Medicine in early South San Francisco


Mission Dolores’ agricultural outpost in San Pedro Valley (Pacifica) met with widespread disaster in the early 1790s. Measles and other infectious diseases decimated the Indian population and put a halt to its use as the "breadbasket” for the Mission in San Francisco.

The flat area along the Bay was ideal for raising cattle and growing food and the church put its effort now into utilizing the section around San Mateo for crops. There was abundant water available, flat expanses and transportation to the missions over the well-established Mission Road (El Camino Real) was much easier.

The Indians who were to be taught farming were moved to the area and utilized as laborers until they could attain the skills necessary to till their own land. (That was the original avowed plan of the Church. Much time passed, however, before any Indians obtained this promised land). Although church records have been lost, all indications are that in 1793 or 1794 a 22x147 foot granary was built by San Mateo Creek along the trail from Mission Dolores to Mission Santa Clara.

This first granary was erected at the site of the Moraga campsite that was on the south side of San Mateo Creek. This was destroyed in an 1808 earthquake.

The very existence of a granary indicates the fruitfulness and prosperity of the surrounding San Mateo lands. A granary is used to store surplus grains and other things such as wool and hides from the many sheep and cattle that now populated the area. In fact, the Mission reported in its best year that it had 10,740 head of cattle, 10,000 sheep, 930 horses, plus mules, pigs and goats in its care and most of these were kept on the Peninsula. Anywhere from 500 to 1,000 acres of crops were planted on the Peninsula up to 1818, hence the need for the granary.

A new adobe granary, built after the 1808 earthquake on the north side of San Mateo Creek (near the Baywood and Baldwin Avenues intersection at El Camino Real), appears to have been about 36x113 feet or more, and two stories high. On the east side, facing the El Camino, were six doors that led to rooms.

These were used for storage and living quarters for Indians or travelers as the situation demanded. Early travelers from Mission Santa Clara to Mission Dolores were welcome to stay overnight in any dwelling along El Camino Real at no cost to the individual. Money was not a big factor in the early development of the Peninsula as very little was actually available for circulation. The honesty, integrity, friendship and hospitality of the individual were valued much more than money.

One of the rooms was a chapel and many referred to the building as Mission San Mateo, although it was never a mission. Soldiers such as Jose Antonio Sanchez would sometimes be assigned duty to oversee activities of the neophytes who would live in the building, as well as missionaries who would say mass for the Indians.

A great deal of social activity was focused here until other buildings were built along the Peninsula. In 1812, the situation with Spain changed and the importance of the hospice granary decreased. When Mexico took over California, although there were more neophytes in the area tilling the land, productivity of the land decreased.

In the 1840s, total disruption of the Rancho San Mateo, of which the hospice was a part, occurred and the land was acquired by Americans.

At the end of the 1840s, an enterprising Dutch man, Nicholas de Peyster, cleaned out the abandoned building and opened a store and public house. In 1850, William D.M. Howard, who had acquired the Rancho San Mateo, ordered de Peyster out of the building. The building was badly damaged by an earthquake and it was demolished in 1868.

The tile from the roof was saved, however, and these were used on the roof of the Burlingame Southern Pacific Train Station when it was constructed in 1894.

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