Reading the Maps, Number 2: San Rafael in 1867

by Dewey Livingston

In this series we look at historic survey maps at the Anne T. Kent California Room’s Map & Special Collections Annex. The maps featured are posted online for the reader to see in full detail; note the specific URL in the article. Click on the arrows in the upper right corner of the map to expand the image, then further enlarge or shrink using the + and — buttons.

San Rafael as seen near the time that Austin made the map for Forbes. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.
Forbes’ Addition in the 1890s. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Alexander Forbes was one of the major early landowners at San Rafael, with his property comprising the western part of town, much of San Rafael Hill, and lands north of Puerto Suello including today’s Los Ranchitos. Forbes hired surveyor Austin to document his property boundaries, and in doing so the mapmaker created a unique and invaluable document depicting San Rafael of 1867 in great detail.

The range of this survey map extends from below First Street on the south to the future site of Mt. Olivet Cemetery on the north, and from Red Hill on the west to today’s Lincoln Avenue on the east. Its detail is fascinating, so have a close look as we scrutinize this amazing document.

Starting on the left side of the map, we see Red Hill, the peak overlooking San Anselmo and a prominent landmark used as a corner point for three Mexican-era land grants. Ann McLaughlin is Forbes’s neighbor to the west, her 112 acres covering the upper San Francisco Boulevard area. Rancho Punta de Quentin owner James Ross’s land lies to the south. Forbes has leased pasture lands at the west end of today’s Sun Valley to James D. Bullis, who was among the group that built the San Quentin Turnpike. He leased another parcel of fenced agricultural land closer to town to G. Leonard.

Moving east we see the early subdivision called Forbes’ Addition, whose fine homes eventually graced one of the early neighborhoods of San Rafael. Marin historian Jack Mason wrote, “Much of the land was acquired at sheriff’s sales from hapless pioneer landholders.” (Click here to see a circa 1890s photos of this area.) Forbes Avenue remains, but Culloden later became the extension of Fifth Street into Sun Valley.

North of Forbes’ Addition, is a 133 acre tract sold to San Geronimo landowner Adolph Mailliard who built a three-story mansion, called “the largest house in town” by Mason. Mailliard’s tract is now the Fairhills neighborhood. Notice, east of that, a tract that Forbes kept, probably because of the springs located there.

South of Forbes’ Addition lies the Olema and San Rafael Road-today’s Fourth Street and Miracle Mile-and the original boundary between Timoteo Murphy’s Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Gallinas y San Pedro, and Juan Cooper’s San Quentin rancho. At the western part of the road, note a bridge crossing an “Arroyo with living water.” The road heads eastward into central San Rafael, passing Judge William E. Hughes’s fine home where “Yardbirds” stood until quite recently. (Click here for a contemporary view featuring the Hughes house and Olema road. The stereoscopic photo by Eadweard Muybridge circa 1873 also shows San Rafael Creek as seen on the 1867 map.)

Continuing east on the Olema road, at E Street we pass the Protestant Cemetery, later replaced by the E Street School (click here for more about the cemetery). The downtown area depicted on the map features many important historic landmarks. At Fourth and C Street is the old Timoteo Murphy adobe house, which was used as the county courthouse (hence the initials “C. H.”) as well as the early post office. Five years after the map was made, the new courthouse was built on Jacob Short’s Block 3, farther east. We can also see the schoolhouse on Fifth Street; the Marin Hotel on Fourth; and the Sheppard House hotel between C and B streets. Landowners including J. M. O’Connor, S. V. Smith, Joseph Angelotti and William Tell Coleman have properties on the south slopes of San Rafael Hill. Notice the “Wire Fence” blocking general access to the hill.

The San Rafael mission site is denoted as the Catholic Cemetery, and of great interest is the location and size of the “Mission orchard” in the lower right-hand corner of the map. Northeast of the orchard, Austin depicted a “Laurel Tree” at the side of the road, even drawing the tree; one wonders if it was a particularly large or beautiful tree to be so marked on a map.

Third Street terminates on the east at the San Rafael & San Quentin Turnpike Road-note the Toll Gate-which provided the first direct access to San Rafael’s ferry terminal at Point San Quentin. Before this road was built across the marshes in 1865, a long and torturous road noted here as the “old Point San Quentin Road” followed the contours of the hills out to the point beginning at the foot of B Street. Part of this old road is today’s Woodland Avenue.

The mission orchard and the terminus of the San Quentin Road as depicted on Austin’s map. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Also heading east is the “Road to Point San Pedro,” today’s Mission Ave. Farther east, the old San Pedro road curved around a marsh-now the site of San Rafael High School- and Oak Point where Isaac Shaver’s embarcadero was located. It then continued easterly on what is today Point San Pedro Road to the vast McNear property, including today’s Peacock Gap, rock quarry, McNear’s Beach, and China Camp. Current roads and road names reflect this old route: Mission Ave. still curves around the former marsh, and there is an Embarcadero Way where the old road would have joined the current-day Point San Pedro Road.

Heading north on the “San Rafael and Petaluma Road”-today’s Lincoln Avenue, and the only route north out of town-we see that Forbes had sold the east slopes of San Rafael Hill to William T. Coleman, the famous San Francisco vigilante and wealthy borax miner who would soon develop today’s Dominican area, just east of Lincoln Avenue. As of 1867, Oliver Irwin owned that land; Irwin Street is named for him.

Over the “Puerto Suello” (mountain pass) the highway drops into the southern Santa Margarita Valley. The road heads straight into the valley, and later the public highway was moved west (today’s Los Ranchitos Road) to eliminate that steep grade. The old road depicted here is now Merrydale Road. This area was entirely undeveloped in 1867 except for the 480-acre “Tract leased to George Mathews” containing “cultivated valley land” and his ranch buildings, later to be called the Tunnel Ranch; this is the Los Ranchitos neighborhood today.

West of Mathew’s ranch-which we believe was a dairy-is John Lucas’s large rancho, today’s Terra Linda, not included on this map. At the top of the map is a hill depicted by hachuring, a graphic technique used to illustrate landforms. Forbes sold land to the Catholic Archdiocese (click here) and that hill soon became Mt. Olivet Catholic Cemetery. George M. Dodge surveyed the cemetery, seen here. Notice that the original entrance to the cemetery was on the east, not the west as today.

East of the hill is a salt marsh-hard to believe that the bay extended so far here- to today’s 101 freeway and McInnis Parkway. And, this location was the train flagstop, and later freeway overpass called-Forbes!

There is so much more to observe on this map. It certainly places us in a very different time in Marin County, when barely any of the land had been developed (beyond some of the early dairy ranches) and San Rafael was still in its infancy.

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

Originally published at



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