This year marks hometown Redwood City’s sesquicentennial. It was incorporated in 1867, but there was a town here during the Gold Rush, and people lived in the area for a few thousand years or so before that. Now we live here, and that’s the important thing.

On Memorial Day the SJ Mercury had an article about Redwood City’s Union Cemetery, and its curious history. Of interest to me was the relationship of the cemetery to the land our house resides on. We live on Eagle Hill, once part of a 2000 acre property held by Mr. Horace Hawes. Hawes was a big wheel in the early days of San Mateo County – in fact, he was largely responsible for breaking the territory away from San Francisco as a separate county. He purchased his large estate down here in Redwood City, and immediately put a stop to the local tradition of burying people pretty much anywhere, including on his land. Locals were not pleased, but he ended up on their good side by funding the purchase of the land that became Union Cemetery.

There’s one area in our backyard where I will often dig up stuff when I’m gardening. Bits of pottery and oyster shells are common. There was an Ohlone tribe close by, and presumably the rich environment of San Francisco Bay yielded an impressive supply of shellfish. I’ve wondered if the oysters were harvested nearby and shucked on site, or came to be here when the hill was graded for houses and nearby shell mounds were used for fill.

Oyster shell
The hole might have been made by a snail called an “oyster drill”

I’ve found bones as well, but so far no evidence of any locals from the pre-Hawes era. Here’s a pretty good-sized one. The squirrels use it as a cuttlebone to sharpen their teeth.

Bone fragment
The squirrels keep trying to carry this back to their nests, but it’s too heavy for them.

As long as we’re doing some research, let’s Google “Horace Hawes” and see what we get. A real gem in the search results is the obituary for Mrs. Hawes, from the San Francisco Call, August 29, 1895. Here’s an excerpt.

Mrs. Horace Hawes, relict of the late Horace Hawes. died at the home of her daughter, Mrs. Caroline Robinson, to-day. Mrs. Hawes was one of the early settlers in California. She came across the plains in 1852 and married Horace Hawes in California.

In 1857 Horace Hawes acquired a tract of land containing 2000 acres from William Carey Jones, brother-in-law of General Fremont. This land lies along the town limits of Redwood City, and is known as Redwood Farm. It embraces some 1500 acres of rich valley land and 500 acres of gently rolling hill slopes. The whole tract was richly dotted with grand old oaks, and formed an elegant suburban estate. This became the family home, and amid these surroundings Mrs.Hawes has always lived. In her disposition Mrs. Hawes was the personification of generosity, so that during all these years she gained many warm friends. At the old home Mrs. Hawes always dispensed hospitality with the famed free-heartedness of the argonauts.

Love that last line – “the famed free-heartedness of the argonauts”. The people who made their way out here for the Gold Rush and built the communities that persist today must have been an impressive group. Horace Hawes was industrious enough to buy his way out of indentured service as a child and go on to build an impressive career that led him out west before California was a state. We don’t know as much about Mrs. Hawes, but no doubt her story was equally remarkable.

Doesn’t the description of Redwood Farm sound idyllic? Some of those grand old oaks are still standing, here and there in the neighborhood. And after this past year’s epic rainy season we’re seeing oak seedlings jumping up all over the place.

Coast Live Oak seedling
This Coast Live Oak could eventually be 50 ft tall. Do you think it’s too close to the fence?

The descendants of these folks are still in the local population mix, and we’ve had a succession of gold rushes since. There’s one going on right now. What would the argonauts make of us? The newcomers are bringing a jolt of energy and invention, and that’s showing up on the streets. I’d like to think that the Argonauts would approve. We’ll aim to continue their famed free-heartedness.

Backyard fire pit
Gathering to celebrate Memorial Day.

Giving credit where credit is due, that terrific picture of Redwood City Courthouse Square at the top of the page isn’t one of mine. I got it from a Redwood City Voice post on Medium. It didn’t say anything about content reuse or image rights limitations, so I went ahead and “borrowed” it. Hope that’s OK.

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