Incorporated in 1925, San Carlos had a population of 28,406 according to the 2010 US Census, which grew to an estimated 30,185 by 2019. San Carlos covers 5.54 square miles of which .05% is water. Combined of hills, flatlands, waterfront, and wonderfully temperate climate, San Carlos’ central location (only 20 miles from SF), and vibrantly thriving downtown area make it an extremely popular city in which live, work, and play along the SF Peninsula. Inhabiting its own municipal airport certainly helps.
Prior to the Spanish arrival in 1769, the land of San Carlos was occupied by a group of Native Americans who called themselves the Lamchins. Many modern scholars consider them to be part of the Ohlone or Costanoan tribes that inhabited the Bay Area. The Lamchins referred to the area of their primary residence- most likely on the north bank of Pulgas Creek- as “Cachanihtac”, which included their word for vermin. The Spanish later translated that as “the fleas”, or “las pulgas”, giving many places and roads in the region their modern names.
Gaspar de Portola’ was the first westerner to reach San Francisco Bay, and while some early historians track his journey from the Pacific Ocean as coming over the San Carlos hills, contemporary researchers believe the “discovery” actually occurred in present-day Belmont. The mission in San Francisco was established, and lands were deeded as large ranchos. The land now occupied by the city of San Carlos was deeded as a single large rancho to Don Jose’ Dario’ Aguello. Originally, they raised cattle and housed crops for sale to locals, but after his death in 1860, the family created what is now known as Ranch de las Pulgas.
Although the port of Redwood City to the south and the town of Belmont to the north were growing quickly in the late 19th century, San Carlos’ growth was much slower. Major portions of land were then purchased by Timothy Guy Phelps, and the Brittan, Hull, and Ralston families. Phelps, a wealthy politician, made an early attempt to further develop the area. He provided significant infrastructure improvements and began promoting lot sales in what he modestly called “The Town of Phelps”. The largely unsuccessful Phelps sales led to a purchase by Nicholas T. Smith’s San Carlos Land Development Company, and the name was eventually changed. The newly named region, though not yet incorporated, received a boost with the construction of the Peninsula Railroad Corridor and station in 1888.
Upon incorporation, the “Father of San Carlos”, Frederick Drake (whom in 1917 purchased 130 acres of San Carlos land in foreclosure), coined the moto “The City of Good Living”. Drake was also one of the key organizers of the nearby Sequoia High School and established the chamber of commerce in 1926.
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