San Carlos History

Incorporated in 1925, San Carlos was settled almost 200 years ago when the peaceful Ohlone Indians first inhabited the area. It is believed the town was named after the ship “San Carlos” which sailed into the Bay in 1755. Colonization of the area, conversion of the Indians, and exploration soon followed.

train stationThe Depot: In 1854, Timothy Guy Phelps, a San Francisco mercantile owner and 49er (the original kind), was the first American to purchase and occupy land in San Carlos. He started his estate with 200 acres and soon increased his holdings to 3,500 acres. Once the San Francisco/San Jose railroad was granted right of way through some of Phelps’ property, it required that a station agent and telegraph office be set up and maintained. That is how our famous landmark, the San Carlos Depot, came to be built in 1888. It is a rare example of the use of the Richardson Romanesque style in California railroad station architecture.

San Carlos Becomes A Town: With the railroad completed, attempts were made to develop a town. Frederick Drake of the Mercantile Trust arrived in 1917. He proved to be the most successful of would-be developers by improving the water supply and piping water to individual lots, installing gas and electricity, and paving the streets. Then came the first school, where 20 pupils met in a house. By 1918, a new two-room schoolhouse accommodated eight grades.

In 1919, a hangar and flying field had been built between San Carlos Avenue and Brittan Avenue east of the railroad. Along with the housing development, a few businesses started up. By 1922, San Carlos had its first restaurant, Tate’s Tea Room, which is now the Carlos Club on El Camino. A volunteer fire department was formed in 1923 and fundraising by the volunteers and their wives resulted in a firehouse being built in the same year. Other commercial establishments followed, clustering west of The Depot in the first two blocks of Cypress Avenue (as San Carlos Avenue was then called) and spreading out along El Camino Real. Pictured on the right is Conklins General Store which sold gas, bakery goods and a variety of other merchandise.

The citizens of San Carlos voted to incorporate in June, 1925. Drake, known as the Father of San Carlos, continued to promote the town and coined our motto, “The City of Good Living.” Drake also founded the San Carlos Enquirer (now the Independent Newspaper), was a key organizer of nearby Sequoia High School and established the Chamber of Commerce in 1926.

Burton Park: Burton Park was the first public recreation facility established by the City. In March 1938, citizens passed a 20-year bond issue for purchase of the designated property. That same year, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) constructed an amphitheater and an adobe brick building at the Park. Later an additional 3.38 acres were purchased, where the game of baseball could be played. The park was dedicated in 1940 and re-dedicated in June 1960 to honor a key City activist and Mayor, Edward Burton, for his many years of service to the community.

Book Available

The City of San Carlos has a rich and exciting history. More information about the history of San Carlos is available in the hardback book San Carlos Stories by Linda Wickert Garvey (sold at the Chamber of Commerce and the Museum of San Carlos History, to benefit the San Carlos Educational Foundation). The book was commissioned by the City Council to celebrate the town’s 75th anniversary.