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Blog: The Port of Ravenswood?

Did you know Ravenswood was once a town with a port?

Did you know Ravenswood was once a town with a port? Don’t feel bad; most people don’t.

Indeed, Ravenswood came to life around 1853. It had a wooden pier which was 1,500 feet in length (just over one quarter mile) that extended into the deep water of the bay.

Lester Phillip Cooley. San Mateo County History Museum Archives

Some of Ravenswood’s street names were Charles, Haskell, Woods and Wharf. Other than Wharf Street, said streets were named after men who had a keen interest in the development of the tiny town.

One of them, Isaiah Woods, built the pier.

Lots were designated, and almost all the lumber used to construct buildings came from nearby Searsville and Woodside.

Ravenswood’s bay commercial commerce came mainly from a steamer named Jenny Lind, the only vessel which traversed between San Francisco and the fledgling port.

Sadly, the Jenny Lind came to a tragic end when on one of its regular routes, the boiler exploded near San Mateo. The entire vessel, along with 31 souls, was gone.

This tragedy had a devastating impact on Ravenswood’s development.

Palace Hotel SF. FoundSF

In 1864, the railroad line down the Peninsula to San Jose was completed. This was practically a nail in the coffin for the future of Ravenswood as rail transport steadily replaced ships.

Redwood City, which was much closer to the lumber mills and had a larger port, ended up replacing tiny Ravenswood’s port commerce. Eventually, with the steady decline, most of the property was purchased by Lester Cooley, a successful gold miner and dairyman.

Cooley rebuilt the pier and shipped grain and dairy products to San Francisco. The shipping point became known as Cooley Landing.

During this time, a second life was afforded the struggling port when a brick manufacturing factory opened in 1874. It was the largest in San Mateo County and supplied all the bricks for the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The opulent creation of William Ralston was considered one of the most luxurious in the world at the time. 

Rebuilt after taking extensive damage from the 1906 earthquake, the aging beauty still exists today.

After the hotel was completed, the brick company went out of business. Moreover, when Cooley passed away, the little port town of Ravenswood faded into the past.

The name Cooley still lives in the form of a street in East Palo Alto.

Cooley Landing on Bay Road in East Palo Alto. Photo by Katie Brigham.

 In the 1930s, the area became a public dump.

Today, the dump is long gone, and the land, in part, consists of Cooley Landing Park, which is operated by the City of Palo Alto, and Ravenswood Open Space Preserve.

Everything else is just history

Some of the photos used in this blog are courtesy of the Local History Room, Redwood City's best-kept secret. The Local History Collection covers all aspects of Redwood City's development, from the 1850s to the present day, with particular emphasis on businesses, public schools, civic organizations, city agencies, and early family histories. The Local History Room is not affiliated with the Redwood City Public Library, but it is inside it. 

Dan Calic

About the Author: Dan Calic

A product of Goodwin (JFK), Henry Ford, Roosevelt, Sequoia High and Canada College, Dan has deep Redwood City roots. He’s witnessed Redwood City transform from a sleepy peninsula town into a thriving high-tech hub.
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