San Mateo, California history spans back before European settlers ever came to the area, but not much is known about this time, since the first written documentation of San Mateo didn’t occur until Spanish explorers came to the land in 1776. Before then, the land was inhabited by the Ohlone Indians, who were named the Coastanoans by the Spanish. This tribe is believed to have inhabited the entire area from San Francisco to Belmont for more than 4,000 years before the arrival of European explorers. Thanks to the mild weather and fresh water available in the San Mateo Creek, the area would have been ideal for these first occupants. According to early documents, a large village was located at what is now the land between Laurel Creek and El Camino Real.
However, the arrival of Spanish explorers changed the landscape. The first written history of the area begins with the first European visitors to the area: Spanish explorers. Scouting a place for a colony, these explorers were led by Lieutenant Colonel Juan Bautista de Anza, Lieutenant Jose Joaquin Moraga and Padre Pedro Font. They, along with 11 soldiers, camped in the land and named the nearby creek the San Mateo Creek. Then in 1793 a mission outpost was created on the peninsula at the creek by the mission fathers in San Francisco. The outpost was designed to organize the newly converted Christian Indians in herding livestock.
However, San Mateo, CA background begins to change in 1822 when Mexico became independent from Spain, leading to the secularization of mission lands in California. The Mexican government divided these lands into land grants for use as ranchos. The land that now makes up San Mateo comprised two of these land grants: Rancho San Mateo and Rancho de las Pulgas. The rancho period lasted for about 30 years until the land was sold to American firm Mellus and Howard, who built the first of the great estate, El Cerrito, in the 1850s.
The first business enterprise came to San Mateo in 1849 with Nicolas de Peyster, who opened the first stagecoach shop and established what would be the main road in the city. The railroad followed in 1861 at the direction of Charles B. Polhemus. Linking San Jose and San Francisco, the track began service in October of 1863, making a trip to the city only 37 minutes from San Mateo. It didn’t take long for a downtown to crop up around this station.
The railroad made San Mateo an attractive place for wealthy San Franciscans looking to build weekend and summer homes. The area soon became home to the estates of some of the West’s most powerful people and the people who came to service these mansions. Buying huge parcels of land, these estates kept the ownership of San Mateo in the hands of a few families.
Then in 1889, the Crystal Springs dam was completed, allowing the area to grow further because of the large supply of fresh drinking water that was now available to San Mateo. Some of the estates began selling off subdivisions, which brought a middle class to the area and helped the town become incorporated in 1894.