John Vonderlin: Cracking the Code: The Coastside’s Mysterious Old Maps

Story by John Vonderlin

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Part 1 The Widow Wood Mystery

Hi June,

This posting is about my observations of the second of the old maps of the Coastside from the Coast Survey website. This map, compiled in 1863, published for the price of 30 cents in 1864, is of the Half Moon Bay area. Note that this document has both the modern name and spelling for HMB. To have easy, online access to such an old, but meticulously prepared map of the Coastside is a real treat for me.  Although, it has created a number of questions and a couple of mysteries in my mind. I’d like to share some of those.

[Images: Complete Map and Legend ScreenShots]


As I magnified the map to examine it, my eyes were immediately drawn to and along the diagonal  black slash in the offshore waters. “Widow Wood’s House and Bald Pate in Range” is what it reads along the dot-and-dashed line. Following  it to the northeast as it goes ashore, you see Widow Wood’s home is marked and the line ends at the top of a small hill, probably the “Bald Pate.”

The questions for me were then: Who was she? Where exactly, if it existed today, would Widow Wood’s house be? Is it still there in some form or name?  Lastly, why was her dwelling selected to be immortalized in a Coast Survey Map nearly one hundred fifty years ago?

[Images: Diagonal Line and Close-up of Widow Wood’s]


The last one I assume has to do with the triangulation they were doing. Some point of reckoning lined up with the Widow’s house and the top of the hill. I’m not sure of the significance, but it should be easy to find out.

By comparing Google Earth and the Survey Map I’ve pinpointed the house’s location in Miramar, just south of Medio Creek.  As you can see in this overlaid ScreenShot it looks like the house was about in the middle of where Highway 1 is these days. Right where Google Earth has their Miramar marker.

Image: Overlay of Google Earth and Coast Survey Map]


When at the Coast Survey website if you use “Half Moon Bay” as a Search term thirteen maps come up for viewing or downloading. They range from this 1863 map to one from 1990. The nice thing is they are all of the same area, so you can compare them easily. Here’s a ScreenShot from the 1947 version.

[Image: Excerpt from 1947 Map]


That’s about all I have on Widow Wood at this time. But, there are several other features of interest I’d like to point out on the map in other postings. Enjoy. John

Part II: Whaleman’s Harbor : To read this story, please click here