulted in favor of Redwood City by a vote of six hundred and fifty-six against three hundred and sixty-four for San Mateo and one for Belmont.

Twelve years later another election was held, December 9, 1873, on this same subject, when money was spent freely and strenuous efforts made by the respective partisans of the rival towns. The election returns stood-seven hundred and three votes for Redwood City, and six hundred and ninety-three for San Mateo, thus leaving a majority still in favor of Redwood City.

Instead of being discouraged by defeat, San Mateo was stimulated to further efforts by this excellent showing and in five months succeeded in calling another election at which their city was returned the victor with an overwhelming majority of two hundred and sixty votes.

Because of the alleged irregularities connected with this election. its legality was contested in the Supreme Court. On February 24, 1875 this court decided in favor of Redwood City, which thenceforth has remained the county seat.

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