Chapter 19: The Coburn Mystery (Original Draft)

I call this chapter “The Fifth Township”

In 1851–the year Loren Coburn arrived in San Francisco aboard the steamer Panama–the village of Pescadero was difficult to get to. The wall of mountains to the east and the often foggy stretch of coastline did not help to stimulate growth in Pescadero.

Rumors that a railroad was going to lay an iron road from San Francisco to Pescadero’s front door did attract energetic newcomers to the pretty valley and the village in the middle of nowhere. But the railroad did not materialize.

And although as early as 1853 what passed for a road linked San Francisco with Santa Cruz–that road was not reliable, especially during the wet and muddy winter months. For months at a time the coastal road was impassable, keeping folks at home. (Pescadero was then part of Santa Cruz county) and the best route to take was via San Mateo and Santa Cruz–no picnic, either, and also adding 90 more dusty, bumpy miles to an already difficult trip.

Winter storms often washed out roads and bridges all over the county and money had to be raised to make repairs. In 1862 heavy rains wrecked almost all of the bridges in San Mateo County–the flood damage repair sent the county into debt.

To reach the sandhill that San Francisco was then meant riding horseback all night long, climbing up and over and down treacherous mountainous barriers. One such barrier was later called “Devil’s Slide.”

Settler who had to do business in Redwood City, on the other side of the Sierra Morena Mountains, lobbied to join Pescadero with San Mateo County. Twenty long miles from Pescadero, Redwood City could be reached by daily stagecoach service.

The Southern Pacific Railroad laid track between San Francisco and San Jose and there was a station in San Mateo–but the only way for Pescaderans to get to San Mateo was by stage, private carriage or via horseback.

The County of San Mateo voiced no objections to adding 90,000 acres and more taxpayers to its sagging coffers…and in 1868 the elite in Pescadero mobilized to become part of San Mateo County. The lack of adequate roads to Santa Cruz had brought them together.

Messrs. Chandler, Goodspeed and Swanton, a wealthy farmer, country doctor and avuncular hotel-keeper, respectively led the movement. In the January “Daily Alta California,” the men made their point:

“…And never can there be a good road to the Santa Cruz County seat as the mountain range runs to the Pacific Ocean and completely divides us from the county sea….”

Critics of the new “Boundary Bill,” charged that San Mateo County was scheming to rob Santa Cruz County of their land, taxes and political clout. Most tireless among Chandler-Goodspeed-Swanton was Dr. Isaac Goodspeed. He said the most important contribution he made to the community was: “…helping to keep Pescadero peaceful by driving out the unruly element…”

A native of Maine, Dr. Goodspeed first mined for gold in Nevada. Unrewarded by his efforts, he turned to medicine, hanging up his shingle on Kearney Street in San Francisco in 1858.

Two years later the good doctor and his wife moved to Pescadero where they remained for a decade, long enough to be elected justice of the peace and coroner–and to see the “Boundary Bill” passed by the state legislature.

To pass, it would take the signatures of taxpayers, landowners and “bona fide residents” on three petitions until, in 1868, the California State Legislature voted to united Pescadero with San Mateo County.

Pescadero was now called the Fifth Township.

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About June Morrall

1947 - 2010
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