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
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.