The very beginning of San Mateo may be traced back to the little wayside mission or hacienda on the banks of San Mateo Creek. The interest that still clings to the spot where this little building once stood, is that it was the first step toward the foundation of the present city.
As the route between the Mission Dolores and that at Santa Clara lay through the peninsula which was occupied only by Indians, many of whom had been brought under the benign influence of the Franciscan fathers, a small mission or station was established on the banks of San Mateo Creek on land later owned by W. D. M. ‘Howard, to guard in some measure against the possible hostile attacks of natives.
The hacienda was erected where the Camino Real spanned the San Mateo Creek. It stood on the north bank of the Creek and on the west side of the highway. Later a small chapel was erected near the hacienda where mass was said by the priests on their way between the missions Santa Clara and San Francisco. An adobe building was constructed, the substantial walls of which stood until the earthquake of 1868 when they were wrecked beyond repair. It was pulled down in 1870. Until that time the walls and the red tiled roof remained in a fair state of preservation. The tiles, nevertheless, were preserved and were given as a memorial by Wm. H. Howard to the town of Burlingame which utilized them in the construction of an artistic station on the Southern Pacific tracks where they still serve as a reminder of the early days of the county. Mr. Geo. H. Howard the architect designed this station.
San Mateo, like other peninsula towns, traces its origin to small beginnings. The delightful climate land natural beauties of the place magnified by the graceful sweep of oak-dotted meadows from the foothills to the bay, exerted a potent charm upon the wealthy pioneer in search of a country home; as well as on the penniless and frugal settler wishing to earn a livelihood in the new community.
The early settlers were typified by such men as John B. Cooper, the first man to settle on the site of San Mateo, W. D.M. Howard, who purchased the San Mateo Rancho in 1848, Nicholas DePeyster, who came in 1850, Dr. Post in 1851, David S. Cook, and David Haver in 1852. Other early settlers in this town were men like Henry Husing, the first merchant of the town, who began trade in 1859; followed by the merchant firm of Skidmore and Purcel. In 1861 Charles and William Remington became the first blacksmiths of the place.
As the lumber business was the first important industry at Redwood City, so was dairying at San Mateo. Where once grazed the herds affording the milk supply of the old Palace Hotel of San Francisco, now stand the cities of San Mateo and Burlingame. The old dairy house of the Sharon Estate still stands, its rough weatherworn sides and dilapidated roof forming a marked contrast to the spick and span residences of these modern cities and the palaces of the millionaire colony at Hillsborough.
The town grew steadily, and in 1863 a part of it was platted by Mr. C. B. Polhemus. Following the completion of the San Francisco and San Jose Railroad, which later became the Southern Pacific Railroad, San Mateo began to attract the attention of wealthy men as an ideal for the location of their palatial residences.
In 1865 Rev. Alfred Lee Brewer founded the Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew in San Mateo. The beautiful stone church that met its fate in the great earthquake of 1906, was erected also in that year. In 1866 Dr. Brewer established St. Matthew’s School; erecting the buildings beside the church. Here the school grew and prospered, establishing a high reputation throughout the Pacific Slope. It was not until 1892 that the school was moved to Hillsborough, where it remained until it was closed in 1915.
Prosperity came to the growing town, not unmixed with a seasoning of misfortune. On the morning of June 15, 1883 at a few minutes to nine o’clock, a disastrous fire started, which completely consumed the Central Block, an entire square opposite the Southern Pacific Station. Although the Fire Department had just purchased a new fire engine, and the whole town turned out to fight the flames, nothing could be done. It was discovered too late that there were but two hydrants available to tap the _water, of which there was a copious supply.
In those days the town was the northern terminus of the San Mateo, Pescadero and Santa Cruz stage line, the proprietors of which were Taft and Garretson. The Concord coaches of the company plied daily to Pescadero and Santa Cruz, carrying passengers and the mail. Today, the routes followed by the modern “jitney,” are very similar to those of the former stage line. The stations of this route were San Mateo, Crystal Springs, San Felix, Byrne’s Store, Eureka Gardens, Halfmoon Bay or Spanishtown, Purissima, Lobitas, San Gregorio, Pescadero, Pigeon Point, Seaside, Davenport and Santa Cruz. The distance was 78 miles.
An historical account of early San Mateo would not be complete without mention of Laurel Hall, a select seminary for “young ladies and little girls” opened in May, 1864. This was situated a mile south of the town on the western side of the county road, now the State Highway.
Today many matrons living not only in the county, but scattered throughout the state, have cause to remember with affection the educational advantages and happy school life of Laurel Hall.
San Mateo enjoyed a steady growth, and soon became the recognized purchasing center of the county. The stores of the city did a thriving business and were forced to remain open late Saturday nights to accommodate customers coming from the coast side as well as the surrounding country.
San Mateo was incorporated as a city of the sixth class on September 4th, 1894. The election called for this purpose was carried by a vote of 150 for, and 25 against incorporation.
The incorporation was accomplished only after much opposition by large property owners, who objected to the proposed boundaries of the new city, all desiring to be left outside of the proposed incorporate limits.
The first Board of Trustees consisted of A. H. Payson, Geo. W. Dickie, Chas. Herbst, J. H. Hatch and Robt. Wisnom. R. H. Jury was the clerk, Wm. F. Herbst treasurer, and Peter Rodgers, marshal.
The fixing of the boundaries of the proposed city of San Mateo was the greatest problem which confronted the committee on incorporation, and many were the wordy battles fought by them before the Board of Supervisors before this was finally accomplished.
That the city of San Mateo acquired the water front along the easterly limits of the City of Burlingame, from Peninsula to Burlingame avenues, was clue to the foresight of the committee, who entered into a compromise with Wm. H. Howard to include those portions of the Howard lands, then known as the Polo Field and Howard Dairy, within the City of Burlingame, in exchange for this water front. These lands are now bounded by Howard avenue to the north, “H” Street to the east, Peninsula avenue to the South and Park Road to the west.
The time is not far distant when the waterfront will be a valuable asset and mean much to San Mateo.
The account of the early clays of this city would be incomplete without mention of the growth of the Episcopal Church of St. Matthew, whose foundation was practically contemporary with that of the city itself.
When first entering the grounds, one notices the ideal surroundings of the church which are typically English, and conform gracefully with the English type of the Church.
In May, 1865 the first church building was erected and equipped, in San Mateo where the present building now stands. At that time San Mateo consisted of about twelve scattered homes, while the business center of the town was on the county road where the Parrott Place now stands.
Rev. G. A. Easton preached the first sermon in a school house in this location. The following year the Rev. A. L. Brewer D. D., from New York succeeded him. Those who have served as rector of the parish, following Dr. Brewer, are : Rev. W. P. Case, Rev. W. H. Knowlton, Rev. J. R. de Wolf Cowie, Rev. E. L. Parsons, and Rev. N. B. W. Galloway. Rev. W. H. Cambridge succeeded to the pastorate in 1911.
In 1906 the church building was destroyed by the earthquake of April 18, 1906; and it was not until four years later that the beautiful new structure was completed. During this time services were conducted in the parish house.
The church building is an adaptation of modern construction to English Gothic, with steel frame and concrete structure. The windows are all memorials: the large windows facing east and west were given by Ogden Mills and Mrs. Whitelaw Reid in memory of their father and mother.
The other persons commemorated are Rev. N. B. W. Gallwey and members of the Howard, Grant and Crocker families. The windows are by Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London, while the organ which is of exceptionally fine tone, was built by the Hope-Jones Company.
The parish includes Grace Chapel, Homestead, St. Paul’s, Burlingame and St. Andrews, Lomita Park.
The site of Redwood City is on the Rancho de las Pulgas of the early Mexican period, and was known as the Embarcadero or shipping point.
Most of the early traffic in lumber to San Francisco was effected through Redwood Creek, which ran inland from the Bay about three miles to the center of town where a wharf known as the Bridge Street Landing was built.
The first American settlement of Redwood City began in 1,1351 with the erection of a small house opposite this landing by Capt. A. Smith. Mr. G. H. Buruham then started a shipbuilding yard. and was soon followed by others in this industry, so that in a short time this community became a recognized boat-building center.
During 1852 several hundred settlers arrived, attracted by the commercial possibilities of the place as well as the belief that all this territory which was originally a large Spanish grant, would be declared government land, and that they could acquire title by “squatting.”
On September of this year a hotel was opened by William Shaw; and soon after, two other hotels, the Pulgas House and the American House were opened. A school house built of rough boards was erected this year.
S. M. Mezes, agent for the Arguellos, owners of the Pulgas Ranch was the first real estate operator of Redwood City. In 1854 he laid out a town site which he called Mezesville, and for a long time Redwood City was known by this name.
A short time after San Mateo became a county in 1856, Redwood City was chosen as county seat, and a ten thousand dollar Court House and jail were built.