Marin County Genealogy

Marin County - Our Towns - Tiburon/Belvedere

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Landmark Society of Tiburon and Belvedere

In 1884, trains began shuttling commuters into Tiburon to board ferries bound for San Francisco. This 1920s photo shows only a small part of the extensive trainyards which once filled the town.



Railroads and codfish

The place didn't always look as spiffy as it does today-or smell as good either


The history of Marin is dominated by railroads, the shoreline and Mexican land grants. This is especially true of the Tiburon-Belvedere peninsula, where one grant in particular, John Reed's Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio, has had as much to do with the area's development as its fishing fleet and commerce-friendly vistas.

Reed's daughter Hilarita married a Union Army surgeon named Benjamin Franklin Lyford in 1866; he used his bride's 1,466 Tiburon acres to build the Lyford's Hygeia subdivision and its still-standing stone-tower entrance, as well as a laboratory, where he developed an effective new embalming technique, and St. Hilary's Church, where the unique-to-Tiburon black jewel and Tiburon paintbrush wildflowers grow in profusion.

In 1884 entrepreneur Pete Donahue ran a branch of his North Pacific Railroad from San Rafael out to Punta de Tiburon (Shark Point) to connect with the San Francisco-bound ferry-boats. (The operation's ferry terminal was brought down Petaluma Creek en masse via barge.) Boat and rail yards sprang up in the vicinity; out of them grew Main Street, a handy locale for the new town's post office, general store, hotels and saloons. Main Street was a rowdy place at the century's turn; shootings and rum-running were commonplace, and the street burned to the ground three times, the last time in 1921.

Much of the town's lively nature came out of the L&M Codfishery, one of the largest on the Pacific Coast, which had been built in 1877 on the town's eastern shores. (One of their outstanding products was Dr. Fisherman's Lotion
for Man and Beast.) Crews from the company's 20 ships would hit town after several hard weeks of fishing the Arctic and stagger from tavern to tavern, frightening Belvederians into their carefully locked mansions.

The eastern shore also had deep enough water to float the Great White Fleet, which refueled here in 1908. The federal government had purchased this portion of the town in 1904, using it later on to train naval cadets, reel cable for the Golden Gate Bridge and construct anti-torpedo nets, one seven-mile example of which was strung beneath the bridge against submarine attack during World War II. San Francisco State operates a marine research center there today.

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Landmark Society of Tiburon and Belevedere

Tiburon's Main Street burned to the ground three times before 1921. This picture was taken sometime before the last fire. Cars can be seen but buggies are still widely used.

The ferries have lasted, off and on, up to the present, but the trains stopped running in 1967, when the last freighter pulled out for good. Tiburon Boulevard attained its present dimensions in 1929, when the town's brand-new chamber of commerce oversaw its extension from San Rafael Avenue down to Main Street over filled land that was originally part of the Belvedere Lagoon. This extension is now Tiburon's main downtown artery. The exodus of Tiburon's business center from Main Street to the Tiburon Boulevard extension began in the 1950s with the opening of the Boardwalk, although Fred Zelinsky's purchase of much of Main Street in 1956 resulted in new shops and the venerable Tiburon Playhouse. The town was incorporated in 1964; a police department was established in 1972, the same year the town bought $1,250,000 in open space to stave off over-development.

Belvedere has been connected to Tiburon, physically and otherwise, throughout their mutual history. Originally known by the Spanish as "The Pasture of Shark Point," for 30 years the whole mile-by-half-mile "island" was the home of bigwig Israel Kashow. He squatted here in 1855, raising sheep and cattle and establishing his very own codfishery, where 700 tons of fish were cured each year by 100 Chinese workers.

Kashow lost ownership of the island to New York attorney James C. Bolton in 1868, who won the real estate on behalf of John Reed's heirs and received as his fee half of the land in question. Kashow, however, refused to leave for 16 years, despite President Andrew Johnson, who claimed Belvedere for the military in 1867, and new owner Thomas B. Valentine, who brought his case all the way to Washington in 1884 and won in the process 7,845 acres of Marin's primest real estate, gloriously undeveloped.

Valentine named it Belvedere (Italian for "beautiful view") and subdivided it in 1890. M.M. O'Shaughnessy (see the Mill Valley section) laid out the new town, hillsides were terraced and the likes of Willis Polk and Julia Morgan designed the town's glorious new mansions. The town was incorporated in 1896; by 1900 there were 50 houses and one hotel, the Belvedere, the current location of the San Francisco Yacht Club. The annual Night in Venice celebrations began in 1895 with music, fireworks and beautifully decorated arks and yachts filling the lagoon. The tradition ended in 1927 with the wholesale pumping of mud into the lagoon, which resulted in precious landfill and, eventually, Tiburon Boulevard. The arks that once enjoyed Marin's most beautiful views departed, leaving the vistas to this beautiful island's beautiful homes.

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© Copyright 2007 Ron Filion and Pamela Storm. All rights reserved.