December, 1904: Robert I. Knapp Passes

Story from John Vonderlin

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San Mateo Pioneer Dead

Robert I Knapp, a wealthy citizen of Halfmoon Bay, died suddenly at his home to-day. He was a native of New York, 71 years old and had resided in this county since 1871. Deceased was a large manufacturer of plows and owner of the Coast Advocate, the Halfmoon Bay water works and much land. A wife, two sons and three daughters survive him.


And then, this happened:

April 9, 1909
FLAYS ADMINISTRATOR OF FATHER’S ESTATE Judge Threatens C.H. Knapp With Criminal Charges REDWOOD CITY—-Believing that C.H. Knapp had looted the estate of his father, R.I. Knapp of Half moon bay while acting as administrator. Judge Buck today administered one of the most caustic reprimands that he has uttered during his service on the bench. R. I. Knapp died at Halfmoon bay December 14, 1904 and left an estate valued at about 525,000. C.H. Knapp was appointed administrator and filed, his final account about a year ago. The other heirs later filed charges that all was not right, and Horace Knapp was appointed special administrator. Attorneys for Horace Knapp, one of the heirs, presented evidence to bear out their contention of estate looting.

Judge Buck declared that C.H. Knapp must “settle those claims within a fortnight or go to San Quentin. No man can rob an estate under my jurisdiction and go out of the court as a good American citizen. If a settlement is not made promptly I shall notify the district attorney to proceed criminally against him.”


June to John: In the 1970s I met one of the daughters of R.I. Knapp—he was the inventor of the Sidehill Plow, which was used by many farmers in Half Moon Bay. His creation allowed farmers to plow the hills that could not be plowed with the only available equipment at the time for use on flat land. The sidehill plow versus the flatland plow.

Robert Knapp was also a huge supporter of the Temperance Movement, which means he wanted to see all the saloons in Half Moon Bay closed. One over-used  description of  early HMB is that there were more saloons than anything else. Always makes ’em chuckle…..

He was a religious man, who,  for a time, owned a local newspaper to air his views and also ran for political office (but lost, I believe.)  His place of business, with a variety of farm equipment displayed outside, may have been located across the street from the historic Zaballa House, today a bed and breakfast on Main Street– steps from the first concrete bridge built (1900) in San Mateo County. I think I’ve even seen documents claiming it was the first concrete bridge built in the world but I’d have to call that hyperbole.

Back to the Knapp daughter. She was living in a tiny apartment in San Bruno. That’s where I met her. I’m  ashamed to admit that I’ve forgotten her first name but I’m sure I have it in my mess of papers…somewhere…She was in her 90s at the time. Every so often she had to lie down before continuing our brief conversation.

What struck me was her height and physical build. She was very tall and sturdy, the exact description I read in old books of the classic American farmer-type. That’s what I remember most about her—her physical features were so different from those of us today who tap the keys of our computer.