Just 15 miles north of the city of San Francisco, sits the quaint 3.2-square-mile town of Corte Madera. Its name, which is Spanish for “cut wood,” comes from the area’s early logging industry. In fact, the loggers who worked the original Corte Madera rancho, helped build San Francisco with the redwoods from the area. However, long before these early settlers inhabited the region, the land that makes up Corte Madera was occupied by the Miwok Indians, who were called the Olamentke in early documents.
This group of people was considered to be a part of the largest American Indian “nation” in all of California and inhabited a stretch of land that consisted of 885 square miles in what is now Marin County and southern Sonoma County. The large group was made of approximately 40 villages and 3,000 people total and flourished until the arrival of the first Europeans in 1579.
In 1579, Sir Francis Drake, the first Englishman to circumnavigate the world, made the first contact with the Miwok. However, European contact after that was scarce until the Spanish claimed the San Francisco Bay in 1775. The area then became dominated by a new type of people.
After Mexico claimed independence from Spain, California shed its mission rule, and the land was passed to independent ranchers and owners via land grants. Corte Madera was part of the original Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio land grant given to John Reed in 1836. John Reed was a Dublin native and had once tried to claim land in Sonoma County but was forced into Marin County by resisting Miwok. In Corte Madera, Reed built a small wood-cutting mill to produce lumber for the Presidio. The industry grew as other settlers in the area also became involved in the logging of redwoods for San Francisco’s Presidio. However, after the majority of the area’s redwoods were harvested, the local industry became dominated by cattle ranching and agriculture.
In 1848, the Pennsylvanian family of John Van Reynegom arrived and settled at the base of Christmas Tree Hill. Because the land was technically public land, the settlement was allowed to grow between Reed’s settlement and Juan Cooper’s settlement. By 1859, the Van Reynegom settlement stretched from the east of the old railroad right-of-way to Town Park to what is now Larkspur’s city limits. The land was eventually bought by Frank Pixley, husband of Van Reynegom’s daughter, and upon his death, a portion of it was donated to the Larkspur-Corte Madera School District, while more was sold as home sites.
In 1906, the town began to attract many San Francisco families who wished to flee the city and its problems after the great earthquake. Corte Madera was incorporated in 1916 and became the first town between Sausalito and San Rafael to host a post office and railroad station. In addition, the town was home to a harbor, which meant that the town had an easy way to trade produce, beef and lumber for manufactured goods.
It wasn’t until World War II that Corte Madera became more heavily populated, when thousands of shipyard workers came to work at the Marinship. Since that time, both the population and development of the area have grown. With increasing development, the community of Corte Madera also developed a way to protect the town’ surrounding marshlands and is now home to the Corte Madera Ecological Reserve, a 22-acre park and numerous paths for biking. The town boasts two shopping malls as well, in addition to friendly neighborhoods and moderate home prices.