History of Saucelito, CA (Part 1)
From: History of Marin County, California
Alley, Bowen & Company, Publishers
San Francisco 1880


GEOGRAPHY. - Saucelito township is made up of the most southerly portion of the peninsula lying between the Pacific ocean on the west, and the San Francisco and San Pablo bays on the east, including also Angel Island. It is bounded on the north by San Rafael and Bolinas townships, on the west by the Pacific ocean, on the south by the Golden Gate, and on the east by San Francisco bay. There are no navigable streams passing through it, and none worthy of special mention from any other cause. Its only harbor is Richardson's bay, which is quite an extensive sheet of water projecting into the southeastern part of the township, and facing directly the city and harbor of San Francisco, at a distance of only six miles. The roadstead in this bay is a fine one, the anchorage being ample and the protection from storms perfect. It was in this bay that the first ships which entered the Golden Gate came to anchor, both from the fact of the excellencies of the anchorage, and that an ample supply of fresh water could be obtained from the springs bursting forth from the adjacent hillsides. The Raccoon Straits lie between Angel Island and the main land. The northern boundary line of this township passes through the center of Marin's great landmark - Mt. Tamalpais.

TOPOGRAPHY. - The characteristic topographical feature of this township is in general keeping with the major portion of Marin county - up and down, hill and dale, or putting it a little stronger, and perhaps in its more true sense - mountain and valley. The mountains range from very large hills to very high peaks and ridges, the highest of the peaks being Tamalpais, and the longest of the ridges being a kind of a backbone to the peninsula extending southward from Tamalpais to the Golden Gate. The valleys are, however, quite large and fertile, the most extensive of which are the Tennessee, Green and Rodeo Laguna on the west, and the valley surrounding the head of Richardson's bay on the east.

SOIL. - The soil of this township varies in quality and kind to quite an extent, that of the valleys being, chiefly a rich, sandy loam, while on the hillsides there is more or less clay in its composition. It is all very fertile, grass thriving even to the very mountain tops. There is a considerable muck in the soil adjacent to the bay, and also near all the lagunas, owing to the great amount of vegetation which annually grows on these places and is returned to the soil. This kind of soil is here, as elsewhere, very rich indeed, and would serve well as a fertilizer of other more barren sections. Taken altogether the soil of this township will compare very favorably with any other in the county.

CLIMATE. - The climate in this township is very salubrious, the Summer's heat being alleviated by the cool breezes of the sea, while the Winter's cold is tempered by the proximity to such vast bodies of water. On the western side of the township the winds are very heavy in the Summer season, and are at times quite chilly, being heavily laden with moisture, which frequently assumes the nature of heavy fogs. This portion of the coast seems to be very subject to fogs, even in the Winter months. On the eastern side the climate is more temperate and even, and the heavy winds and fogs of the western side are unknown, the winds reaching this section being shorn of much of their fury and almost entirely of their fogs. One could not desire a more mild and evenly tempered climate than is to be had at the town of Saucelito; and, in fact, but few towns in California present the same excellencies of climate as does this place.

PRODUCTS. - The business of dairying being the principal occupation of the farmers of this township, the variety of the products is limited to butter and milk chiefly. It is not that the soil will not produce vegetables and cereals to advantage that such a condition of affairs exists, but it is owing to the fact that a great portion of the land is topographically unfit for farming purposes, and from the more potent fact that the business of dairying pays a better profit on the investment. The San Francisco market is easy of access for milk, and much of it is shipped from Saucelito daily to the city. A ready market is also found in the city for the golden butter which is produced here. Vegetables thrive wherever planted, and grain grows in luxuriance. The most of the grain sown is cut for hay, which is used for feeding the cows during the Winter months. Ordinarily, as soon as the rains come the grass springs up, and it is not necessary to feed the stock longer, therefore no great amount of hay is required, and hence but little grain is sown on the different ranches. Fruits do not seem to thrive here, the wind being too strong for the trees to grow to any considerable size, and the produce is naturally as stunted as the trees which bear it. Berries do not thrive either, owing to the same reason. Some varieties of grapes do well, but they are of the hardier kinds, for no spot is so sheltered but that the air is laden with moisture and the grapes are struck with mildew.

EARLY SETTLEMENT. - The very first visitors to this section of Marin county are now unknown, but they were voyageurs in search of discoveries. After them came the whalers, who, having spent a season on the northwest whaling grounds, returned to the Bay of San Francisco to spend the winter in its secure harbor and salubrious climate. The first settler in the township was Capt. John Read, who came to the coast in 1826, and to Saucelito in that year, and is said to be one of the first, if not the first Irishman who ever located permanently on the Pacific coast, and the first English speaking resident of Marin county. In 1826 he made an application to the Mexican Government for a grant to the Saucelito Rancho, but was refused, owing to the fact that this tract had been reserved for government purposes. In 1827 he went to what is now known as the Cotate rancho, in Sonoma county, and made application for that tract, but the Indians drove him off, and destroyed his crop of wheat and his improvements by burning them. By the advice of Padre Quijos he then went to San Rafael, and took charge of that mission as mayor domo. Padre Quijos had, at that time, charge of both the San Rafael and Sonoma Missions. Read remained at the mission until he came to Saucelito to locate permanently, which was in 1832. He located on the Saucelito ranch, near where the old town stood, hoping now to be able to get a grant for it, but, like many other matters entrusted to friends to be done, when the papers arrived they were not in his name. While here he built a small shanty, evidently the first house erected in the township, and plied a small boat across the bay for the purpose of carrying passengers. This was doubtless the first ferry boat on the bay, which now counts them by the dozens, and the first in the State. When we compare this mere pigmy of a sail boat making its one or more trips a week, with the palace steamers which now pass to and fro over the same track more than a dozen times each day, we can form some conception of the magnitude of the changes which have occurred in the past half century. After remaining on the Saucelito ranch about one year, he, in 1833, applied for and received a grant to the rancho "Corte de Madera del Presidio," which being translated into English means the place where wood is cut for the Presidio, and derived its name from the fact that the timbers and lumber for the erection of the presidio buildings at Yerba Buena had been brought from this place. The final papers of this grant were made out in 1843. His first house on this ranch was a small one, constructed of split boards, which were placed on end, and was covered with shakes. He then built an adobe house which was about eighteen by thirty, and one story high, which is still standing, although in a very dilapidated condition. In 1843 he began operations on an adobe house which was twenty four by forty five, and two stories high, but he died in that year, before he had it completed. He had a lot of Indians, which he hired at Sutter's Fort, at work building this house. When finished the house had three rooms below and the same number up stairs, the partitions being of adobe and extending to the roof. The outer walls were three feet in thickness, and had a double porch five feet wide entirely around them. This house is still in a good state of preservation, and is occupied by Mrs. Ynez Read Deffenbach and her husband. The timber and lumber used in the construction of this house was sawed at the mill on the Read ranch. Mr. Read unfortunately came to his death through the kindness of his friends. He was sick with a fever, and there being no physician accessible, his friends thought the best thing to be done was to bleed him, but not being experienced in the art of phlebotomy, they allowed the blood to flow until he was so weak that his recovery was impossible. In 1836 he was married to Senorita Hilaria Sanchez, born in the Presidio at Yerba Buena in 1817, and the daughter of Don Jose Antonio Sanchez, who was a member of one of the first Spanish families which came from Mexico to California, arriving when he was only five years of age, and at this time captain of the troop at the Presidio. She died March 4, 1872, at the age of fifty five. They had four children, two sons and two daughters. After Mr. Read's death, Mrs. Read was married a second time, and had one daughter.

To Captain Wm. Antonio Richardson belongs the honor of being the second settler in this township, and his family was the first that resided in it. He was born in England in 1795, and at the early age of twelve went to sea. August 27, 1819, he left "the Downs" as first officer of a vessel bound for the Pacific ocean on a whaling voyage. Coming around the Horn, they remained out till August 2, 1822, when they arrived at San Francisco bay. It is not known what induced this son of Britain to cast off his allegiance to his native country and ally himself with a foreign race in a wild and unknown region. Be that as it may, he did not sail with the vessel when she left port, but at once associated himself with his newly chosen people, and proved his allegiance by being baptized into their church and being rechristened, whence the name Antonio. On the 9th day of August, 1824, we find that he was granted a lot in the Pueblo of Yerba Buena, which was two hundred varas square His next act of allegiance consisted in uniting in marriage with Senorita Maria Antonia Martinez, which event occurred May 12, 1825. Senorita Maria Antonia was born in Santa Barbara in 1803, and was the daughter of Ygnacio Martinez, for whom the present town of that name in Contra Costa county was called. October 10, 1828, he made application for the Saucelito ranch, but it was at that time reserved by the government, consequently it was not granted to him till February 11, 1838. On the 3d day of June, 1835, he was appointed Captain of the Port of San Francisco, which position he held for eleven years, being relieved September 11, 1844. Most of the above dates were taken from a diary kept by him, in which the last entry is, "War, July 9, 1846," referring to the breaking out of the Mexican war, which was destined to give our glorious golden State to the United States Government. In April, 1836, he moved his family to the Saucelito ranch, and the first night was spent under a tent formed by spreading a sail over a bended sapling. He soon built a house of boards, which had been whip sawed at the "Corte Madera" by the Indians. It contained only one room, and was about twelve by fourteen feet in size, and was located near the site of the adobe ranch house which was so familiar to all old settlers in after years. They lived in this shanty till the Fall, when a small adobe, about sixteen by twenty feet in size, was constructed, in which they resided for about three years, when an addition of a room on either side was made, making the entire house about twenty by forty feet, with a storage loft above. He began the erection of a very large adobe, and carried it as far as the completion of the walls, when he abandoned the project, and it was all washed away by the rains. Captain Richardson died April 22, 1858, at the age of fifty three, leaving his wife and their two children to mourn his loss. Senora Richardson, although now in her seventy seventh year, is still remarkably active both in mind and body, and forms one of the few remaining links of the chain which unites the long ago Spanish regime with the active American condition of affairs in the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

The first man to locate in the old town of Saucelito with a family was Capt. Leonard Story, who came to the State February 28, 1849, and to this place on Christmas day of the same year. When he arrived there he found only a saw mill building and a shanty for the men to live in. His first house consisted of a few rough slabs from the outside of saw logs, put together so as to form a shelter from the winter's storms, for which he paid at the rate of three hundred dollars per thousand feet. When the first settlers came to old Saucelito, they found an old shanty standing up in the gulch some distance, but nothing was known as to who built it. It is quite probable that it was the one occupied by John Read at the time he had the ferry from Yerba Buena to Saucelito. Early in 1850 Captain Story built a house eighteen by thirty feet and one and one half story high, the frame for which came around the Horn, and cost him one thousand dollars. In the latter part of 1850 George Milewater erected a dwelling house where L. Story, Jr., now lives, and during that year Robert Parker built a dwelling and a building which he used as a bowling alley. His was the second family to live in the town. He also erected a dwelling for Charles Hill, who had charge of the bowling alley. A man by the name of McCormack erected the first hotel of the place during this year, and called it the "Fountain House," and he was also the builder of the first government store at this place, which was also built in 1850. It was thirty by one hundred feet and two stories high. Captain Hill also built a two story dwelling during this year. In 1851 Captain Goodwin erected a two story dwelling, and during this year Captain Charles Dickinson and E. T. Whittlesey came into possession of the "Fountain House" and the bowling alley. Early in 1852 another two story government store, fifty by one hundred feet, was built, and also a store room connected with it, thirty by one hundred feet. After the great fire which occurred in Sacramento City during this year, there was so great a demand for lumber that the hotel, bowling alley and Hill's store were torn down and the lumber shipped to that place. One of the government stores was removed to Mare Island, and the other was sold to John Perry, Jr., and he disposed of it to ____ Richards. The mill was sold to Joseph Angelotti, and he transferred it to L. Story, Sr., and it was finally blown down in a south easter. A man known to old pioneers only by the suggestive cognomen of "Bill the Cook," had a hotel there, probably in 1852, though it is impossible to fix the date definitely now. Of all the buildings mentioned above, the only one remaining at the present time is the dwelling erected by L. Story, Sr., although there is a house there which appears to have been reconstructed out of the old lumber, some of which came around the Horn. One of the old timers of that section, who came there in 1852, is William Crossley, better known, however, as "Horse Shoe Bill," which sobriquet he received on account of the conformation of the stretch of beach he formerly lived upon. In 1854 Captain George Snow erected the "Saucelito House," which remained standing till 1875, when it was destroyed by fire.

Old Father Time has dealt rather harshly with these pioneers, and a muster of them at the end of a trifle over a quarter of a century shows that only four of them remain. The following catalogue of them will show what has become of them all: - George Milewater died in Saucelito; "Bill the Cook" committed suicide in San Francisco; Captain Snow is still living on the north side of Richardson's bay; Captain L. Story is living in San Francisco; Captain Dickerson died on board steamer en route for the Eastern States; E. T. Whittlesey went East, and it is not known whether he is living or not; "Horse Shoe Bill" (William Crossley) is still living at Saucelito; McCormack went to China and died; Captain Hill died of cholera in 1851; Charles Hill went to the southern part of the State and is still living; and Captain Goodwin is dead.

MILLS. - The pioneer saw and grist mill of Marin county were erected and put in operation by John Read. It is not known just when he built the grist mill, but it is probable that it was shortly after he located permanently on the Corte de Madera del Presidio rancho. He purchased the stones from the Russians at Fort Ross, Sonoma county, and they were made of basalt, and are still in a good state of preservation. The bottom burr is two feet eight inches in diameter and eight inches thick, with a hole in the center one and one half inches in diameter, and the upper one is two feet and one inch in diameter and three inches thick, with a hole four inches in diameter in the center. Some sort of a horse power was arranged for the purpose of running the mill, but as that has all long since disappeared it is impossible to give any detailed description of it. He erected his saw mill in 1843, and had but just got it in operation when he died. His prime object in building it was to saw lumber for his house, which he had in process of construction when he died. It was a sash saw and was driven by water power, and while its capacity was not very great, it was far superior to whip sawing, which was the usual mode of making lumber at that time. It was located in the ravine about one half mile south west of the Read ranch house, and it is not known now how long it continued in operation, but it evidently worked up a great amount of timber. Only a few posts and slabs are left to mark the site, and soon all traces of this pioneer mill will be obliterated. The first steam saw mill and the only one ever in the township was built by Robert Parker, ____ Botts and ____ McCormack, in November, 1849, and had a sash saw for ripping the logs, and a pony (circular) saw for working the lumber up into smaller pieces and boards. The logs were obtained near the head of Richardson's bay, and were rafted around to the mill, which was located at the site of old Saucelito. This mill was sent out by the goverment, but was operated by private individuals. The building was thirty five by one hundred feet in size, and passed into the hands of Captain T. F. Peck, and was discontinued in 1852.

LUMBER. - Altogether there has been a great deal of lumber cut in this township, especially in early days. It was from here that the most of the lumber used in Yerba Buena was procured, and when the new city of San Francisco sprang into existence those forests which were the most accessible were drawn on first for supplies. In 1849 a great amount of timber and piling was cut here and taken across the bay. Captain Leonard Story ran a large bark in that trade during that year, and Captain Charles Lauff and William Hood took a raft of eighty thousand feet over, being the largest raft ever floated on the bay. A man by the name of Maple had the contract for delivering the lumber and piles at the Embarcadero, and a large force of men was employed.

SAUCELITO WATER WORKS. - In 1850 Captain W. A. Richardson and his son in law, Manuel Torres, established the Saucelito Water Works for the purpose of supplying the city of San Francisco. A tank about thirty feet square and eight feet high was constructed on the beach and the water was conducted to it from springs on the adjacent hillsides, whence it was taken to the city in steam scows. When the demand for water in San Francisco outgrew the capacity of their tank they built another about one hundred yards from the beach which was about sixty feet square and eight feet high, which is still standing. The business was discontinued when water was supplied to the city by the Spring Valley Company.

RECRUITING STATION. - For many years before the tide of immigration set in towards California the Bay of San Francisco was used by whaling vessels, war ships and voyageurs as a recruiting station, not only on account of the safe anchorage found in it, but also because of the remarkably fine fresh water and the easily obtained supply of beef to be procured there. For a number of years Captain Richardson drove a very thriving business in slaughtering cattle and disposing of the beef to these vessels. To stock a whaling vessel for a season's cruise required no small amount of beef and there were a large number of them in port every Winter, and a very busy scene was presented when the carrying of meat by all the crews of these ships was at its height. It was always looked upon by the seamen as a kind of a holiday season, especially as Christmas was usually spent here, and they comported themselves accordingly.

OLD GRAVE YARDS. - From time to time as men from the vessels lying at. anchor in Richardson's bay died they were taken ashore and interred. At one time several Russian vessels lay in quarantine there with some contagious disease, from which a number of their men died, and they were buried in shallow graves extending from the beach back some distance in a little gulch. Since then the tide has washed many of these bodies up, and excavations for lots, and the filling in of others have unearthed many of them, and buried others far deeper, and very soon all traces of them will be lost and forgotten. Some distance south of the site of old Saucelito, on the brow of a hill overlooking the bay, there is an enclosure about forty feet square containing, perhaps, a dozen graves of seamen, two of whom have headstones which tell their story as follows:-

To the Memory of
A Seaman of the U. S. SHIP
Born in London, England, 1820, who
Was drowned in Saucelito bay
August 27, 1850, aged thirty years.
This tombstone was erected by his
Shipmates, though his body's under
Hatches, his soul has gone aloft.

In Memory of
A native of Queenstown,
Who died
August 29, 1855, aged eighteen years.
By falling from aloft
On board H. M. S.
Erected by the Ship's Company.

SAUCELITO LAND AND FERRY COMPANY. - From the time the stores and mill were torn down in old Saucelito in 1853 till the year 1868, there was not much of a town at that place, but dining the last named year an enterprise was set on foot which was destined to cause new life to spring into the old wreck of a town, and to draw the attention of people seeking a quiet rural home in a lovely place to it as being just the location they desired. This was the organization of _the Saucelito Land and Ferry Company. They purchased about one thousand two hundred acres lying on the south side of Richardson's bay, for which they paid at the rate of four hundred and twenty five dollars per acre, and divided it into town lots and country seats, laying out broad avenues and streets. The company at once established a ferry line between this place and San Francisco, and put the steamer "Princess" in the trade, and continued to run her till 1875, when they refitted and put on the elegant steamer "Petaluma of Saucelito," which now makes about eight round trips daily, thirty minutes being consumed in crossing the bay. The first building erected in the new town was the "Saucelito" Hotel, and was built by Daniel ____ and Joseph Coster in 1869. This was soon followed by a two story hotel near the Ferry Landing, erected by James Greene. This building was burned in December, 1879. A man by the name of Ford built a store south of the Ferry Landing in 1870. New Saucelito is a delightful place for a homestead, commanding a lovely and most extensive prospect, and having a fine climate, and being near the city, all of which conspire to always make it one of the most desirable locations within reach of San Francisco for country residences.

OFFICIAL AND BUSINESS DIRECTORY. - The postoffice was established at this place December 12, 1870, with John Schnell, postmaster. The present postmaster is B. P. Pearson; Justices of the Peace, C. C. P. Severance and C. G. Dye; constables, Charles Forest and C. DeSilla; and M. C. Hamlin, telegraph operator. The business interests of the town may be catalogued as follows: three hotels, three saloons, one carpenter shop, four stores, one bakery, one meat market, two blacksmith and wagon shops, one shoe shop, one livery stable, one harness shop, and one lumber yard. The machine and car shops of the North Pacific Coast Railroad are also located here.

YACHT CLUB HOUSES. - The Pacific and San Francisco yacht clubs have each a fine building and wharf here; the building and grounds of the former being located south of old Saucelito, and of the latter south of the ferry landing. The building of the Pacific club was erected in 1878 and opened July 4th of that year; and is forty six feet square with a twelve foot porch on three sides of it, and two stories high. The house of the San Francisco club was built in September, 1878, and is seventy by forty five, and one story high.

[Continued in Saucelito History part 2]

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