July 4, 1924: Memorial Park

I wrote this in 1999

Giant Dedication to the Redwoods

By June Morrall

“Memorial Park. July 4, 1924, dedicated in honor of those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom and liberty.”

It was school’s Superintendent Roy Cloud’s mandate to visit all the county’s classrooms, even those in areas so remote that only the people who lived there knew they existed.

La Honda, Loma Mar and the entire South Coast fell into this category.

Cloud was a highly visible superintendent who called on every school, no matter how far away.

In 1923 he visited Wurr School, deep in the redwoods, near Loma Mar. Actually, much of the timber had been cut by various lumbermen but a 310-acre virgin stand of coast redwoods remained near the school constructed by a German named Henry Wurr years earlier.

Arriving on the South Coast in the 1850s, Wurr established a successful shingle mill business, setting up a household with his Swedish bride, a member of the prolific Blomquist clan. The couple accumulated land and had five children. Even a road was named after Wurr and they had the place practically to themselves.

Henry Wurr had long been dead when Roy Cloud appeared at Wurr School, attended mostly by descendants of the Blomquists and Wurrs.

It was a lovely spring day, through Cloud, looking up at the towering coast redwoods as he treaded across the thick mat of needles and bark, called “duff.”

The azaleas were in full bloom, spikey ferns poked out from beneath the trees and he saw a banana slug or two. The air smelled of spice and as his senses took in the scene. Cloud was overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.

But Cloud was devastated when he learned this magnificent grove was in jeopardy. Mill owner Edwin T. Peterson had purchased the 310 acres for $40,000 and he was planning to begin logging any day.

Cloud, the celebrated author of county history books, keenly felt the significance of the moment and his place in it. The cutting had to be stopped.

Spurred on by urgency, Cloud attended the next county Board of Supervisors meeting held in Redwood City. He recounted his near-religious experience in the virgin redwoods, believing the “scene would be a revelation to the people of the county. If only they see and enjoy it as he had, “according to Frank Stanger’s Sawmills in the Redwoods.

Cloud closed his plea before the supervisors by advising them of Peterson’s intention to fell the trees. Immediate action was required, stressed Cloud. His recommendation was that the tract be purchased for a public park.

The Board of Supervisors was receptive as it listened attentively to its superintendent of schools. The supervisors included C.V. Thompson, a Pescadero physician, and Thomas Hickey, a South San Francisco resident, credited with establishing the county’s first welfare commission. Other board members were Half Moon Bay businessman Manuel Francis, Menlo Park’s John McBain, who had survived a scandal more than a decade earloier, and the board’s only female member, Rosalie Brown.

The supervisors responded by appointing a blue ribbon public panel to study Cloud’s recommendation that the redwood grove be set aside as a public park.

Among the appointees was Timothy Hopkins, the adopted son of Mark Hopkins, one of the Big Four, founders of the Central Pacific Railroad. Timothy Hopkins joined the Menlo Park community when he purchased Senator Milton Latham’s mansion, abandoning it following severe damage caused by the 1906 earthquake. Afterward, Hopkins and his wife moved to a home in the same neighborhood.

Another member of the committee was W.J. Martin, a real estate promoter, who helped developed the residential section of South San Francisco. Martin’s own residence achieved a “Point of Interest” designation from the state of California.

Fred Lorton was a Burlingame realtor who once owned half of Burlingame Avenue; he and a partner gave land to the federal government for the town’s post office and a street in Burlingame bears his name.

Also serving were J.C. Williamson, well known Pescadero general store owner and Alvin Hatch, whose father, Rufus, had operated a sawmill south of Half Moon Bay.

As longtime Coastsiders, Hatch and Williamson knew the redwoods well. They were steeped in the history of the area surrounding this last stand of virgin redwoods that made up Roy Cloud’s proposed park.

Milling had been big business in the vicinity of Pescadero Creek and its many tributaries. The coast redwood, Sequoia sempervirens, was an excellent commercial tree, and lumber products, especially shingles, were used locally and exported by ship from Pigeon Point.

In 1869 the Swedish brothers, Sam and Andrew Anderson built a shingle mill near a branch of Pescadero Creek. Four years later Henry Wurr purchased the mill, but it was destroyed by fire. Wurr established another mill on Butano Creek, but he soon returned to Pescadero Creek. Wurr’s last mill stood near his home and the school he had donated land for in 1889, a few years before his death.

The Blomquist family milled in the same general area. August Blomquist established his shingle mill on McCormick’s Creek and by 1893 he had earned enough money to return to Sweden and retire.

That same year, Henry Wurr died. As shingle prices had dipped, his Blomquist relatives operated the sawmill only when they could see a profit.

By the early 1900s, Frank Blomquist built a sawmill on his Wurr Road property. He logged the steep hillsides reaching up to Butano Ridge, and from there he pulled out a huge log that became Pescadero’s 90-foot flagpole.

Blomquist sold the mill, and eventually it came into the hands of Edwin T. Peterson. Just when Peterson finished logging the same hillside, fire engulfed the mill.

(There’s more to this story but I have been unable to locate it! My apologies.)

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