The Redwood City and San Gregorio Turnpike

Written by Ken Fisher
Originally published in the ECHO 6/1989

My last article detailed the early route from San Mateo via The Old Summit Road, essentially today’s Skyline, which came to a “T” end at King’s Mountain Road. There was no “Skyline” south from there until 1920. Previously, there was only this northern San Mateo approach, and roads from Redwood City and San Gregorio. (We’re ignoring Richards Road, serving the 1852 Richard’s Steam Mill–you can still walk it – through Huddart Park – but it was private and too steep for use except for downhill lumber removal.)

Remember the Coastside developed before the Bay did. Just as Half Moon Bay was then more important than San Mateo, San Gregorio, while less important than Redwood City, was immensely more important then than now. In 1866 a company was formed to build a toll road – The “Redwood City and San Gregorio Turnpike.” Back then, counties granted toll road rights so roads would be built that the County wanted, but didn’t want to have to pay for. The R.W.C.& S.G.T. was our county’s first major toll road. By mid-1868 it was complete – running up today’s King’s Mountain Road (then called “The Old Mill Road”), and onto Tunitas Creek Road (then known as “Fromont” or “Froment” Road). It then ran almost due south, out today’s Star Hill Road (then known as Starr’s Hill Road – named both after M.M. Starr, whose ranch it crossed and the knoll on his ranch at today’s junction of Star Hill and Native Sons Road). Back then, Star Hill Road continued south all the way to San Gregorio – the final destination. There is almost nothing I’ve been able to find on Starr or his background, but his name, minus one “R, lives on with us. History is like that.

The R.W.C. & S.G.T. was formed and built from the west, by Starr, the Durham brothers (note the Native Sons area is still cited on U.S. Geo maps as Durham Ridge), Purdy Pharis (see my earlier blog on Pharis), and Eugene Fromont, among others. Fromont was a frenchmen who briefly owned a mill in the Tunitas Canyon, a short way from Star Hill Road, and he thought a thru road would facilitate his fortune. From the top, he built what is today’s Tunitas Creek Road – running half way down the hill – past legendary Grabtown (essentially where the Plank’s live on Tunitas Creek Rd.) straight to his mill. On some maps, in small print, you can still see this road referred to, via misspelling, with an “e” as “Froment Road.” The 1873-1878 depression wiped him out, and by 1879 he was long-gone and his land re-claimed for debts by the Bank of San Jose. But, again, his name lived on.

They located the toll house at Summit Springs, just 500 yards below Skyline by what is now the large water tank on the south side of King’s Mountain Road. According to Gil Richards’ classic Crossroads, “the following rates obtained: saddle horse, 15 cents; horse and buggy, 25 cents; two-horse team, 50 cents; each additional horse or mule, 25 cents; loose horse or cattle, 10 cents; sheep, hogs, or goats, 21/2 cents; ox team same as horse or mule.” In 1884 the County bought the R.W.C. & S.G.T. for $7,500, but the route remained the main access east and west. Occasionals and tourists came via “Knight’s stage.” Simon L. Knight and later his son, Walter ran the dominant stages from San Mateo and Redwood City heading east-west. While others came and went, from 1861 to 1906, “Knights Stage” was a fixture in San Mateo County, and the standard against which others were measured. In 1872 the Knights first offered regular service from Redwood City to San Gregorio. Then came road proliferation.

In 1872 Purisima Creek Road was connected via Grabtown Gulch to Tunitas Creek (Froment) Road – tying into the then thriving town of Purisima and Half Moon Bay (you can still walk the Grabtown/Purisima roads thru MROSO public lands – at the MROSO gate on the north side of Tunitas Creek Road). In 1875 the, “Tunitas Creek Turnpike Road Company” formed to extend the old Froment Road out to the coast, tying it into the R.W.C. & S.G.T.. With all these routes complete, the Knights had choices of which roads to take, and on any given day took the route best allowing them to deliver both passengers, plus the sparse occasional mail or deliveries that may have come up.

Later, the toll house was moved down near the current entrance to Huddart Park, and a picture of that toll house is shown here. The wagon shown is a water wagon, necessary to reduce dust. Also, shown, tickets from the R.W.C. & S.G.T. Both courtesy of the San Mateo County Historical Association.