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Colma/San Bruno Creek
January 06, 2014, 05:00 AM By Darold Fredricks

Photo courtesy of the San Mateo County History Museum
Flooding of Mission Road (Country Road) near Malloys in Colma was frequent.

Water has been an attracting force of civilization almost forever. When the Spanish blazed a path from San Jose to the tip of the Peninsula, the first explorers began following the small, shallow creek that came down from the Daly City, Colma and San Bruno Mountain area. This well-worn path on the west side (that will later be called Mission Road) of the San Bruno Mountain attracted many pioneers in the mid-1800s as there was adequate water for agriculture and personal use.

The northern area of San Mateo County has unique natural drainage systems that supplied water to the early pioneers. Although the average is about 21 inches of rain per year that falls in wintertime, those 21 inches of rain could fall at four or five inches at a time. That turned any small creek into a torrent, which can devastate the countryside at times. The early pioneers did not let that detour them and they began businesses and the homes along this route and in the area. The first structure in the area was Abbey House at the Top of the Hill. Gradually, many businesses centered along Mission Road and San Pedro Road. The creek along this section was the first to be covered over to prevent and control floods. The section south of this was a low, wide, open plain where many smaller creeks entered from the west and was therefore avoided by the railroad when it was built in 1861. This section along Mission Road flooded many times and has been covered only in recent times.

As the creek flows south, paralleling Mission Road, it flows behind Malloy’s business across from the Holy Cross Cemetery. The Southern Pacific Railroad and the # 40 Line had to negotiate across and parallel to the creek in this area that was frequently flooded in the wintertime. From this point south, the creek was on the west side of Mission Road and at the area of Chestnut Avenue it then turns toward the Bay. It was in this area that the 12-Mile House was built in the late 1840s and Mr. Lux built his large house overlooking the mass of willow trees that had grown up alongside the creek. It was at this point also that the Mission Road crossed the creek to the west and continued south on higher and drier  ground.

The San Bruno Creek (which at one time was renamed Colma Creek), was deep enough at high tide for barges to bring loads of hay from the Bay to the ranch of Miller/ Lux. Although Mr. Lux built his mansion on what he thought was high ground, it was nevertheless flooded many times. The area from Mission Road and Chestnut Avenue to the east was an extremely interesting area, as it was more of a large floodplain that supported dense growths of dwarfed willow trees. This dense growth of willows and the creek effectively formed a barrier and kept the cattle within a natural corral. Later, a railroad cutoff to Mission Road from the area of Linden Avenue was constructed and a road was built along there named Railroad Avenue. Many of the individuals who built homes on Railroad Avenue were able to rent strips of land and convert much of the willow forest land to vegetable gardens. The removal of the willows then presented other problems as flood waters could erode the area very rapidly.

Eventually, this wild creek had to be tamed and the Army Corps of Engineers began cementing sections of the creekbed beginning in South San Francisco. Even this was not sufficient and many times the retaining walls had to be built higher due to infrequent, exceedingly high floods. When BART was constructed the section from Chestnut Avenue toward Colma was rerouted and improved. Recently, in the early 2000s, the section around Linden Avenue was finally cemented to prevent flooding in this industrialized section.

The San Bruno Creek, which is now called Colma Creek, was a very big influence on the development of Daly City, Colma and South San Francisco. Although the creek produced many benefits for the farmers as well as the residents of the area, it was nevertheless treated very poorly by the ones who depended upon it the most. The hog farmers and vegetable farmers dumped their refuge in the creek and at times the smell became exceedingly offensive. Laws were passed and this practice was stopped. The days of using the creek as a sewer were over when most of the area was incorporated. One has to look very hard today to find the path of the original creek.

Rediscovering the Peninsula by Darold Fredricks appears in the Monday edition of the Daily Journal.



Tags: creek, mission, built, avenue, times, south,

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