SB toll road was the main thoroughfareBy Darold Fredricks
In the late 1700s the Mission Road (El Camino Real) was established as a main thoroughfare between Mission Dolores in San Francisco and the Mission Santa Clara (west of the Pueblo San Jose).
When the path approached the barrier of a mountain at the head of the Peninsula, it followed the west side of the mountain. Eighty years later, the gold rush of the 1840s brought tens of thousands of adventurers to the Peninsula, and the city of San Francisco was their chosen designation.
The major center of activity for these 80 years had been the Mission, but now the route shifted three miles to the east along the Bay and opened the opportunity of establishing a road around the heretofore impassable east side of San Bruno Mountain.
The treacherous cliffs and the marshes on the east side had discouraged any development of a road and now the prospect of creating a toll to pay for its development excited some entrepreneurs from the Peninsula.
In 1858, D.S. Cook, Horace Hawes, and S.M. Menzes took the initiative of financing the road that was to start in San Bruno at the roadhouse that was built in 1849, called Uncle Tom's Cabin. Road crews were formed, creeks had to be diverted into culverts, dirt and gravel hauled in to fill in the marshes, and a drawbridge constructed across the San Bruno Canal.
It was especially tough work around the tangled mass of willow trees that had grown up by the canal. Once the road was completed to the east side of San Bruno Mountain, extensive dirt hauling was needed to fill in by the steep and treacherous cliffs.
A water barrier had to be overcome to the east of the mountain by Brisbane. The road was diverted through the community of Brisbane, and then it headed north around the water barrier. In present day Brisbane, a section of the San Bruno Toll Road still exists. This section was constructed through the hill barrier to avoid the waters of the Bay that lapped at the base of present day Visitation Avenue.
From Brisbane, the road crossed the Guadalupe Valley and entered the city of San Francisco. Sections of the old road remain and can be followed on the map as San Bruno Avenue and San Bruno Street. (Much of this section in San Francisco parallels the present Bayshore Highway).
The construction of this more direct route from El Camino Real, at the junction where Uncle Tom's Cabin was located, to downtown San Francisco was a huge success, and roadhouses - the 3-Mile and 7-Mile Houses and the San Bruno House-were built along it to serve the travelers. This direct road to San Francisco saved the travelers many miles.
In 1889, the road was sold to San Mateo County, but it continued to be a popular 14-mile route from San Francisco to San Bruno. In 1912, El Camino Real was surveyed and paved due to the growing popularity of the automobile. Automobile traffic increased exponentially and other superior routes of transportation like El Camino were sought by the Highway Commission.
It was decided the original San Bruno Toll Road was a good route, but improvements were needed to bring it up to the demands of expected automobile traffic. In the 1920s, a route parallel to this road was planned and Bayshore Boulevard was constructed as an alternate route from San Francisco, along the Bay near Brisbane but avoiding the city itself, around the east side of San Bruno Mountain and into South San Francisco. But here the new road was diverted from its previous course through San Bruno, and it followed the Bay to the new Mill's Airfield, continuing south to merge with Highway 101 in Burlingame.
The Southern Pacific's railroad tracks presented a problem in South San Francisco, and a two-lane underpass was built in 1927. (A second underpass was constructed later). This construction project cut off the original Toll Road's path (now called San Mateo Avenue in San Bruno), and it dead-ended near the San Bruno Canal for many years until it was reconnected to Airport Boulevard by a sharp realignment of the road in the 1950s.
Due to this dead-ending of San Mateo Avenue, Linden Avenue, which connected to San Mateo Avenue at its northern border, became the preferred route to the developing metropolis of South San Francisco. This road is connected to the Bayshore at the northern border of the city.
The San Bruno Toll Road became diverted from its intended route by the development of the Bayshore in the 1920s and its subsequent improvement in realignment in the 1940s. Somewhere along the way, possibly when the county acquired it in 1889, the section in San Bruno was renamed San Mateo Avenue and in South San Francisco it was later renamed Airport Boulevard.
Rediscovering the Peninsula appears in the Monday edition of The Daily Journal.
Copyright ©2008 San Mateo Daily Journal. Published 05/19/2008.