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History

San Mateo, a city located on the peninsula along San Francisco Bay, was once a prized camping ground and village for the original inhabitants, the Native Americans of the Ohlone tribe. The temperate weather and the fishing resources of the freshwater creek (later named Laurel Creek) drew the Ohlone to this Northern California area, where they lived as a hunter-gatherer society for thousands of years.

The Ohlone’s way of life would change with the arrival of Spanish explorers in 1776. Led by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, his soldiers, and Father Pedro Font, the intent was to colonize the area, build a mission and bring Christianity to the Ohlone. The name “Laurel Creek” was attributed to the Spanish naming the village “Los Laureles” after the native bay laurel trees found around the settlement.

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Further land changes took place when Mexico became independent from Spain in 1822. In 1834 all mission land was secularized and became the property of the Mexican government. In 1835, the Mexican Land Grants transferred the land to the property owners who then had control of a few immense ranches. The City of San Mateo now stands on parts of two historic properties, formerly known as Rancho San Mateo and Rancho de las Pulgas.

As time progressed, Rancho San Mateo was sold to an American mercantile firm, and the land was broken up into smaller parcels. In 1849, a new transportation system became available when Nicolas de Peyster engineered a stagecoach stop on land where the old mission once stood, and built a main road through the town. In 1861, Charles Polhemus supervised the construction of a railway system that would connect San Francisco and San Jose. San Mateo would be a stop on this route, and with the addition of a train station, the town’s development continued at a fast pace.

Improvements continued and spurred San Mateo’s progress toward becoming a thriving community. Clean water for the residents was realized in 1888 when the Crystal Springs dam was built on San Mateo Creek. The establishment of a newspaper, “The Leader,” brought current events to the residents, and the paper’s founders, Richard H. Jury and Charles N. Kirkbride, pushed for the town’s incorporation. Under this initiative, San Mateo officially became a town on September 3, 1894, with a majority vote of its citizens.

In 1906, the population of San Mateo grew due to the effects of a natural disaster. A devastating earthquake occurred on April 18, 1906, and San Francisco, near the quake’s epicenter, sustained severe damage. Many San Franciscans migrated to San Mateo in search of a place to live.
 

Copyright Ian Durr 2009 All Rights Reserved