Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 2/1993
Because the Echo ran so seldom for so long, I haven’t done an Echo history piece in 18 months. Meanwhile, folks who know , I study Mountain history asked me lots of questions. Seemed like answers to the most frequent queries might interest you and others.
“Before logging, were there trees on the sagebrush and grassy areas of north and southwest Kings Mountain?” No! The redwood line has been where it is since the first Europeans arrived. Redwoods grow where they grow and hardly at all elsewhere and its tough to stop them there; in the 19th century, before tractors, you just couldn’t. A hair different from common perception today, the English botanist, A. B. Lambert who first named the redwoods, “Sempervirens” meant it to mean “Ever living root.” Before tractors, you couldn’t eliminate redwoods. Cut ’em down, burn ’em, chemical ’em–it didn’t matter, the root lived and grew back in classic “fairy ring” form. So the outer edge of the tree line is where they were, and they were where they are.
“Were there ‘native Americans’ (aka, indians) on Kings Mountain? ” Rarely! The Bay Area’s Costanoan/Ohlone indians were grassland and coastal folk, clustering in villages tied to ocean, bay and waterways, primarily eating seafood. In summer they hunted–into the hilly grasslands. But hunting was poor in the deep, dark redwood forest because the animals were mostly where they could find edible foliage, which was almost not at all in the redwoods. Arrowheads have been found on the Mountain’s north edge and two relatively small shell mounds have been found to the South. One of these I found just east of Star Hill Road–now part of the Open Space’s “Corte Madera” preserve. Sifting through it I found churt and obsidian chips, but not good, finished implements. Mostly shells. My theory is this: It is well known that indians traded extensively bay-to-coast. Back and forth, carrying loads, they would need the equivalent of campgrounds. Obsidian, for example, came from today’s Lake County, but was traded throughout the state. I’m guessing the coast tribes traveled to the bigger bayside villages, for things like obsidian. When they overnighted en-route home they started shaping it into tools around the campfire, leaving the waste fragments behind. Each tribe probably stayed pretty much at the same camp site year-after-year, and hence the shell mounds built up. In essence, their debris is the indian equivalent of what would normally be found in one of our campground garbage cans–remains from the food they carried and the garbage they left behind on the trip.
“What were the first roads on the Mountain?” Impossible to know for sure. The first documentable road is the predecessor of today’s Skyline–then called the “Summit” road. It shows clearly on the U.S. Surveyors 1855 map and ran from today’s HWY 92 to today’s Kings Mountain Road, and stopped there. (Skyline didn’t run south from Kings Mountain Road until 1924.) The old road ran basically where it does now. In most places the current Skyline is right on top of it. But the old road was curvier. Where Skyline cuts straight through a hill, with cut banks uphill on both sides–that’s tractor technology–the old, pre-tractor road wondered to one side of the hill or the other . ….. The second documentable road is Ridge Road, just where it is now and named “Ridge Road” on the Surveyor’s 1860 map. But I can’t tell exactly when or how it was built. Also in the 1850s and maybe as early as 1852 was a predecessor of today’s Henrik Ibsen Road, with no name. More than 60 years before Henrik Ibsen Park the road ran just west and uphill of where it now runs, and was the access from the “Summit” road down to the Richards Steam Saw Mill and later to Nathan Comstock’s home at the same location, where the Kromat’s live today. Old Ranch Road, connecting to Ware Road and out to Skyline came much later. Other roads were probably here as early as these three, but I haven’t found proof.
“What was the first house up here?” That’s easy. It belonged to James Pease, the 2nd non-Spanish European in the San Mateo County Area. In the 1840s he had a cabin on a site that has never been determined exactly, but was just west of skyline and about 100 yards north of our Kings Mountain Country Store–perhaps on Tim German’s property.
“What is the oldest house up here?” That’s easy, too. It was Nathan Comstock’s cabin, until it was taken down in the 1970s. The oldest is now the old George Harkins house, just south of the Country Store and the MROSD parking lot. John Harkins owned that property by 1860 and soon built that house. Later, his son George lived there until his death in the early 1930s. George, of course, was a Mountain legend as a hermit. While neither Comstock Road nor Harkins Road are where these men lived, the roads were named to honor them by Davenport Bromfield who developed much of the west-side of Skyline.