The Glory of San Rafael

by Robert L. Harrison

View of San Rafael in the mid 1880s. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

“The glory of San Rafael” was one of the features which appeared in a Boston Traveler opinion piece many decades ago. It was reprinted by the Marin Journal on January 19, 1888 under the banner “As Others See Us.”

Early 20th century color postcard of San Rafael with Mt. Tam in the distance. Staley Postcard Collection, Anne T. Kent California Room.

Written by Kate Field, the author asked “Did you ever hear of San Rafael before? I’m willing to wager a pair of twelve button gloves that you never did; yet it is ‘mission’ ground, as old as the Catholic fathers of this coast, and selected by them as a ‘sanitarium’.” Field continued: “They were wonderfully clever, were those missionaries… But though the Franciscan monks have long since passed away, their labor was not in vain; nor can they ever be forgotton(sic), discovering as they did a valley, the climate of which equals that of Santa Barbara, being even superior to that lovely place in having no fogs.”

Field not only marvels at the natural environment but also writes highly of society in San Rafael. “The culture of the town keeps pace with its riches. Our own beloved Emerson tarried here with a devoted admirer, and the artist Bierstadt passed two winters in the valley, which he declared to be the Wetterhorn in miniature, looking west.”

San Rafael Lawn Tennis Clubs grounds in the West End, mid-1880s Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

As Field describes it, “The glory of San Rafael, looking south, is the graceful outline of Mt. Tamalpais, rising to 2,700 ft. directly from the sea, and shutting out the Golden Gate. A fine carriage road leads to the summit, where the view of mountain range and towns, of islands and ocean welcomes the eye as cannot be seen elsewhere. On the side of the mountain nestles a lake as clear as crystal, baptized Lagunitas, looking like a great diamond set in green enamel.”

Orange grove in San Rafael, mid 1880s. Anne T. Kent California Room Collection.

Field concludes with this plea to her Boston area readers; “Yet few travelers, though they may have journeyed thousands of miles in search of scenery, makes this easy ascent! May this not be said of good New Englanders who come here before they die; and if they want to put off paying the debt of nature to the latest possible moment, let them remember the charming valley of San Rafael.”

Originally published at




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Anne T. Kent California Room

Anne T. Kent California Room

The official Medium account of the archive of Marin County history & culture at the Marin County Free Library

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