1890s: July 4th in Half Moon Bay

[Image below: A small march down Main Street when “Red’s” stood across the way from Isadore’s Garage, all long gone. I will add pix of much older 4th of July photos for your enjoyment.]


An old-new story by June Morrall (I wrote this in the 1970s)

July 4th Celebrations at Half Moon Bay in the 1890s: A Portrait of One Day

All day long a steady stream of visitors poured into Half Moon Bay, many of them from as far away as San Francisco. By noon, the line of horse and buggies parked along Main Street resembled a crowded city scene.

A local newspaper estimated that at least 300 “strangers,” showed up, adding up to one of the largest gatherings ever seen in the 1890s to celebrate the Fourth of July.

The townspeople were prepared. As early as the day before, they were busy getting ready for the 114th anniversary of American independence. Everyone pitched in to decorate, draping bunting and streamers over business establishments and private homes.

Not only the American flag, but a display of banners from all over the world produced an instant flash of color. It was a warm, lightly breezy day and the flags lazily floated out of all but a few homes in the entire “valley.” 

Overnight the old Coastside town achieved a patriotic look.

Promptly, at sunrise, early pioneer W.A. Simmons fired the town’s five pound cannon and led the national salute. Soon afterward, droves of folks arrived from the country in a holiday mood. Young and old dressed for the special occasion, filling Main Street, a dirt road then, as the popping sound of small firecrackers filled the air.

It seems that whenever a committee is responsible for a big event, like this Fourth of July in the 1890s, there were differences between the members that had to be worked out–and they were, according to some amicably solved.

Others said the plans almost backfired. 

But on the day of the event you wouldn’t know there had been any troubles, and the rolling vehicles, prancing horses and excited children pointed to a successful, lively atmosphere.

[Image below: A Half Moon Bay float….]


The crowd’s noise was muffled when the ceremonial unfurling of the flags began in unison from the roofs of the businesses on and around Main Street including Levy Brothers, R.I. Knapp’s Plow Factory, William Pringle’s Harness Shop, Boitano Brothers and Debenedetti’s. 

But the sound of loud firecrackers soon broke the solemnity of the moment as clusters of visitors started talking above the noise, looking forward to the next event: the parade.


It was early in the morning, and at 10 a.m. sharp, the honorary “president of the day” headed for Schuyler’s Hotel to take his place at the head of the procession. All the movers and shakers took their place as they marched down Kelly Street, preceded by the Half Moon Bay Cornet Band , in their third public appearance, opening up with a rousing rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner.” Behind the band was the eye-catching Fourth of July float, dressed up with pretty local girls, carefully decorated and drawn by an impressive team of horses moving at a fast pace.

Once on Main Street, the parade turned south toward Miramontes Street; the procession stopped outside the school located nearby. (Meanwhile children scrambled to catch-up, as the older folk strolled alone or rode along slowly in their carriages. Yes, it was a Norman Rockwell scene.)

Near the school, and in the shade of a grove of big old Cedar trees, stood a recently constructed stage, also decorated with heavy bunting and flags. At the time, what was called a tableaux,” where “actors and actresses” created a live picture, a symbolic statement, was anxiously awaited. This day’s tableaux was called “Colonial Times,” and it was obvious as the nervous actors, 13 identically attired girls in all-white,  assembled on the stage. Each girl bore a sash with a name of the original 13 colonies.

But more actors joined the group representing “Liberty,” “Army,” “Navy,” “George and Lady Washington,” all frozen in a symbolic silence.

The event’s “presidents” role was to introduce the participants as well as the children and adults who read poetry or sang, for that was the popular entertainment of the 1890s. [In fact, when the eccentric Tunitas Creek sculptress Sybil Easterday was a child, she acquired fame for her cuteness as well as her elocution skills.]

There were a series of recitations, names of which we are unfamiliar with today: “Independence Day,” “E Pluribus Unum, and halfway through the program Rev. B.F. Taylor delivered an uplifting address. The program ended with the audience singing “America,” as the curtain dropped on the frozen tableaux.

The Half Moon Bay Cornet Band struck up a tune called “Our Flag is There,” and the inexperienced school kids did their best singing in tune the exciting number known as “Red, White and Blue.” 

All this made for great fun, and at the right moment, a new flag was raised by school officials. It was a perfect day. The flag fluttered in the light breeze followed by a growing ripple of applause from the crowd.


More festivities followed with a grand party at the “Pacific Hall,” with music provided by the Melville Brothers, a popular contemporary band. At midnight the the ladies committee served a hot meal at the Ocean Shore Hotel (the location of which I do not know as I do not know where the “Pacific Hall” stood, either.) This Fourth of July was so much fun for everyone that no one wanted to leave until dawn approached.


But the following year, when the Fourth of July rolled around, the event was disorganized, without focus and direction. It was the sudden death of an important citizen, and the subsequent funeral, that threw all the plans for the celebration off schedule.

The committee was frazzled without their  leader, so recently buried. [No I do not know who he or she was.] The festivities did not begin at 10 a.m. but four hours later; the band did not play on time. Songs were canceled, and so were the literary recitations. 

Things got so bad that the committee just wanted the event to be over. They didn’t even want it to happen, but there were those expectations. The schoolchildren were encouraged to rush through their carefully prepared performance; the Declaration of Independence was hastily read, the words mumbled. Usually a highlight, hardly  anyone showed up for the afternoon barbecue. The entire day was an embarrassment.

The dark clouds of a ruined event just wouldn’t let the sunshine in. The day included a baseball game between the Monitors and the Scrubs and the usually avid fans could muster any enthusiasm when, after three quick innings, the Monitors clinched the title. 

The only redeeming feature were the famous  horse races held on Main Street (trotting, buggy and half-mile races) The rural farming community had a deep respect for fine Coastside horses, and that excitement drew the crowds. [You might notice a few balconies that still exist above businesses on Main Street from which families watched the races and parades.] 

This Fourth of July that began in a shaky state got better when locals competed in foot races to demonstrate their physical agility. In the 100 yard sprint, Joe Quinlan, came in first and won a silk shirt. There were races for married men and an unscheduled race between two mules. 

In the end, although this Fourth of July could have been a total disaster, a couple of hundred guests showed up at the Pacific Hall for supper, and the Fourth of July committee, although thrown off without their capable leader, declared the day a partial success. 



more to come….

Carole Delmar: Did you hear?

Hi June,

Did you hear that Old Rod has died?

just got the information off alkabout section of www.hmbreview.com

Hope you are well.


Note from June: “Old Rod” married a Coastside couple in this video I made:

please click here to view



From Carole Delmar: This is Rod at our wedding.What a nice smile, eyes and a great hugger too!

[Image by Jim Elliott, Coastside Realtor Inventor/sailor/Contractor/designer/Carpenter/artist/musician/potter/thinker

Broker/CEO: Del Mar Properties

(H) 650-726-0473

(c) 650-743-4086

(o) 650-712-6800


Montara: What’s Was Up in Nov. 1919

From the “Coastside Comet” 

At Montara

Las Cabritas Ranch will exhibit twenty-seven goats in the Pure Bred Live Stock show in San Francisco from Nov. 1 – 8. We expect to see them return with a lot of prizes.

[Image below: The Montara Goats Las Cabritas Ranch.]


The Wilson cottage, the Amos cottage, the Dr. Thomas cottage, the Wheeler house (image below)


wheller housethe Maier mansion, the Weyl cottage have all been rented recently for the Winter months, which shows that the people are beginning to appreciate our fine Winter climate.

[Image below: Houses in early Montara. I haven’t found the Wheeler pix yet but it may be in this shot anyway. I will post it when I locate it.



Arthur Wagner, wife, daughter, Dorothy and Jean Ross of Salada Beach are touring in the mountains above Placerville for a few days.

Geo. M. Havice and wife of Montrose, Colorado, formerly of Montara and Mexico have located for the winter in the Wheeler House.They have many friends here who will welcome them back. Mr. and Mrs. Havice own considerable property here and also in the Montara Realty Development Company.

Mr. Wilcox has three of the largest potatoes of the season on exhibit at the post office; one of them weighs two and a half pounds.Who can beat it?

The United States Government is at the present time installing a powerful wireless station at Point Montara Lighthouse Station.

[Image below: The Montara Lighthouse  and Diaphone Signal Station.]


Mr. and Mrs. Drew of New York [ed. I actually met one of the Drews, Gretchen Drew in San Francisco in the 1970s; she was a friend of Peter B. Kyne, the writer and gave me an autographed photo which is now in the archives of the San Mateo County History Museum]. has leased the house recently occupied by Rev. Osborn and will remain here permanently.

There is so much property around Montara that is improved that can be bought at such bargains that it will only be a short time until there is a more stable real estate market and the bargains snapped up.

It is to be hoped that the people will remember that there are services at the church every Sunday morning at 11 a.m. Rev. Mr. Osborne, pastor.

Miss Bessie Chase, who is spending a vacation at home has been busy decorating the interior of their beautiful home. She is quite an artist with the paint brushes.

Miss Irma Hazard, the Montara school teacher was appointed by Senator M. B. Johnson on the Roosevelt Committee to take part ….(words missing…)

Mrs. Will John Wagner , who has been visiting relatives in Los Angeles, will return to her home in Montara soon.

The county board of supervisors are to construct a reinforced concrete retaining wall on the San Gregorio Road.

The young man who learns to depend first upon himself will seldom have to appeal to others.

Andrew Stirling and Frank Zug, Coastside men, charged with an assault upon Frank Goularte of Pescadero on the night of September 27th at San Gregorio, were arraigned in Justice of the Peace Ray Griffin’s court in Redwood Saturday morning. Both men pleaded not guilty to the charge and the preliminary trial of Zug was set for November 11. The time of the trial for Stirling will be set on that date. The alleged attack on  Goularte was the outcome of a quarrel over the recent Sarah Satira Coburn murder investigation.

J. Emmett Fitzgerald is the new owner of Lot 45, block 24, Montara.

Officials of the Toyo Kisen Kaisha are waiting permission from the Navy Department to place the Nippon Maru, recently ashore at Princeton, in drydock at Mare Island for examination before her next departure for the Orient.


Congressman Hugh S. Hersman has been advised by the War Department that every enlisted man in the American Army was entitled to permanently retain, upon discharge, the following property:

1 overseas cap (for all men who have had service overseas) or 1 hat and 1 hat cord for all other enlisted men.

1 olive drab shirt

1 service coat and ornaments

1 pair breeches

1 pair shoes

1 pair leggings

1 barrack bag

1 waist belt

1 set toilet articles if in possession when discharged

1 slicker

1 overcoat

2 suits underwear

4 pairs stockings

1 pair stockings

3 scarlet chevrons

1 gas mask and helmet. (if issued overseas.)


John Vonderlin: 1895/ Plans to Harness Coastside Creeks for Electricity

Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Hi June,

   This September 9th, 1895, article from the “Call,” lays

out the theoretical plans of that time, to harvest the hydro-

power potential of the Coastside. The mentioning of how

the water of the streams is “running to waste” by going

into the ocean, tells a lot about policymakers’ attitudes

of that era.

Enjoy. John



Those on the Ocean Side to

Be Used to Generate



There Are at Least Nine Good

Streams Available for that



REDWOOD CITY, Cal., Sept. 8.— The

question of a water supply sufficient to

generate electric power is being considered

by practical men who have recently visited

the coast side of San Mateo County. The

possibilities of the Pillarcitos, Purissimo,(sic)

Lobitas, Tunitas, San Gregorio, Pomponia,

(sic) Pescadero, Britano (sic) and Gazas (sic)

creeks have been under consideration with a

view of putting in dams and dynamos to gen-

erate power for an electric railroad to connect

the coastside towns with San Francisco;

also with reference to the transmission of

electric power to San Francisco for general


These streams of water rise among the

mountains at intervals of every few miles

and run to and empty into the ocean.

With the exception of the San Francis-

quito and San Mateo creeks, they find no

counterpart on the bay side of the county.

Heretofore these waters on the ocean

side have been considered most valuable

as being part of the available supply for

the domestic uses of San Francisco. The

Spring Valley Water Works is a large

owner of lands and water rights on several

of these steams, although all the great

lakes of the Spring Valley storage system

lie on the easterly or bay side of the


   The people of the coast side have waited

many years to learn if additional uses

might not develop, so that the immense

water supply running to waste in the

ocean could be brought under control and

made to produce revenue. The creation

and transmission of electic power may

bring about this result, and also develop

an electric railway system that will place

one of the most charming sections of the

coast within less than an hour’s ride of

San Francisco.


John Vonderlin: 1906/ Too Many Saloons in HMB

Story from John Vonderlin

Email John ([email protected])

Half Moon Bay Scofflaws/1906  from the March 23, 1906 issue of the “San Francisco Call”


San Mateo County Officials

Begin Campaign Against

Violators of License Law


Authorities Determined to

Put an End to Resorts

Haunted by Bad Characters

Special Dispatch to The Call.

REDWOOD CITY, March 22— County

officials are operating from this city a

campaign for the suppression of the sa-

loons  that have sprung up in the Half-

moon Bay district like  mushrooms after

a rain. The illegal  resorts are being con

ducted  contrary to law and  without

license of any  sort. They have become

places of rendezvous for idle and crimi-

nal characters, who prey upon the entire

district. Scores of these tramps have

been attracted to the coast section by the

building of the Ocean Shore Railroad and

the authorities  have determined to rid

the county of them.

   After a journey of several days through

the district, Constable  James Cronk and

his deputies of this city arrested P. E.

Fleming and S. Mori, who were conduct-

ing saloons In the San Pedro Valley with

out a license. The men were taken to

the County Jail and upon their appear-

ance, before Judge Hannon, they pleaded

guilty. Fleming was fined $120 and Mori



Ocean Shore the first to try to conquer the Devil’s Slide

A new-old story by June Morrall

Email June ([email protected])

[Image below: Expert? Are these Ocean Shore Railroad trains?]



The Ocean Shore was the First to Try to Conquer the Devil’s Slide


A new-old story by June Morrall (I wrote this in the 1990s)

It was a massive explosion high above the crashing waves.

In the early 1900s Ocean Shore Railroad engineers poured nine tons of black powder, pure dynamite into a 70-foot tunnel near Devil’s Slide. The powerful “bomb” blasted bits of rock and soil toward the sky—3,500 tons of mountainside—leaving the desired level grade for railroad ties at Saddle Rock.

The detonation was a remarkable feat in the struggle of man against nature. And the Ocean Shore Railroad proved to be a daring enterprise, far more courageous than their more conservative rivals, Southern Pacific, who operated a successful line of the flatlands of the Peninsula.

As a pioneer in Coastside transportation, planned to connect the isolated, rural farming community of Half Moon Bay with San Francisco, owing its growth to the 1849 discovery of gold. And the first major geographical obstacle, later called Devil’s Slide probably because it was a devil of a slide, sneaky and hard to control, appeared to have been conquered with then “high tech” dynamite.

But without warning the icy cold hand of nature struck back hard and fast as the trembled during the 1906 earthquake and fire.

At Devil’s Slide, where the work equipment was parked for the crews to install the iron rails, the ground lurched, and together with rolling, heavy rock boulders, the expensive tools and rails flew over the cliffs into the Pacific Ocean.



When the earth stopped shaking, an air of optimism returned, and a decision was made by higher-ups to continue with the railroad. Some lovely train stations were built, and the iron road reached as far as Tunitas Creek—-many miles short of the original goal, Santa Cruz, a popular recreational center.

Mother Nature had meted out her severe blow—but the curse was far from over—and she struck again and again at Devil’s Slide as the uncontrollable rocks tumbled down onto the tracks repeatedly.

Often the boulders on the tracks forced the train to back-up all the way to Pacifica, or to remain in place near Devil’s Slide until workers removed the obstructions.

“There were landslides from time to time,” recalled Rudolph Brandt sardonically (his father lost big bucks investing in the Ocean Shore). Brandt, an Ocean Shore Railroad aficionado, was an eccentric fellow who lived in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco when I met him. (I think I picked him up there and took him for a ride to the Coastside.) Brandt was the author of the booklet, “Ocean Shore Railroad.”

Said Rudolph Brandt: “The Pedro Point-Devil’s Slide area was a particularly bad section. In 1915 as a result of some powerful storms, about two miles of right-of-way track and all, caved off. Then they brought a train from the south, and the passengers got off the train, walked along the edge of the cliff until they got to the other train; this train then ran backwards all the way to Half Moon Bay and Tunitas.”

The rock slides spoiled the railroad’s ambitious plans, but lively passengers could also turn an unexpected delay into a good excuse for an evening of celebration and drinks  in places like the resorts of Princeton and Pacifica, depending on where the train that was running on the boulder-less tracks took them.

“One time the train was heading back to the city, with a whole bunch of people on it when, around Point Rockaway, a big boulder came down, right on the tracks,” recalled Brandt. “The engineer saw it, and they stopped, but they couldn’t get the boulder off the track. Train’s crew decided to back the train to Pedro Valley. And they backed it down there right in front of Danman’s Place, the old saloon there. The [passengers and the engineer] spent the night in there, eating, drinking and making merry. I understand they practically cleaned the place out,  as far as booze and grub went.”

California may have more topographical features named for the “Prince of Darkness,”  [ed. Devil’s Slide]than any other state, yet it is difficult for me to pinpoint exactly when Devil’s Slide acquired its name.

An 1881 map calls the nearby area Saddle Rock—perhaps the name came about during the Ocean Shore Railroad era.

In any event, the railroad was losing money, partly due to the cost of continued maintenance of the road at Devil’s Slide—and, more importantly, because Coastside farmers preferred to buy trucks with rubber tires that carried their fresh vegetables to market on a timely basis. [Remember when the trains were delayed, the fresh vegetables, including artichokes, wilted and lost their value.]

Finally declaring bankruptcy, the Ocean Shore pulled up its rails about 1922, and the State of California, using its right-of-way developed plans for the building of the Ocean Shore Highway, today called Highway 1. Hundreds of feet above the Pacific Ocean, a new roadbed was carved into the cliffs, and the Coastside’s sole north-south link opened about 1933 –during the Great Depression, and the repeal of Prohibition.

Construction moved slowly as Devil’s Slide challenged the workers again. The unstable soil continued to cause landslides, while the crews worked, knowing their lives were in danger. It was not uncommon for thousands of tons of rocks and earth to suddenly loose and slip down the mountainside, burying steam shovels and other equipment. The 5.9 mile rod required 28 curves with a total rise and fall in grade of 1, 225 feet, according to “The Coastside Highway 1 Book,” written by Rick Adams and Louise McCorkle.

“The location of the highway along the cliff face required men with the agility of mountain goats, courage, and the complete lack of nerves. One false step meant a tumble into the breakers,” according to the June 1937 issue of “California Highway and Public Works.”

A new-old story by June Morrall