The Church family in San Mateo County


About 100 years ago (editor’s note: in the 1870s) my grandfather Thomas Church brought his family from Palmer Massachusetts to San Mateo county California. My mother Sarah Church was his daughter. She was then about six or seven years old. She had two brothers, Andrew and William, and two half brothers John and Frank McKay. Grandmother’s name was Susan and grandfather Church’s mother Agnes was with them. She died at Grabtown and was buried at Purissima Cemetery. Grandfather worked at several of the sawmills and shingle mills. I heard them talk of Borden’s, Purdey’s Harkens Mill, the Virginia Mill. They lived for a while at Grabtown and Mother has pointed out to me the location of the ox barn and various buildings. Also where the flume came down the hill in which water ran into a tank for the stock and to carry to the houses.

They later moved to the Summit Springs, a large building about 1/2 mile east of the Kings place which is still standing on Skyline and Kings Mountain Road. The children went to school from there to a school house about 1/2 mile north of the old Summit Springs Hotel. I think the school was built and donated by one of the saw mill owners—I cannot remember who he was. Grandfather Church had a crew of men cutting four foot wood which he hauled to Redwood City and shipped by water to San Francisco. He also made some split shakes and fence posts and pickets. He also raised a few head of cattle.

In the year 1884 Grandfather Church moved with his family to the Caves ranch near Tassajara Springs in Monterey County. His horses and cattle were driven all the way. I remember seeing two ox yoke under a big pine tree about 3 miles from the ranch. They were never used after he moved from San Mateo County and they were burned in a fire that went through some years later.

I came to San Mateo county in March 1909. I worked on the old Quinton ranch at San Gregorio. There were three saloons, two stores, two hotels, about eight or ten homes in town and one blacksmith shop. The school and Catholic Church have both been let go to ruin. There was only one automobile that I know of in the neighborhood. That was owned by Dr. Banks in Pescadero. It could only be used in summer because the roads were mud in winter. On Saturday or Sunday we might see two or three cars come and go. Later the stores both sold gasoline from a 50 gallons drum. They filled the gas tank with a watering can and strained the gas through a chamois skin. The price about 10 or 12 cents per gallon.

Every ranch had dairy cows and shipped cream. The larger ones made cheese. Most ranches raised oats for hay and grain for market. All produce was hauled to Tunitas by teams of horses. Lumber from Peterson’s mill and others down the coast was hauled by six and eight horse teams. Many of the big teams had bells which were attached to the hames of the leaders.

The Ocean Shore Railroad ran south from San Francisco to Tunitas Glen and north from Santa Cruz to Swanton. Red Stanley steamer cars ran between Tunitas and Swanton. They hauled the mail and Wells Fargo Express and also picked up cream and other small packages along the way. A horse stage ran from Redwood City to La Honda and from La Honda to San Gregorio and Tunitas. Another from Pescadero to Tunitas. Sam Stout drove one of the stages. At Tunitas there was a freight platform and a station building. A house for the agent and family to live in and several other small buildings.

The railroad grade was completed to within a short distance of San Gregorio beach. The bridge had rails across Tunitas Creek and empty cars were pushed over the bridge and out of the way. A big pump and gas engine was installed on the north side of San Gregorio lagoon and the pipeline to the base of the hill where the parking grounds are now. A start had been made to hydraulic a cut through the hill to the finished grade on the north side. Just south of San Gregorio beach there was a tunnel high up on the ledge that was at least 100 yards long where we were told they had prepared to blast the point of rock off into the ocean. This was about 1/4 mile south of San Gregorio lagoon.

Just north of Tunitas was still standing some of the timbers from the old chute built by Mr. Gordon who owned the Gordon Ranch (later the Davis and later Keystone ranch). The chute was to have been used to load freight on ships moored offshore. There was no train stop at Lobitos that I can remember. On the old stage road in Lobitos canyon there was a saloon. The John Bell ranch and home were close by, also the Frey ranch and home also a few others.

Purissima was quite a little town. Going from Lobitos to Purissima on the old road, the school was on the right side of the road it still stands there, and on the left is the old cemetery where my great grandmother is buried. There were a lot of markers of stone and more of wood. At the intersection of the old road and Highway One there was a row of buildings along the right side of the old road. One blacksmith shop and a sort of a store and bar and at least two homes. On the left among the grove of trees there had been a hotel but I only remember a few small buildings there. Where Highway One now runs, at the intersection there stood a saloon and four or five other buildings on the west side of the old road where it turned toward Half Moon Bay. There was a train stop also but it was near the ocean.

The old Johnston house near Half Moon Bay was being used partly for storage of grain and partly for living. My mother told a story about her brother John McKay. He was a boy of 15 when he worked on the Johnston ranch for a man by the name of Jones. The boy was being paid $2.50 a month with room and board. On Sunday he walked home to Grabtown to get clean clothes. One day his mother asked what kind of a room and bed he had, and he said that he had not seen them yet after a week on the job. He said that it was dark when he went to bed and dark when they called him to get up and Mr. Jones did not let him have a lamp or even a candle. The next Sunday his mother had made a dozen tallow candles and as he was going back to Mr. Jones’ ranch she gave them to him with a block of matches. He took a look at the gift and sat on the doorstep and cried, “Oh Mother, must I stay there to burn all of them?”