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Early Days of Mill Valley: 1834-1900


In 1834 Irish expat John T. Reed received the first land grant in Marin – Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio which spanned nearly 5,000 acres. Four years later former Captain William A. Richardson received a grant of nearly 20,000 acres – Rancho Saucelito. Both men went bankrupt within a few decades and Samuel R. Throckmorton took over Richardson’s land. After his death his land was sold to the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. By the 1880s there were only 10 homes in Mill Valley and and scattered buildings. The 1890 TL&WC land auction changed all that. In one day 200 lots were sold and families pitched tents to start building their homes and businesses. By 1900 Mill Valley had become an active community with planned streets and a growing population. Tourists rode the train into downtown and up the mountain to ride the gravity cars or stayed in one of the many new hotels. With a population of nearly 900 the locals passed a vote to incorporate, and on September 1, 1900 Mill Valley was born.

Archival Research, Text, and Design: Alexandria Brown
Design Assistance: Cate Drayitt, Sean Mooney


A c. 1900 view of Mt. Tam, showing Miller Ave. near Willow St. on the uphill side, with homes on Summit Ave. in view.

Mill Valley from Summit Ave., c. 1900. Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic Church is to the left.

A view of Mill Valley and Mt. Tam, c. 1900. Though the Tamalpais Land & Water Co. laid out streets, stairs were often used as shortcuts between the dirt roads and as a convenient way up the hills.

Interior of Martin’s Pioneer Grocery Store in 1899 at Throckmorton and Bernard. This was the first lot sold.

Bernard Grethel, Sr., wife Ethel Grethel, and son Bernard, Jr., owners of the Eastland Bakery at 18 Miller, c. 1900., one of the first bakeries in Mill Valley. It opened in 1892 on the land the family bought at the auction and just above it was…