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The Father of San Mateo County

Being a child of indentured servitude, Hawes purchased his freedom for $50 ($1,500 today) when he was 16.

Born in Danby, New York in 1813, his name is Horace Hawes.

Being a child of indentured servitude, Hawes purchased his freedom for $50 ($1,500 today) when he was 16.  He studied science, law and taught school for a period of time before he began practicing law.

Based on having established an excellent reputation, President James Polk appointed him U.S. Consul to the South Sea Islands. He settled in the Bay Area in the late 1840s and became District Attorney of San Francisco. The city was full of scoundrels and thugs who controlled much of what went on in San Francisco. Hawes was asked to “clean things up.”

Birth of San Mateo County

Elected to the State Assembly in 1856, he introduced legislation to get rid of the corruption in San Francisco. On April 18th a legislative amendment was added which created San Mateo County from what was the southern section of San Francisco County. The newly created county expanded significantly in 1868 when a large portion of Santa Cruz County became part of it.

Hawes was elected to state senator In 1857. This same year he purchased land in Redwood City which ultimately became present-day Sequoia High School. He built a home there and called it 'Redwood Farm.' Hawes played a key role in establishing Union Cemetery and was outspoken about his objection to slavery. He passed away in 1871 at age 58.


His name lives on, in the form of Hawes Park, which was built in 1934 and for years was the nerve center of sports activities in Redwood City until Red Morton Park took center stage. A large section of Hawes Park was sold to the City in 1955, which eventually lead to the birth of Hawes Elementary School.

Among his many accomplishments, Hawes played key roles in the approval of the railroad coming through Redwood City, as well as land which became the downtown fire station (today’s main library).

So what’s the takeaway? Without Horace Hawes, there might not be a San Mateo County. Without San Mateo County Redwood City wouldn’t be its County Seat.

Thank you, Horace Hawes, we are indebted to you!

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 emphases 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. ​​​​​​​