Long before the land that makes up Marin County was settled by Mexicans and Europeans, the area was home to the Miwok Indians, whose origin in the county dates back some 3,500 years. The Miwok consisted of three tribes: the Olamentko who lived in Bodega Bay, the Lekahtewutko of Sonoma County, and the Hookooeko who inhabited Marin County and San Anselmo. Living off the fish from San Anselmo Creek, the elk, deer and bears of the forests and the acorns from the oak trees, the Hookooeko flourished until the arrival of Spanish colonizers.
When these settlers arrived, diseases, intermarriage and forced relocation decimated tribe numbers. However, while the population and culture suffered great losses, records of early encounters and artifacts that have been recovered have painted a picture of what life was like for Marin County’s original residents. It is known that the Hookooeko culture involved fine basketry and clamshell beads as currency and domed and conical kotchas as homes. In addition, the finding of many Miwok artifacts near the Hub in San Anselmo suggests that it also was a center of activity even at that time.
However, once settlers arrived the area soon became dominated by an entirely different set of people: colonizers from Spain and then Mexicans. It was in 1839 that Mexico granted the land west of the Hub in San Anselmo to the Sais family, who built the first permanent home in the area. Then in 1840, a second land grant covering the Hub and the southern portion of town was awarded to Juan Cooper. However, these families’ dominions did not last long. Domingo Sais died in 1853, with his land broken up after his death, and Cooper sold his grant to James Ross in 1856, whose descendants actually still live and work in a portion of this original property in Sunnyside Nursery. Development of these lands did not begin until the 1870s when the North Pacific Coast Railroad began servicing Sausalito and San Rafael by way of San Anselmo. The train junction led to the town’s first school being built on Butterfield Road, with the San Francisco Theological Seminary following in 1892. After that, the town grew quickly, with a post office and electricity arriving by the turn of the century.
In 1906, the great San Francisco earthquake caused many to leave the city and find homes in the surrounding areas. Those who were once summertime visitors built permanent homes in San Anselmo, leading to the opening of new businesses and the planting of trees. By 1907, the town was incorporated, and by 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge was completed, improving access between San Anselmo and San Francisco.
Celebrating its centennial in 2007, San Anselmo remains a small and charming town with a lot to offer visitors and residents. Voted by Pacific Sun readers to be the “Best Town Other Than Your Own,” as well as the “Best Non-Mall Shopping Town in Marin County,” this small town is an antique supercenter and often recognized as the Northern California Antiques Capital.