Reading the Maps, Number 1: Smith Ranch Road

by Dewey Livingston

In this series we look at historic survey maps in the collection housed at the Anne T. Kent California Room Maps & Special Collections Annex. The maps featured are posted on line for the reader to see in full detail; note the specific URL in the article.

Austin’s 1877 map of northern Gallinas Creek. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Most of us are familiar with Smith Ranch Road and its attractions: restaurants, offices, movie theater, AAA, apartment complexes, and the many offerings at the end of the road at McInnis Park. The place was very different before the suburban-style development which started in the 1950s. Hiram Austin’s map of “Santa Margarita or Gallinas Creek” made on August 10, 1877, offers a detailed look at the area in its almost-pristine state. Click on this link to see the map in high resolution. You may refer to the map as you read the article.

We say “almost” pristine because this was the site of the Patent Brick Company, located on the north side of the creek which, during the last half of the nineteenth century, quarried clay and baked bricks, and also likely polluted the waterway. Another manmade feature is “Lucas Landing,” also known as Lucas Embarcadero, the small port where pioneer resident John Lucas shipped produce from his ranch-site of today’s Terra Linda-and took on loads from other ports, utilizing shallow-draft schooners.

The map depicts the northern shore of the northern branch of Gallinas Creek. The best-known branch of the Gallinas Creek is the southern branch, which drains the valley of Terra Linda and passes through Santa Venetia. The northern branch -depicted on Austin’s map- is much smaller. West to east, Austin’s map covers the area roughly from the AAA offices to the interior of McInnis Park and the airport. Other than the creek, there is only one other place name marked on the map, “Oak Point.” Let’s start there.

Satellite view of the north Gallinas Creek area today. © Google Earth

Oak Point is barely noticeable today, but if you take note while walking or driving east on Smith Ranch Road, you’ll notice that the roadway rises a bit immediately east of the Redwood Highway frontage road. Look south and see Oak Point rising in elevation-there are even some oak trees still up there. Star Academy and Bay Area Community Resources occupy the western flank of the point, while much of the east side has been removed to make way for the Fair Isaac office buildings-home of the popular Sakura Sushi restaurant.

The area shown on Austin’s map as seen from the air in 1952. © USGS

North of Oak Point, Austin has depicted the “Present Road to Lucas Landing,” which today is the parking lot in front of the Smith Ranch Deli and Mulberry Street Pizzeria, and serves the Kaiser clinic. The road was used “for hauling wood, timber, lumber and farm produce from other portions of [the] Lucas ranch to [the] Embarcadero,” reads an 1863 deed, “together with the right to pile and store convenient for shipping 100 cords of wood and 1,000,000 feet of lumber and timber at [the] Embarcadero.” The road was moved a short distance south some years later. Note on the map the right of way leading from the Lucas road to the tip of the point, apparently a trail or proposed road.

On the old map we see marshland east of Oak Point, but that has been filled to create the large parking lot of today. Most of us have attended a movie at Century Regency Theater-it’s sitting on former marshland. An interesting feature is the small island in that marsh; Austin depicted a lonely “oak on island,” no doubt a landmark of the day. Unfortunately, this little picturesque island was blasted away and added to the fill, with a small housing subdivision called “Captain’s Cove” taking its place. Captain’s Cove Drive intersects Dockside Circle at the site of the island today.

East of the island is a water well and John Lucas’s landing, where bricks, lumber, butter, and other agricultural products were shipped on small schooners and barges.

The diagonal line east of Lucas Landing is the planned Sonoma & Marin Railroad connecting San Rafael to Sonoma County. The rail line was not competed until 1881-as part of Peter Donahue’s San Francisco & North Pacific Railroad-and in 1907 became the Northwestern Pacific. The tracks now carry SMART trains.

The 1877 map shows “Blumenberg Purchase” and the brickyards on its right side. Starting in 1864 Jacob Blumenberg leased and then bought property and built a major brickyard here. After he sold it in 1870 it was called Patent Brick Company and noted as “the largest [brick making] establishment on the coast” in one California history book ( A Memorial and Biographical History of Northern California, Illustrated by Lewis Publishing, 1891). Perhaps this map was made for the brick company to help establish title to the adjacent tidelands. Patent Brick Company ceased operations in 1918.

The reason this map was made is not known. The metes and bounds shown follow the toe of the hills as they meet the marshlands, and three lines connect with the diagonal line marking the southern boundary of the Swamp & Overflow Lands Survey №88, adjacent to the State Tidelands Survey of 1871.

Detail of the 1871 State Tidelands Survey showing the same area. California State Lands Commission.

The waterways here have changed dramatically. The big loop in the lower left corner of the survey was eliminated to make way for farmland by the construction of a cutoff channel (see illustration #3, where the “ghost” of that loop is visible in the hayfield in 1952). The main creek has been channelized, and the smaller branches eliminated under landfill. It’s an entirely different landscape today, 143 years after Hiram Austin made his map.

Marin historian Dewey Livingston is the map archivist at the California Room’s Map & Special Collections Annex.

Originally published at https://annetkent.kontribune.com.

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