County Jail, 1870s, Judge Pitcher’s HMB “Courtroom” and Plans (1931) for a Prison South of Town

This is a wonderful drawing of the county jail in Redwood City, circa 1872. Has some institutional feel to it but it also looks like a country home; what do you think?

From “The Illustrated History of San Mateo County,” Moore & DePue, publishers (1878). This beautiful book was “saved” and published by Gilbert Richards Publications, Woodside, California in 1974.

In Half Moon Bay, if you were caught speeding you’d land in Judge Pitcher’s “courtroom.”

Look on the map below and find the land, Casinnelli Ranch; it’s colored yellow and there’s an arrow pointing to it, below the “Miramontes tract.” In an earlier WWII post, I mentioned Mr. E.J. Casinnelli as he owned 423 acres around the Johnston House.

In 1931, the Cassinelli Ranch, south of Half Moon Bay, was being considered as a location for San Francisco’s City and County Jail in San Mateo County. There are several documents associated with the project that did not materialize. Some people will find the information contained within the reports enlightening so I will provide it here.

Report on Water Supply Possibilities of Cassinelli Ranch as a site for San Francisco City and County Jail

By Charles H. Lee, Consulting Hydraulic Engineer

Description of Property

The Cassnelli Ranch, comprising 423 acres, is located in San Mateo County, California, one mile south of Half Moon Bay. The west boundary fronts on the Half Moon Bay-Purissima Highway for a distance of over 1/2 mile. A surfaced road from the main highway runs along or adjacent to the north boundary for 3/4 miles.

The western portion of the property, embracing approximately 200 acres, is flat land lying along the main highway. It merges into gently sloping land and then broad rolling hill slopes to a crest at the rear of the property. The topography is smooth and practically all of it is clear of brush, giving excellent visibility.

All but a small tract in the northeast corner has been under cultivation for many years. A portion of the flat land has been planted in artichokes and miscellaneous vegetables, and the remainder and the adjacent hill land in hay and grain. The artichokes are irrigated every season and vegetables when water is available.

Leon Creek flows through the Ranch near the northeast boundary for a distance of 3095 feet, where it has a cut channel approximately 35 feet deep and 100- to 200 feet wide. This stream is a tributary of Pilarcitos Creek, joining it at Half Moon Bay about 1-1/4 miles below the Ranch and flowing thence to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of 1-1/4 miles.

Continue reading “County Jail, 1870s, Judge Pitcher’s HMB “Courtroom” and Plans (1931) for a Prison South of Town”

1918 HMB Election: John Pitcher Was A Shoo-In, Conclusion

Pitcher3.jpgCourt_2.jpg (Photo: Judge John Pitcher and his Half Moon Bay office. In the left corner (accidentally cropped out by me), it reads: “Where The Speed Cop Takes You”).

It didn’t hurt Judge John Pitcher’s image that he also held an excellent record for keeping crime out of Half Moon Bay.

When he ran for re-election in 1914, Judge Pitcher said:

“…Right here in Half Moon Bay, there is no need for law. Why our jail just fell into rust, it did. I’ve been Justice of the Peace for 35 years and never arrested more than a hobo or a speeder. I remember one man that went to state prison from here and that’s about it.”

Now came election Tuesday in 1918–and many said Pitcher’s opponent E.E. “Red” Kerrick should have listened to his friends’ advice and not challenged the old jurist–for John Pitcher easily trounced his young rival.

Pitcher continued his ironclad rule as Justice of the Peace for yet another four years. And when election time rolled around in 1922, “Old Man Pitcher”, now 94, announced again.

But time had finally run out for the old warrior and he was defeated by C.W. Borden. Once out of office, Pitcher lost some of his spark for life. He fell ill and died in 1924. All the business and schools in Half Moon Bay closed their doors in honor of Judge John Pitcher. They all knew there would never be another man like him.

1918 HMB Election: John Pitcher Was A Shoo-In, Part III

In 1861 John Pitcher and wife, Louise, came to Half Moon Bay where they farmed and became well known and admired. Almost 20 years later in 1879 John was elected as Half Moon Bay’s Justice of the Peace–and for forty years nobody who ran against him could win. John kept winning election after election after election–effortlessly.

It was said that John had enough political experience to run for governor. Although he served in the tiny and remote village of Half Moon Bay, population 1,000, Pitcher built a solid statewide reputation as a jurist.

When, in 1917 California’s Gov. Stephens stopped to campaign in Pitcher’s Coastside town, he met with “the old judge of whom he had frequently heard.” Afterwards Stephens allegedly described the white-haired Pitcher “as the man who ought to be governor”.

John Pitcher was often asked for his tips on living a long, healthy life. He may be 92, he stressed, but he felt like he was 45. Age didn’t interfere with what he wanted to do.

“Keep active,” he counseled, “and there will not be time to grow old. Live simply, eat simply, sleep well.”

John advocated a life without smoking, a lemon sour after every drink and not too many alcoholic drinks at that. By 1918 he had been ill only twice in his lifetime, he confided to a reporter.

“Worry,” he emphasized, “should be avoided at all times”.

…To Be Continued…

1918 HMB Election: John Pitcher Was A Shoo-In, “Back Story” Part II


Born in Indiana in 1827, John Pitcher came to California during the Gold Rush. He earned his informal, legal education while living and working in the shanty-town atmosphere of the Yuba mines. There was no sense of permanence here–and in this harsh environment where few women ventured– “popular justice” (think of HBO’s “Deadwood” series)–was meted out by the miners themselves.

There were no courts or judges as we know them today. Most of the time the system of “popular justice” worked, Pitcher later explained.

“Laws have loopholes,” he said. “Justice has none. Tell a man he must do right or pay the price and he’ll do right.”

But John Pitcher also learned that “popular justice” harbored a dark side. On one occasion Pitcher defended a “foreigner” accused of stealing gold which was held communally. The man was convicted although no evidence had been presented to prove that he was indeed the thief.

“A jury composted of miners,” Pitcher recalled, “sentenced the frightened man to hang. They strung him up and kept him up there encouraging the poor man to confess…Finally they cut him down and he was more dead than alive.”

The convicted man was ordered to leave at once and Pitcher said he followed his former client to the outskirts of the mining camp to make certain he was okay. Several weeks later the same men who had been the man’s jurors discovered the missing gold–and when they sent someone to search for him all “they found was his skeleton.”

…To Be Continued…

1918 Historic HMB Election: Justice Of The Peace John Pitcher Was A Shoo-In, Part I

Pitcher.jpg (Photo: Judge John Pitcher)

Reds.jpg (Photo: E.E. “Red'” Kerrick’s cafe stood on the right side of Main Street.)

“Are you crazy?” E.E. “Red” Kerrick’s friends asked him. “Nobody runs against ‘Old Man Pitcher'”.

It took heaps of optimism–great courage and fortitude–to challenge Half Moon Bay’s John Pitcher for the office of Justice of the Peace in the November 1918 election.

Not only had the sacrosanct “Old Man Pitcher” been the incumbent for an unterrupted reign of 39 years–but he possessed an unparalled youthfulness at age 92 and other extraordinary qualities that the voters found irresistable.

Despite the overwhelming odds, “Red” Kerrick, the 30-something father of seven children, threw his hat into the ring.