City of San Carlos - San Carlos in the 1800
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San Carlos in the 1800's

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Eventually lands in the bay area were granted by the Spanish Government to deserving individuals. The 35,420-acre Rancho de Las Pulgas at one time stretched from San Francisciquito Creek (near Palo Alto) to San Mateo Creek and from the bay marshes to Cañada Road. It was granted in 1795 to Captain Don Dario Arguello, Commandante of the Presidio in San Francisco and later ninth governor of Alta California. His son, Don Luis (Presidente from 1822-25) was the first native-born governor to serve under Mexican rule. After Don Luis's death in 1839, his widow, Dona Maria Soledad Ortega Arguello, had an adobe home believed to be at the corner of the present Magnolia and Cedar Streets until 1854. To help her supervise the large rancho, Dona Maria sent to Puerto Rico for her attorney, S.M. Mezes, who received 15% of the land in payment for his services.


In 1854, Timothy Guy Phelps, a San Francisco mercantile owner and 49er (the original kind), was the first American to purchase and occupy land in San Carlos. He started his estate with 200 acres of the Arguello adobe, where he lived until his board-and-batten house was built next to it. He eventually increased his holdings to 3,500 acres of rancho lands, on which he raised cattle that were shipped to San Francisco by barge. Phelps became the first president of the Southern Pacific Railroad, a U.S. Congressman in the 1860's, and an early Regent of the University of California at Berkeley. Later he was appointed Collector of Customs in San Francisco. His employee, Julius Johnson, planted the eucalyptus trees along what is now San Carlos Avenue near Cordilleras Avenue.

The Depot

Still later, John Brittan, a hardware dealer in San Francisco, bought for his estate 3,000 acres of the rancho, extending from Cordilleras Creek (near Redwood City) to Pulgas Creek (between Arroyo Avenue and Olive Street) and west to Canada Road. After inheriting a third of the estate, his son Nathaniel built a home on the present Pine Avenue; the elaborate gardens even included a bear pit to house a bear acquired on one of his trips to Alaska!
vsc-historical pictures
When the San Francisco-to-San Jose railroad was being laid in 1864, Nathaniel Brittan granted the right-of-way through his property, with the stipulation that a station agent and telegraph office be maintained at all times. Brittan was a friend of Leland Stanford who arranged to lend his University stone masons for the building of the San Carlos depot in 1888. This is how our now famous landmark, the San Carlos Depot, came to be built. It is a rare example of the use of the Richardson Romansque style in California railroad station architecture.

In the 1890's, Nathaniel was President of the now-prestigious Bohemian Club of San Francisco and offered a site on his San Carlos property for a "Country Jinx" club house and Bohemian Club retreat. A corner stone was laid on "Druid's Hill" near the present intersection of Orange and Elizabeth Streets, but the clubhouse was never constructed. Brittan also had a huge hunting lodge built on the present Dale Avenue near his elaborate home so as not to disturb Mrs. Brittan when he entertained his cronies.

A brickmaker, William Hull, came to San Carlos in the 1880's to look for better clay. He bought 40 acres from T.G. Phelps and built brick kilns on the property, as well as two houses. Bricks from San Carlos were used in many important buildings of the day, such as Fort Mason and San Quentin Prison. Hull's son Asa, one of his four children, stayed at home to run the dairy started by his brother Guy. Grain was grown on vacant lots in town. Milk was sold locally for five cents a quart if the customers brought their own containers!