History of Novato, CA
From: History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Company, Publishers
San Francisco 1880


GEOGRAPHY. - Novato township is bounded on the north by Sonoma county, on the east by San Pablo bay, on the south by San Rafael township. and on the west by Nicasio and San Antonio townships. The San Antonio creek follows along its northern boundary, and debouches into the bay of San Pablo at the north easterly point of the township. There are no streams running through Novato of any considerable size, and the principal ones are Novato creek, arroyo San Jose and arroyo Achiva.

TOPOGRAPHY. - Along the Pastern side of the township there is quite a section of salt marsh land, which is, of course, low and level, but points of the high land extend to the bay, and serve to break up the monotony of the landscape, and to add to the beauty of the scene as viewed in passing up the bay on board the steamer. The remainder of the country is very broken and mountainous. The mountains are not very high generally, and the most extensive range, and the only one deserving a name, is called the Olompali Hills. Lying sequestered amid these mountains are a number of extensive and lovely valleys, rich in soil and fertile in beauty. In these charming glens, the husbandman is sure to realize a full fruition of all his labors, and the products of the soil are poured into his garners with a lavish hand, the financial return for which is always commensurate with the yield.

SOIL. - The soil throughout this township is a rich, sandy loam, and is especially fertile in the valleys. It is well adapted to the growing of grains vegetables, fruits and vines. Grass grows very luxuriantly on all the hill and mountain sides, over which large herds of kine roam at will, feeding upon the sweet and succulent grasses, yielding rich milk, which, when converted into golden butter, affords a golden return.

PRODUCTS. - The products of this section are as varied as any in the county. The cereals prosper in all the valleys, as also do potatoes and other vegetables. Fruits are found to do exceptionally well, especially in those valleys which open toward the bay. Vines and small fruits are grown with great success wherever planted, and the sparseness of orchards and vineyards in this section is not to be attributed at all to the fact that they will not thrive, but that the land is mostly rented for dairying purposes, and the renters do not care to make any such permanent improvements upon the farms. As an evidence of what may be done in the way of growing fruits and vines, we will take a hasty survey of the extensive orchard and vineyard of F. De Long. This orchard lies just north west of the town of Novato, in a valley opening to the south east, and well sheltered on the north and west by a high range of hills. In this orchard there are twenty thousand apple trees, three thousand and five hundred pear trees, three thousand apricot trees, two hundred cherry trees, six hundred peach trees, and five hundred almond trees. The vineyard has eight thousand vines in it, and the yield from all these trees and vines will compare favorably with any in the State. The produce from all except the apple trees is sent at once to market. Of the apples, a large proportion are crushed, and cider and vinegar made from the expressed juice. For this purpose the proprietor has all the necessary appliances for rapid and complete execution of the desired object. The apples are crushed by a roller driven by steam power. The pomace is then passed into the cellar of the building where the press is situated. Here a cheese is built upon a frame five feet square, encased in strong gunny cloth. This is passed under a very large and strong press, to which the power is applied by four strong screws, operated by a series of cog wheels connected with the engine. There are two grinding machines, and two frames for constructing cheeses upon, so that while one cheese is under the press another one is in construction. Each cheese will yield from five to seven barrels, of forty gallons each, of cider, owing, to the season and quality of the fruit. It usually requires ten bushels of apples to make one barrel of cider. It requires four men to operate this machinery, and the average daily yield is about one thousand and sik hundred gallons. The pomace is put into large vats and allowed to stand until it ferments, when it is again pressed, and yields an amount of juice equalling about twenty five per cent. of the original quantity extracted from it. The cider is pumped into a main conductor and conveyed into large tanks in the store room. At the end of three or four months it is drawn off from the lees, and placed in clean tanks. It is usually drawn off twice more, when, at the end of from fifteen to eighteen months, it is considered to be in prime condition for the market. It will then neutralize fifty grains of potash very readily, and sometimes will reach so high a standard as to neutralize seventy grains. There is no water allowed to enter any of the processes, and if it becomes necessary to reduce the grade of the vinegar to make it marketable, it is done afterwards. In the store room there are twenty vats, each containing two thousand and eight hundred gallons, also about eight hundred barrels, of forty gallons each. Quite a large quantity of cider is boiled down from thirty to fifty per cent., and marketed in that condition, while much more of it is bottled and sold as champagne cider. For storing his apples Mr. De Long has a brick building which is seventy by one hundred feet in size, and three stories high, including the basement It has a storage capacity of twenty thousand boxes, holding one bushel each. This is the most extensive vinegar manufactory, probably, in the State of California, hence the extended notice of it in our work. As elsewhere in this county, butter is the chief staple product.

CLIMATE. - The climate of Novato is usually very mild and temperate. It is so far inland that the strong sea breezes do not reach the valleys with any undue degree of force, at the same time the effect of them is felt in the moderated temperature. It is almost perennial springtime in the glens and dells of this section. Tropical plants and fruits bloom and fructify in a luxuriance not found elsewhere north of Santa Barbara. Japonicas can be seen in full and perfect bloom in the month of March, which have stood in the gardens the entire season, exposed to all the rigors of the winter's storms; also lemon, orange and lime trees. Dr. G. Burdell has, in his orchard of tropical fruits, orange trees from Los Angeles, Japan, Florida and Tahiti, all of which are growing nicely, and seem to thrive as well here as beneath their native tropical sun.

TIMBER. - The timber of this township consists chiefly of oak and laurel, and in the early days of its settlement the chopping and exporting of wood formed one of the principal industries of the settlers. But that is all a thing of the past, and but little wood is now chopped here for the market. There are no redwood forests in this section, but a few straggling trees are to be found in the canons near the mountain tops. These trees are spoken of as being very hardy and their wood very durable. A few pine and fir trees are also found, but not in any considerable bodies.

EARLY SETTLEMENT. - To go back to the building of the first house in this township would bring us down several years into the last century, and without doubt to Novato belongs the honor of having the first house ever built north of San Francisco bay in the State of California. The old settlers who have passed along the road from San Rafael to Petaluma, will remember the old adobe house which stood just at the south east corner of the house now occupied by Dr. Burdell on the Olompali ranch. This house and the one in which the Doctor resides at the present time have stood there so long that the "memory of man runneth not to the contrary." It is to be presumed that the first mentioned of these buildings was erected prior to the second, from the fact of its decay. An Indian legend which still clings about the place, coming down through the generations of Aboriginals who have long since shuffled this mortal coil and passed to the happy hunting grounds of "Gitchie Manito," to the early Spanish dwellers in the land, and from them to the present generation, relates that in the long, long ago there was a great and powerful tribe of Indians who dwelt at this place, known as the Olompalis. Here a beautiful stream of living water burst as it were from the hillsides and went dashing down the valley, across the level plain skirting the bay, and lost itself in the ceaseless ebb and flow of the tide upon the sandy beach. This Was before the days of salt marshes around the head of San Pablo bay, and the sparkling, rippling wavelets of that "Gitchie Gumme" danced in merry glee over its smooth surface and were at last stranded on the beach of glittering sands which begirt the shore. On the banks of this stream there were immense "kjookkenmoddings," or shell deposits, covering an area of several acres, and having an unknown depth, which would indicate that these people have lived here from time immemorial. In the depths of these shell mounds are found stone implements of a character unknown to the later generation of Aboriginals. Stone calumets have been found there, and it has also been noticed that there are three distinct styles of arrow heads found buried in these shell mounds, varying according to the depth at which they are deposited. Hence it may be reasonably inferred that this place was the camping ground of a people which far antedates the California Indian. Who that people was or what they were like is not the object of this sketch. The legend above referred to: relates still further that about the time of the erection of the Mission at San Francisco, a party of Spaniards crossed the straits at what is now known as Lime Point' and traveled northward. It was late in the season and they found no streams of running water until they arrived at Olompali. Here they were kindly received by the natives, and all their wants supplied as far as it lay in their hands to do so. The party was so well entertained that the leaders decided to remain there for a fortnight and recruit their horses, and get thoroughly rested preparatory to proceeding on their arduous journey, and in return for the kindness received they taught the Indians how to make adobe brick and construct a house. Let us see now how fully this legend is sustained by facts mentioned in history. The party sent out to establish the Mission at San Francisco arrived at that place June 27, 1776. There was a store ship containing supplies dispatched so as to arrive in the bay about the same time, bat adverse winds delayed it for a protracted period. At length the party decided to construct a presidio pending the arrival of the vessel, which seemed essential to the establishment of the Mission. On the 18th of August the store ship sailed into the harbor, and the Mission was dedicated October 9th of that year. Father Gleeson, in his "History of the Catholic Church in California," says:- "While waiting for the arrival of the vessel with the stores, they occupied themselves in examining the bay and visiting the natives at their respective rancherias, by whom they were favorably received." After the arrival of the vessel another short delay occurred, of which he says:- "This interval they employed in surveying the harbor, which resulted in the knowledge of there being no outlet, except that by which they had entered." Father Palou, the chronicler of Father Junipera Serra, and the first historian of California, says:- "After the presidio and before the Mission was established (in San Francisco), an exploration of the interior was organized, as usual, by sea (the bay) and land." It will be seen by the above, which is authority that is perfectly reliable, that an expedition was sent out by sea and land from San Francisco at the time of the locating of the Mission and presidio there, and that they visited the rancherias of the natives in the interior, all of which not only goes to corroborate the statements made by the Indians, but fixes the fact beyond a doubt; hence we may reasonably conclude that, if the truth of the legend has been so far established as to prove that a visit was made them at this time by the Spaniards, then the remainder of it is true concerning the instructions given in the art of brick making and house building.

The older of these two adobe houses was sixteen by twenty, with walls eight feet high and three feet thick, covered with a thatched roof made of tules through the center of which there was a hole for the egress of smoke, and containing only one room. It was evidently built by the father of Camillo Ynitia, the last thief of the tribe. The second house was much larger, being twenty four by fifty six outside, and containing three rooms; and from the fact of its well preserved condition it is quite probable that it was constructed at a much more recent date and, probably, by Camillo Ynitia himself. The inner sides of the walls of the small house were completely covered with soot, indicating that it had, probably, been used for cooking purposes during all the years that followed the completion of the larger one, while the latter had been used chiefly as a house to live in. When the old house was torn down the brick, from the very heart of the wall, on being subjected to a few showers of rain sprang into life, as it were, with a heavy and luxuriant growth of filaree grass, wild oats, and burr clover. This would seem to go to disprove the very prevalent belief that wild oats are the offspring of tame stock brought here by the Mission Fathers; for it is evident that the country was well seeded with them, else they would not have been so largely incorporated in those brick, and, moreover, the straw used in their manufacture was wild oat straw, therefore, if the wild oat is not an indigenous plant we will have to look to some source far anterior to the Missions for its introduction. Might it not have been included in the domestic seeds given the natives by Sir Francis Drake some three hundred years ago ? It would seem quite probable.

Passing on down to the Spanish regime we find that Fernando Fales received a grant for the Novato rancho as early as 1839, and he constructed an adobe building on the place, near the present site of F. De Long's house, which was twenty by forty with a partition in the middle, on one side of which there was a capacious fire place constructed, being eight feet wide. The grant passed from Fernando Fales to Jacob P. Leese, and he disposed of it to Bezaar Simmons, who erected a large wooden house on it in 1850, just south of the old Fales adobe. Simmons made an assignment for the benefit of his creditors, and A. C. Peachy, one of the assignees, purchased the Novato rancho and sold it to Johnson & McKabe, and they disposed of it to Sweetser & De Long. The grant called for two leagues and was given by metes and bounds fully described on the diseno, which, when carefully surveyed, were found to include nearly three leagues.

In 1851 a man by the name of Day located on what is known as Day's Island, and the settlers began to settle on Black Point two years later. John Brink and Capt. Macy were the pioneers of this section. It is not now known in what year these settlers came respectively, but the following catalogue will show who they were and what became of them: John Knight, at present in Knight's valley, Sonoma county; - Childs, unknown; Capt. James Hyatt went to the Bermuda Islands and died; James Fairfoul is a stevedore in San Francisco; John Greenlaw is a ship carpenter in San Francisco; Robert Bain lives in Sonoma valley; Andrew Anderson and John Brink still reside on Black Point; Thomas Sweezer lives in San Rafael; Peter Irwin, unknown; Capt. Benjamin Pleasants sailed for China as master of a vessel and nothing was ever heard of her; Elias Crosby died on Deer Island; G. F. Van Holland and Daniel Katz died at Novato; - Simmons, unknown; Capt. Macy went to Massachusetts and died; Henry Broker lives in Petaluma; Peter Rush was murdered June 7, 1876; E. Hubbard, dead, and Adolphus Scown still resides in Novato. The men were mostly cutting wood, and dairying on a small scale. A few schooners were built at this place, but it is not known now by whom, and the knees for the man of war "Saginaw," constructed at Mare Island in 1864, were cut on the Point. Henry Jones and Peter Smith kept the first public house in the township, giving it the name "Our House," and they had a store and saloon in connection with it. Smith died at Ross' Landing in 1878, and Jones was found dead in a horse trough, at what was known as the "Half way House."

NOVATO. - This hamlet consists of a few houses bordering the roadside, of which one is used as a store, two as saloons, one as a blacksmith shop, one as a meat market. There is a warehouse on the bank of a slough hard by, and the schooner "Solferina" plys between that place and San Francisco. The postoffice was established here February 2, 1856, with Henry F. Jones as postmaster, and was discontinued January 14, 1860. It was re-established as Black Point, January 11, 1865, with Joseph B. Sweetser as postmaster.

SCHOOLS. - There is but one school district in the township, which is known by the same name. The firt house was a small one, and was built in 1858-9. The second is a very neat one, indeed, and was erected in 1875.

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