Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 6/1990
Historically, Kings Mountain evolved in four major time periods. Before the 1850s very little is known about what happened up here. Then came the Pioneer Era, spanning 60 years from about 1852 to 1912. This era had tremendous activity, a population to rival today’s, more than 35 lumber mills, massive clear-cutting, two schools, hotels, dairying, mass road construction and toll roads, the tiny towns of Summit springs and Grabtown, a brothel, grizzly bears, and of course, Frank and Honora King. The Pioneer Era’s residents were of four main types: lumberers, dairyers, hermits, and their families.
As lumbering and dairying died, so did the population, the school, and the era, giving way to the summer cabin Era, which spanned about forty years from 1912, when Pharis School closed, to 1952 as Kings Mountain Elementary proved a year-’round population base sufficient to again support a school. During the Summer Cabin Era every sign of life from the Pioneer Era vanished except the roads, a few old buildings, and the hermits. Instead came Skyline Boulevard, subdivisions, and summer vacationers who built cabins among our hermits and second growth redwoods. After World War II, as folks realized how close this is to Peninsula jobs, year-’round population started to rebuild–as evidenced by the new school (after 40 years of no population–hence no school).
Leading the transition from the Pioneer Era to the Summer Cabin Era was Davenport Bromfield. Not only was he perhaps our first summer vacationer, but he surveyed much of our Woods, subdivided many of the lots Kings Mountaineers now live on, and via his son, Gordon, he left us a major piece of written history on the Mountain. Davenport Bromfield was born in 1852 in Australia and arrived by ship in San Francisco in 1883 with his wife, Mary Ware. At first he was a surveyor in the city and lived in San Mateo. In 1889 he ran for San Mateo County Surveyor, where he served from 1890-1892. It was then that he first met the Mountain. Ever after he was a surveyor and engineer, living in San Mateo. But his visits up here grew more frequent. First they lodged at the King’s Mountain Brow House, but later they developed a close friendship with Phil and Maggie Kreiss. Kreiss was a hermit, a rough firewood-cutter who lived where Filbert and County roads meet. His brothers were the famous german “Kreiss Brothers” brewers in Redwood City. Kreiss owned the entire 140 acre piece that was subsequently subdivided into today’s Redwood Park Subdivision.
The Bromfields would stay with the Kreiss family and finally bought seven acres from them and in 1895 built a summer cabin there–by far the Mountain’s first. They and their four children arrived after the grizzly was long gone, but in time to know Nathan Comstock, the Kings, and a host of Mountain characters. He was fascinated with the hermits and came to idolize George Harkins as a perfect specimen. As the Pioneer Era went through its last dieing gasps, land prices fell, and Bromfield bought everything west of today’s Skyline, from the firehouse north to Harkins Road. He subdivided the properties and named Harkins Road, Comstock Road, Ware Road (after his wife Mary Ware) and its offshoots. He sold Henrik Ibsen Park its property in the early 1920s, and gave to his four children all the road frontage along Skyline Boulevard, which he then subdivided for them. He was still carving off properties when he died in 1954. In 1957, in his honor, his son D. Gordon Bromfield wrote a book, The San Mateo We Knew. Fifty-five charming pages are devoted to Kings Mountain and their memories of it–the longest single piece of written Kings Mountain history.
The following flows from it as memories of a 13 year old in love with his dog, his gun and the wilds of Kings Mountain.
“The wild pigeons were the greatest thrill, and lone day discovered an old bare oak tree on a knoll just west of the Comstock field where these birds would alight while in flight from canyon to canyon . One morning, seated with dog beside me beneath the tree which was surrounded by thick brush, after a period of complete silence I heard a crackling sound on the dry twigs and leaves close by; suddenly a fat coon appeared coming toward me not twenty feet away. As the prevailing breeze was from the ocean and Brick , the dog, and I were to windward of the creature, he failed to detect our scent. The minute Brick saw the animal, he was furious and charged it. The coon immediately made a stand on its haunches. Brick quickly sensed a defiant opponent, but kept charging it in wild excitement. Realizing that the dog could be badly clawed and that the only way to solve the predicament was to give the coon a broadside, I immediately shot it–a rather unpleasant act, but a quick end to our most unwelcome visitor.”
“There was another morning of excitement for me and my dog on the Comstock estate, when we approached its old apple orchard from behind a long row of blackberry vines trailing on the roadside’s picket fence. Here I detected a bob-cat sitting in the field, probably hunting gophers. Immediately dropping on hands and knees, with Brick crouching close at hand, we crawled within forty yards of the beast, here again being to windward …. As silently as possible I popped a shell loaded with six single buckshot into the Remington and in taking aim, noticed that the cat had either heard us or detected our scent, for it was staring directly toward us while still on its haunches. You could tell by its startled expression that it was about ready to bound off for nearby cover. I fired, not at all sure of getting the fellow with so few pellets in the load. However, it turned a complete somersault; I knew it was hit, but how hard was the question. To my surprise, after a kick or two it lay motionless, one shot having penetrated the skull, which of course was enough to finish Mr. Cat. That was the one time in my young life that I felt as I had just made a kill in darkest Africa.”