Meet Alexander Gordon, the man who built Intricate Gordon’s Chute (and was a coastside supervisor)

From Alexander Gordon’s obit, Feb. 1912, Times-Gazette

“The deceased was twice a member of the State Legislature as assemblyman–in 1861 from Marin county and during the 1880s in this county [San Mateo]. He served the county as a supervisor from the coastside, and while a resident of this city was for several years a city councilman. His last years were quietly spent in his home on Phelps street at which his wife passed away in 1909.

“During the stirring Vigilante days the deceased was in San Francisco and saw many of the exciting events that were enacted at that time. He was present at the funeral of Senator Broderick who was shot by Judge Terry in a duel in 1856 and stood closer to Colonel Baker when he delivered his grand eulogy over the dead statesman. Mr. Gordon recalled vividly those memorable happenings and his stories of the old days, graphically told, were intensely interesting………”


[Note: Gordon’s Chute– an elaborate engineering feat that may have some evidence of its short life on one of the Coastside outstanding landmark cliffs– it is said the intricately woven structure was blown away in a wild storm with heavy winds. Whenever we drive north from San Gregorio along Hwy 1, and that perfect example of nature comes into view, I am, frankly, in awe. And with familiarity, the feeling intensifies.

The sculptress Sybil Easterday and her family lived at lonely Tunitas Creek with views of whatever was left of Gordon’s Chute in the 1890s into the 1900s. About 1916 Sybil married Louis Paulsen, who was related to the J.F. Wienke family, early hotel pioneers at Moss Beach, north of Half Moon Bay.

The Wienkes were anxious that the Ocean Shore Railroad build its iron road along the San Mateo County Coastside–with a train station near the hotel, of course. Louis Paulsen probably rode the train from San Francisco to Moss Beach (where the owners organized illegal cockfights) and then on to Tunitas Creek where he was invited to a dinner party hosted by Sybil. As an artist, Sybil loved to design her own menu place cards.

What was called “Long Bridge” crossed the creek and Sybil’s home stood near the bridge.

Tunitas Creek became the end-of-the-line for the soon-to-be-bankrupt railroad, an unpopulated, moody, rural landscape with a few buildings that belonged to the Ocean Shore company, as well as the saloon that Louis and Sybil operated. }

Meet Alexander Gordon, the man who built Gordon’s Chute (3)

From Alexander Gordon’s obit, Feb. 1912, Times-Gazette

“In 1863 Mr. Gordon moved to this county [San Mateo County] and located on the coast where he lived for many years. He acquired large land holdings and farmed on an extensive scale. He owned great warehouses on the ocean shore near San Gregorio and here he built what was known as Gordon’s Chute, a contrivance used in loading deep-water vessels by which the product of his farms and that of his neighbors was carried off to market.


“Mr. Gordon accumulated his wealth while a resident of this county, and when he made his home in this city twenty-five years ago, he ranked among the rich men of this state. Unfortunate investments, however, swept a large portion [including his contraption called Gordon’s Chute] of this away in later years.”

…………to be continued……….

Meet Alexander Gordon, the man who built Gordon’s Chute (and married his schoolteacher)

Alexander Gordon’s obit, Feb 1912, Times-Gazette

“Alexander Gordon was a native of New Hampshire, born in June 1826. He was educated in the public and private schools of his native State. In 1849 he came to California with the gold seekers and followed mining until 1852 when he purchased a hotel near old Hangtown in Placer county and continued in this business until 1853. Mr. Gordon, from his early training, was best fitted for a farmer’s life and in 1853 he moved to Marin county and became a dairyman and farmer on a large scale. It was while living in this part of the State that the deceased was married, this event being the culmination of a youthful romance.

“While Gordon was a boy in his native state one of his favorite teachers was Phoebe Lewis. The friendship between the teacher and the pupil ripened into love and when Mr. Gordon was comfortably situated in California, Miss Lewis journeyed to this state and the couple were married.” be continued..

Meet Alexander Gordon, the man who built Gordon’s Chute (1)

(Images: At left, Gordon’s Chute, at right, Alexander’s Gordon’s home near San Gregorio)

agordon.jpgRead his February, 1912 Times-Gazette obit:

“Another Pioneer Gone To His Rest…Death Ends Long and Honorable Career of Alexander Gordon

“Once more San Mateo County has been called upon to note the passing of a figure prominent in its history. Once more the call of the death angel has been heard among the rapidly thinning ranks of our early pioneers and Alexander Gordon has crossed the Great Divide to the haven of eternal rest with his Maker.

“Born among the granite hills of New Hampshire, deceased was endowed with a magnificent constitution which preserved by a regulated life, withstood the hardships of early combat far beyond the full allotment of three score and ten years. Imbued to the full with the higher attributes of manhood, he enjoyed more than the respect –almost the filial love –of the people of his city, among whom he had made his home for more than a quarter of a century.

“Perhaps no better record of the life work of this truly stalwart figure in the early foundation of this commonwealth can be found than the following sketch, compiled largely from a biographical history of the central section of this state.”

…to be continued…

Sybil & Louis at Tunitas Creek: (Short Version) Conclusion


Not only was the artisit Sybil Easterday’s home at Tunitas Creek, the end of the Ocean Shore Railroad’s line– but her husband Louis ran the rustic saloon there. Louis, whose drinking was anything but recreational, often barricaded himself in his office at the back of the saloon. During these serious drinking bouts, he surrounded himself with “firearms from a complete arsenal,” making it clear he wanted to be left alone.

Until her marriage, Sybil’s life seemed to have been orderly. The house, landscaped with pretty flowers and shrubs, had been built with money from her commissions. It stood in a secluded spot beneath a bridge. Valuable antiques, handcarved furniture, as well as statuettes and paintings, examples of her work, filled the rooms.

But suddenly her life took a dark turn.

Just before Valentine’s Day in 1916, Sybil, now 40, faced a horrible domestic crisis. She later recounted that the 33-year-old Louis had been drinking heavily as usual and had shut himself up in his office–but this time he did not respond to her pleas to open the door.

Some locals thought it unusual that instead of calling the police, she summoned Dr. Clarence V. Thompson. A county supervisor, Dr. Thompson resided with his wife in a big two-story house in Pescadero. He had set up a “hospital” in his home but few if any patients were admitted there.

When Dr. Thompson arrived at Tunitas Creek, he found the doors of the saloon broken in and rushed to the back office.

Before him, Sybil’s husband Louis was slumped over, a gaping wound in his chest. A double-barreled shotgun lay on the floor.

The official inquest called it a suicide.

After Louis’s death, Sybil and Flora, her invalid mother, pursued a reclusive life. Sybil, who died in 1961, was seldom seen but there were those who remember the vision of a lonely figure wandering around her property at Tunitas Creek, a rifle in her hands.

[Examples of Sybil Easterday’s sculpture can be viewed at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City–but the artist’s eccentricity has provided her most enduring legacy.]

Photo: Sybil Easterday, courtesy San Mateo County History Museum

Sybil & Louis at Tunitas Creek: (Short Version) (Part I)

Dressed in ribbons and bows, Sybil Easterday was a precocious little girl who felt comfortable reciting poetry before audiences.

But as a young, eccentric sculptress at the turn of the century, she gained notoriety preferring the comfort of men’s trousers to the dainty frocks worn by her contemporaries.

Newspapers in New York City and San Francisco ran amusing pieces about the beautiful young woman from Tunitas Creek, south of Half Moon Bay. Sybil, a graduate of San Francisco’s Mark Hopkins School of Art, did not understand all the fuss.

She thought it quite natural to wear practical clothing while dipping her fingers into the tubs of wet, sticky plaster that she used to mold portrait busts.

As the sole female finalist in a competition to do a bust of President William McKinley for the City of San Jose, Sybil enhanced her reputation. She lost in the finals and took off for Mexico.

She thrived in Mexico’s artist colony, mailing smiling photographs of herself and new friends to her parents at Tunitas Creek. This may have been her happiest, most productive creative period.

Before the 1906 earthquake, she returned to the Coastside. But as time passed, Sybil painted and sculpted less and less. She enjoyed hosting large dinner parties and designed lovely, individually hand-printed menus for these affairs.

In late 1915, Sybil wed Louis Paulsen, a wealthy young bachelor from San Francisco. They probably met through the prominent Wienke family, who operated a resort hotel at Moss Beach–near the tracks of the Ocean Shore Railroad.

Sybil and her husband resided at the isolated Tunitas Creek home with Flora, her widowed mother.

Perhaps it was symbolic that Sybil’s life was interwined with the Ocean Shore Railroad, originally planned to extend as far as Santa Cruz. But the doomed Ocean Shore ran out of money and the tracks never got farther than Tunitas Creek, a few steps from the artist’s home. Passengers wishing to travel farther south climbed aboard a large touring car for the long, dusty trip to Santa Cruz.

…To Be Continued…

Photo: Courtesy San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the new gallerys at the San Mateo County History Museum at the historic Redwood City Courthouse in Redwood City.

Coastside Has History Of Shuttle Buses


The Coastside has a history of shuttle “buses”. This one shuttled passengers from San Gregorio, Pescadero and Swanton to Santa Cruz and back. Note the conductor sitting on his perch.

I wonder if our new shuttle be as colorful.

Photo: Randolph Brandt

1913: Pedro Mtn Rd Called For Coolest Heads, Firmest Hands & Strongest Brakes

In 1913 a “See America Firstâ€? travel campaign captured the imagination of new car owners, and hot on the trail of the trend, the California-based editors of “Motoringâ€? magazine recommended that readers “see Half Moon Bay firstâ€?.

What they called the “Kings Mountain to Half Moon Bayâ€? tour caught on quickly. “Motoringâ€? advised “camera fiendsâ€? to brings rolls of film to capture “the picture primeval and beautiful, as it is restless and wild.â€?

Clutching the steering wheel of the latest model Kissel Kar, the driver and his party of motor enthusiasts sampled the much talked about 1-day tour from Kings Mountain to Half Moon Bay.

For the jaunty motorists in the Kissel Kar, the Kings Mountain “roadâ€? resembled not a rocky brown trail but rather verses from an 18th century poem: “a long green lane canopied overhead with interlacing boughs.â€?


Traveling west over Tunitas Creek Road, they paused to contemplate an abandoned sawmill, overgrown with ferns. The Kissel Kar passed through the shadow-filled canyons bordered with vibrant green ferns and Redwood trees. The canyons opened up as the Pacific Ocean and the rolling hills came into view. The air felt cooler and the color of the landscape changed from green to earthy brown tones.


The new Kissel Kar swung north toward Half Moon Bay—then better known as “Spanishtownâ€?. The town’s mood was sleepy, compared with the wheeling and dealing that had dominated the area during the Ocean Shore Railroad real estate boom.


But when the automobile continued heading north to enjoy the spectacular views from Pedro Mountain Road near Montara—the editors of “Motoringâ€? magazine discouraged readers from following in their tire tracks.

“Even with a thoroughly reliable driver and trustworthy car,â€? advised the magazine, “Pedro Mountain road is in such poor condition that anyone going this way is simply inviting disaster.â€?


Underscoring the danger was a large sign that read: “DANGEROUS FOR AUTOMOBILES—TAKE ROAD VIA SAN MATEOâ€?

If they chose to ignore this sign, motorists encountered grades as steep as 25 percent in some places. The hairpin turns called for “the coolest heads, firmest hands and strongest brakes that a car can have.â€?

But while the driver and his passengers in the Kissel Kar warned others not to drive Pedro Mountain Road, they took the risks—and as a result, we can enjoy the photographs they took more than 90 years ago.