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History Watch

July 9, 2018

Marin history: Tiburon was a bustling port city

The Tiburon port and railroad depot in 1907. (Courtesy of Marin History Museum)

The Tiburon port and railroad depot in 1907. (Courtesy of Marin History Museum)

Posted: 07/09/18

The busy Tiburon port and railroad depot stands in stark contrast to the idyllic town and tourist destination we know today. Tiburon, Spanish for shark, received its name from Juan Manuel de Ayala y Aranza, an officer on the first European ship, the San Carlos, to sail into San Francisco Bay, in 1775. Inhabited by Coast Miwok for generations, it wasn’t until 1831 that early European settler and Marin pioneer John Reed first settled in Southern Marin and began to raise cattle. Three years later he formally received a land grant of the Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio that included the Tiburon Peninsula.

Early industries on the peninsula included dairy ranches, a brickyard that supplied material for the construction of Fort Point, two companies that manufactured explosive powder, a codfish processing plant and a marine salvaging operation. Everything changed in 1882 when Col. Peter Donahue brought the southern terminus of the San Francisco and North Pacific Railroad to Tiburon from San Rafael. Tiburon became a bustling port city connecting the markets, ranches and timber industries of the north with the ferries serving San Francisco and the greater Bay Area.

The rail yards were able to not only repair and service trains, but also to fabricate passenger and freight cars and locomotives. The Tiburon shipyards also constructed several of the largest San Francisco ferries. In 1904, the U.S. Navy built the only Pacific Coast coaling station on the peninsula for its fleet and provided fuel for Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet visit to San Francisco Bay in 1908.

Coaling service ended in 1931 but the site was subsequently used by the company that spun cables for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge and by the Navy, which manufactured huge submarine and torpedo nets for use during World War II. With the passing of rail service in the 1960s and the former Navy Net Depot converted to oceanographic research, Tiburon planners begin the decades-long process of setting aside much of the peninsula as open space and rebuilding the town into an upscale commercial and residential paradise.

P. O. Box 150727, San Rafael, CA 94915        415-382-1182    

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