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Robert L. Harrison

Recent Articles

Tiburon Peninsula, mid-20th Century

Most of downtown Tiburon is built on land reclaimed from San Francisco Bay waters or marsh lands.  The beautiful homes on the shores of the Belvedere Lagoon also sit on land fill.  The reclaimed lands provide ideal locations for these...

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Portrait of William J. Thomas, Master Mechanic of the North Pacific Coast Railroad. & Mount Tamalpais & Muir Woods Railroad

William James Thomas was born in Hannibal, Missouri on December 14, 1859.  He moved with his   seven siblings to San Francisco when he was four.  Thomas lived in the city until he was 21 when he moved to Sausalito.  He was...

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The Golden Gate Bridge graces the Bay today because in 1930 the voters in the Bridge’s six-county District had the foresight to pass a bond issue to fund the project.  The vote wasn’t even close: 145,057 favored the $35 million...

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View of Richardson Bay from Sausalito

In the 1890s the economic value of canals was universally recognized.  The Suez Canal had been opened a few years earlier and its impact on the wealth of Europeans was well documented.  The French were building a canal across Panama and...

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Sculptor Howard Lazar working on bust of Peter Donahue

Peter Donahue first came to Tiburon in 1882 to prepare the vacant area at the end of the peninsula for a terminal of his San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad (SF&NP).  The first train left Tiburon on May 1, 1884, after meeting the...

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View of San Rafael in the mid 1880s.

“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...

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North Pacific Coast Railroad in Cazadero

In the 1860s George Black was the Chief Engineer of two of California’s original railroads, the California Pacific Railroad (CPRR) running from Vallejo to Sacramento and the North Pacific Coast (NPC) in Marin and Sonoma Counties.  He...

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China Camp, Marin County, 1887

Immigration has always been intimately linked with American history.  Through the years, an American society has emerged shaped in large part by the multitude of cultures brought here by millions of immigrants.

 In the 17th, 18th and...

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1901 Buffalo Runabout; tiller-driven. Though the vehicle depicted here is electric -and manufactured by a different automobile company- it would be similar to the runabout produced by the California Automobile Co. in 1901.

Land transportation in the 19th century was limited to railroads, the horse, with or without a carriage, and walking.  As the 20th century dawned the “horseless carriage”, a new transportation mode, was emerging. ...

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Lime Point, 2018

Many in Marin are not aware of the name Lime Point, a significant feature of the Marin headlands made less conspicuous today by the presence of the Golden Gate Bridge.  The Point is that bit of land framing the north side of the passage...

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Sterling Hayden 1953

Sterling Hayden and Marin Railroads

By ROBERT L. HARRISON · DECEMBER 14, 2018

SIZE: A A A

Sterling Hayden (1916 – 1986) is best known as a Hollywood actor and was active from the 1940s to the early 1970s....

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Swedish immigrants playing baseball in Mill Valley on the Fourth of July, 1905

Please Note: A previous version of this article was initially published.

Baseball is nearly as old as America.  A version of the game was played in the early 1800s. Not only has baseball grown up with the Country, in many ways, it mimics...

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A portion of the original Tiburon to San Rafael Road overlaid onto this 1926 aerial of Southern Marin.

Most Marin residents think of Tiburon Boulevard as the road that connects the towns of Tiburon and Belvedere with Highway 101.  In the early 20th century, the road was important for being a route to the San Francisco ferry.  In 1919...

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North Pacific Coast Railroad going over White's Hill, 1889

In the early 1870s, with a population just over 7,000 people, Marin County approved a surprisingly large debt in order to finance several public improvement projects.    In a period of less than two years the Board of Supervisors...

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Prisoners lining up at San Quentin, 1871

Much of early California’s crime history centers on violence such as armed bank and train robberies.  This is a story about two men who were convicted of forgery, a non-violent crime.  James A. Shotwell and Moses Frank were found...

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Ferryboat "Tamalpais"

In the second half of the 19th century Captain Patrick Henry Tiernan was a prolific builder of ferryboats in the San Francisco Bay area.  In the 34 years from 1856 to 1890 Capt. Tiernan built   over 40 vessels including 31...

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San Rafael Railroad Depot, 1884

In the mid-19th-century there were those who contended San Rafael should strive to be large and prosperous.  Oakland frequently was held out as an example of the kind of suburb San Rafael could become.  In 1860 there were 1,543 people...

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Marin County Courthouse, San Rafael, 1889

San Rafael has been Marin’s County Seat since 1850.  However, in the early days it was not always clear that the Seat would remain in San Rafael.  San Rafael did not become the Seat immediately after the county was created because...

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19th Century Bolinas. From 1860-1918 gold mining occurred on the west side of Bolinas Ridge near Dogtown.

James Marshall’s discovery of gold in John Sutter’s Coloma mill-race in January 1848 is widely regarded as the first such finding of gold in California.  This is not the case.  The first documented discovery of gold in...

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Sarsaparilla

By Robert L. Harrison · April 30, 2018

So called patent medicines were very popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  These tonics typically promised a cure for virtually any known ailment.  Perhaps the best known of these tonics, Sarsaparilla, was enjoyed both for...

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Alcatraz Island

Alcatraz achieved fame as a federal penitentiary from 1934 to 1963.  The island in the middle of San Francisco Bay served as a maximum security prison. Before that it was an army post that included a military prison. Marin County figured into...

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Laurel Grove Picnic Grounds, 1884

The Irish have been a significant factor in the development of Marin since the first Europeans settled in the county.  In the first half of the 19th century three natives of Ireland were granted large land holdings that totaled nearly 64,000...

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Flatiron Building, San Rafael, 2017

There are several “Flatiron Buildings” across the country.  These buildings are so named because their wedge shape resembles an old flatiron appliance.  Perhaps the most famous is the Flatiron Building in New York City, built...

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Pony Express Logo, 1861

In the mid-19th century getting the important news from the East Coast to Marin County was far from easy.   When California became the 31st State in 1850, news from the East Coast was delivered by sailing ship or by overland mail. 

...

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Hikers from the "Romany Club," Oakland, on Mt. Tam, 1914

Today’s easy drive to the top of Mount Tamalpais is a far cry from the difficulties experienced by early climbers.  This article illustrates how visits to the top of Mt. Tamalpais grew from nearly none in the early 1800s to thousands...

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Taylor's first paper mill

The people of Marin County are well known for their concern for an unpolluted natural environment.  Most citizens today in fact would vigorously oppose an industry that polluted local streams and waterways. This is a story about a Marin...

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Sausalito promotional brochure early 1900s

Initially, Sausalito wanted to be identified with State Highway 101. However, over the course of just 50 years, it gradually distanced itself from that identity.

 In the 19th century, Sausalito, along with San Rafael and Tomales, was one of...

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From the time when California was admitted as a State, September 9, 1850, the U. S. Army has made the protection of San Francisco Bay a high priority.   Several fortifications were constructed in the mid-19th century to ensure no enemy...

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The Hotaling Road

By Robert L. Harrison · September 15, 2017

Richard M. Hotaling

At the turn of the 20th century several proposals were put forth to expand railroads serving Marin.

There were two operating railroads, the North Shore Railroad based in Sausalito and the California Northwestern Railroad, also known as the Donahue...

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Train crossing the trestle at Greenbrae

Perhaps the “Dirty Harry” bridge is the most conspicuous example of a railroad feature recently removed and replaced with a new structure notably absent of any reference to the railroad trestle it supplanted.  The trestle was so...

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Why Waldo?

By Robert L. Harrison · July 19, 2017

Captain William Waldo, 1812-1881

Several major features in the Sausalito-Marin City area of Marin County are named for Captain William Waldo.  The most historic of these is Waldo Point, located at today’s Waldo Point Harbor.  The Point was an arm of the land that...

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Redwood Bridge over Richardson Bay, c.1932

Though they surely qualify as long, this article is about neither the legendary Golden Gate Bridge nor the hard working Richmond-San Rafael Bridge.  Those well-known bridges each have just one anchorage in Marin County.  Instead, I will...

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View of Tiburon with docked Ferry.

In the early 20th century, long before there was a Golden Gate Bridge, the ferry connection between Marin County and San Francisco was a dominant factor in Marin’s development. During this period in Marin’s history, Tiburon and...

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NWP Railroad Brakeman Elmer Pimm, 1956

This is a ghost story.  But it is not a scary story.  Rather, it is the story of a railroad man who was killed by a train in the Tiburon rail yard and whose spirit has chosen to remain in the only railroad building still standing in the...

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