History of Half Moon Bay, California
From: The Story of San Mateo County, California
By: Roy W. Cloud
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company.
Chicago, Ill 1928


Half Moon Bay or Spanishtown as it formerly was known, is situated on a little arm of the ocean, crescent shaped, which has given its name to the surrounding country. In the early days of the county it was the most influential section politically and at every election the returns from the "coast" were eagerly awaited and the saying was "As goes Spanishtown, so goes the county." The first people to settle in the community were Spanish and Mexican, and the Vasquez and Miramontez families were the original land holders. In this section of San Mateo County will be found, perhaps, at the present time the only local living representatives of the large landed estates of the ranchos of San Mateo County. Half Moon Bay in the very early times was a port of entry of the various governments controlling the country and under American occupation a regular customs house with custom official was maintained there. James Peace was probably the first of the white population of the town. Following him shortly thereafter came George Wyman. In 1853 George R. Borden, B. F. Webb, Armstead Goadley, constituting one party, came across the plains and mountains and in February of that year located on the rancho Canada de Verde. About the same time James Johnston came and settled and shortly thereafter his three brothers, Thomas, William and John also followed. The Johnstons introduced the eastern or domesticated cattle in the Half Moon Bay section and began making great improvements upon their property, which was situated just south of the present town of Half Moon Bay. J. F. Johnston, son of James Johnston, who for many years was county clerk and recorder of San Mateo County and whose home was in Redwood City, passed away early in 1927, and Thomas Johnston, another descendant of this family who for years was associated with the business life of Half Moon Bay also passed away at Half Moon Bay in this same year. In 1856 Wesley A. Wilsey settled on the mountain just west of town with a large herd of eastern cattle and daily his milk wagons supplied the trade of San Francisco. The youngest daughter of the Wilsey family who in 1867 married Joseph T. Cloud, for many years county surveyor of San Mateo County, and lived at Crystal Springs and later in Redwood City, was the mother of the writer of this history. During the time of this early occupation wild animals were prevalent in this section of the country and grizzly bear and mountain lions were frequently killed in the rough canyon country surrounding. Charles Kelly was, perhaps, the first of the business men of the community. He located his store in the present town about 1856. The first harnessmaker was William Pringle, who afterwards became justice of the peace and served in that capacity for many years Joseph Denny was the village blacksmith, he having shortly after his location as a competitor William Yates. Edward Rockafellow, who claimed to be a relative of John D. of oil fame was also a blacksmith and his family because of the daughters was one of the very prominent families of this locality. Estanislaus Zaballa, who married into the Miramontez family, engaged in the general merchandise business. Then came Bifano, an Italian who was afterwards murdered by two Manila men. Levy Brothers who are, perhaps, the most active of all of the merchants of San Mateo County, located in Half Moon Bay at a later day in 1872. The first public house of entertainment was built by Henry Bidwell, a nephew of General John Bidwell, who afterwards was a prohibition candidate for president of the United States. Mr. Bidwell was appointed postmaster and conducted that office for several years. M. A. Halstead was the first to engage in manufacturing and erected a grist mill in the spring of 1860. Doctor Huggard, who was both a preacher and a physician, served in the dual capacity of a spiritual advisor and a medical man, for several years. Dr. W. D. Church, who settled in the town in 1859 and died in 1896 was perhaps the best known physician that the coast side of the county ever had in the early days. His son, John W. Church, was at the time of his death (1903) 8 feet 1 inch tall and was rated the tallest man in the world. In October, 1863, the Miramontez family through a decree of partition in the district court settled the ownership of the rancho Miramontez, and at that time the town of Spanishtown was platted and put upon the market. E. Zaballa put his property up for sale in this way, and to his industry as a realtor was due the early settlement of the town. The site of Half Moon Bay as chosen by him is high and dry and commands an extended view of the ocean from which it is about one mile distant. The road leading down over the mountain through the San Andres Valley gives a picture of the town three miles before that thriving community is reached. In the southern section of the village J. P. Ames early made his home. Mr. Ames immediately became a power in the political affairs of the county. He served as supervisor for his township and because of his activity was appointed warden of San Quentin Prison, which position he held for a considerable length of time. James Denniston, who owned a large ranch north of Half Moon Bay and who was one of the richest inhabitants of the county in the early days was another of the politicians prominent in that section. He probably had a greater amount of political power than any other early day politician, being able to name anyone he chose for public office. Another man of prominence was Judge John Pitcher, who for years was justice of the peace, holding that office until he was ninety years of age. His daughter, Dr. Josephine Pitcher, and a son, T. B. Pitcher, still reside in Half Moon Bay.

The loading and shipping point for Half Moon Bay was called Amesport and was situated about a mile from the town. Here a long wharf was built which extended quite a distance into the water and over it grain and produce could be hauled to the ships riding at anchor in deep water. This port was the property of Mr. Ames, Mr. James D. Byrnes and Mr. Harlow. Gordon's chute was south of town and here the produce was chuted from the bluffs above to the ships below.

Rufus Hatch on January 20, 1855, sold his hog ranch in the Mission District and purchased 320 acres of Government land three miles south of Half Moon Bay, and for about twenty years he engaged in stock raising and farming there. Mr. Hatch married Martha Schuyler, daughter of James Schuyler, the first hotel keeper of the section. Mr. Hatch also engaged in the lumber and shingle business, and upon his death in 1888 the business was continued and later passed into the managership of his son, Alvin S. Hatch, who has for the past twenty years been probably the most prominent business man of the section. A daughter of Mr. Hatch is the wife of Dr. J. C. McGovern, the pioneer dentist of South San Francisco. James Hatch came later and established a grist mill. R. I. Knapp shortly afterwards opened a plow manufactory, and the R. I. Knapp side hill plows were known all over the State of California. In 1873 Edward Schubert entered the brewing business and for years the Schubert Brewery was the place that furnished the manufactured beer for the entire coast side of the county. Samuel Walker maintained the first drug store. The stage was driven by Robert Rawles, known all over the county as "Buckskin Bob." Robert Campbell early became the village butcher and also enjoyed an extensive cattle trade. Nelson and Lewis maintained a livery stable. John Perry had a paint shop, and the undertaking needs of the section were cared for by Adam Simmons. Mr. Simmons was also the father of the Half Moon Bay fire company and for many years was active in that line. His son, Fred Simmons, has for many years been the constable of the Fourth Township. Charles Borden, one of the kindliest gentlemen of the coast side and at the time of his death judge of the justice court for years engaged in the lumber business and passed away at an old age in 1926, leaving the business to William Whiteman, who was engaged in the lumber business with him.

The first and most active of all of the organizations of the community were the Good Templars and the Sons of Temperance. On September 12, 1872, Haywards Lodge No. 226 Free and Accepted Masons was instituted with the following charter members: Henry E. Lea, William A. Yates, John Johnston, William A. Campbell, Charles H. Davids, James N. Langley, Dr. Albert Milliken, Manuel F. Farcia, Josiah P. Ames, James Hatch, James Johnston, Eliphas B. Wooley, and J. P. Johnston. The first master of the lodge was Henry E. Lea, and J. P. Johnston was secretary. In 1903 Haywards Lodge was moved to San Mateo and in 1906 the name was changed from Haywards Lodge to San Mateo Lodge, the pioneer lodge of the county at Redwood City which had prior to that time been known as San Mateo Lodge giving up that name and taking the name of Redwood City Lodge. In 1873 Ferdinand Levy was elected treasurer of the lodge and continuously since that date has held the office, having just rounded out his fifty fourth year of service. This is a record almost unequaled in the annals of office holding of any institution in the world.

Half Moon Bay was the first locality in San Mateo County to form a military company which might be used in case of necessity and on February 9, 1861, a volunteer company known as the Half Moon Bay Invincibles was formed. Twenty men signed the charter roll the first day and the company rapidly increased until there were sixty members. According to information, they were to be uniformed as of the United States Infantry, their drill to be that of light infantry and the men were to use California State minnie rifles.

Horace Nelson, one of the real old timers, is president and manager of the Half Moon Bay Water Company and also a director of the bank. Fred Vallejo, who is supervisor of state traffic officers, with his sisters Vera and Isabel, the latter of whom is a teacher in the public schools, are representatives of one of the oldest families of California. Mr. Andrew Gilcrest with Mrs. Gilcrest conducted the Occidental Hotel, the oldest hostelry in the section, which was formerly the property of Mrs. Gilcrest's father, James Burke, an old time supervisor of the Fourth Township. The Half Moon Bay High School, which was located in that section in 1911, is a beautiful building of Spanish architecture and is presided over by D. C. Barnett, the principal, with several assistants. Mr. O. H. Olson, formerly of the Redwood City School Department, is principal of the grammar school.

The principal place of worship on the coast side is the Catholic Church, which numbers as its parishioners a large percentage of the population of Half Moon Bay and vicinity. The pastor in charge of the work at Half Moon Bay also has charge of the mission stations at San Gregorio, Pescadero and La Honda.

Half Moon Bay is the center of a large artichoke growing section and this vegetable finds its market all over the United States, practically all of the supply coming from western San Mateo County. John F. DeBennedetti of San Mateo is president of the Artichoke Association and was for a while tax collector of San Mateo County. The business interests of the town are those usually found in a community of about 1,500 population. There is a cannery where vegetables of all kinds are canned and sent to the market. The bank of Half Moon Bay, which has been in existence for fifteen years, is under the management of Mr. M. J. Bettencourt. The oldest mercantile establishment still doing business is conducted by the DeBennedetti Brothers. This house for years was conducted by Joseph DeBennedetti, who not only was in business in that section but also represented the Fourth Township of San Mateo County on the board of supervisors. Mr. DeBennedetti is survived by several sons and two daughters, one of these being the wife of M. J. Bettencourt, the cashier of the bank; the other married Joseph M. Francis, who also conducted a general merchandise establishment in Half Moon Bay and followed Mr. DeBennedetti as supervisor. Mr. Francis passed away four years ago and was followed by his brother Manuel Francis on the board of supervisors. Mr. Manuel Francis at the time of his selection for the County Board was in the butcher business in Pescadero and the haberdashery business in Half Moon Bay. He disposed of his Pescadero interests and now devotes himself to his political work and to his Half Moon Bay establishment. M. P. Dutra for years has been the undertaker of the section. Dr. W. A. Brook, coroner and public administrator of San Mateo County, is the resident physician of the fourth township. Dr. Charles Morgan has for years conducted the general drug business. Charles A. Cavalli, upon the death of Mr. Joseph M. Francis, left his store in La Honda and purchased the interest held by Mrs. Francis and has since continued in the business. M. F. Cunha sells produce of all kinds and also wood and coal. Alvin S. Hatch, who succeeded his father in the lumber business, has a large lumber yard and not only supplies the local market, but also sells most of the lumber used on the coast side of San Mateo County.

In its religious work Half Moon Bay was first ministered to by Rev. H. Henderson, a Baptist minister who lived in the section and held services during 1856-57, but no organization or organized work was attempted. The Half Moon BayPurisima section is, perhaps, the only one in which the circuit rider of olden times held forth, for in 1857-58 Rev. William Gafney of the Santa Clara Circuit Methodist Episcopal Church held services at the Purisima Schoolhouse south of Half Moon Bay, at the Spanishtown School and at San Gregorio. The first Methodist Sunday School of the coast side was organized through the efforts of James Hatch, J. P. Johnston and others. The school had at the beginning about fifty scholars and was under the direction of James Hatch. In 1864 Half Moon Bay and Pescadero were served by Rev. Mr. Belknap. In 1872 the church was erected at a cost of $4,000. The last minister in charge was Rev. Thomas Leek, who passed away just after his appointment. At the next conference a successor will probably be named to carry on the work.

Following the coast towards the south the first settlement reached is Purisima. This community was built around the hotel of Richard Dogherty and the post office as first established was under the care of Miss Julia Brittan. Large portions of the land surrounding belonged to Mr. H. Dobbel, and across from it was the J. Butts ranch, and here Henry Butts, who was for years deputy sheriff of San Mateo County, grew to manhood. The schoolhouse was built on land donated by Major McCoy and for years was a big rambling building, only one room of which was ever occupied. In 1922 it was torn down and from the timbers a new and modern school was built. Just across the road from the school is the little Purisima cemetery, and here in the early times the pioneers of the coast side were laid to rest. All of the Dobbel property was purchased by the Cowell estate and upon it and upon the Butts property adjoining different oil companies are now boring for oil and several producing wells have been brought in. Passing straight on up the canyon through Purisima the redwoods are soon reached, and here the mills of Borden and Hatch have for years been busy taking out lumber and shingles. In passing through Purisima just beyond the schoolhouse a right angle turn leads down through the valley to the little town of Lobitas.

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