In the foothills back
of Stanford lies the ghost of a past that is foverver departed. Where
the clear waters of Searsville Lake now reflect the blue sky, there was
once a town. It was the first settlement in San Mateo County and
served for many colorful years as the center of social and industrial life
on the Peninsula.
Searsville, the town at the bottom of the lake, and according to some who are prone to believe in fairy tales, the old buildings and board walks are still discernible through the blue waters of the lake. Searsville was founded nearly a century ago, when Charles Brown of San Francisco purchased a portion of the Canada del Raimundo grant of John Coppinger and settled there with his wife. He called his newly acquired property the Mountain Home Ranch; it is now the Hooper property.
In the summer of 1852 John Smith joined Brown at Searsville, and the next year August Eikerenkotter arrived and started a store and hotel. This hotel, operated for lumbermen, was located at the junction of the present Sand Hill and Portola roads, now just outside the entrance to the recreation park. The next year brough John H. Sears, after whom the town was named. He built his home just inside the present entrance to the park. About the same time, Dennis Martin, a business visitor, came to Searsville and soon became the chief lumber operator on the Peninsula. His lumberjacks cut virgin timber from Crystal Springs Lake to Stevens Creek to keep his two mills operating. Martin, a keen-eyed Irishman, acquired great wealth from his lumbering activities, and his estate was known far and wide for its hospitality. He built and furnished St. Dennis Catholic Church, probably the first regular house of worhip in the county. In was situated on San Francisquito Creek, a few miles east of Searsville. Martin also gave land adjoining the church for a cemetery--a cemetery in which he now lies, unhonored even by a headstone.
Soon after Eikerenkotter and Sears started their hotels, other business establishments followed. A blacksmith shop, forge, and several saloons mushroomed up in the vicinity. Soon Searsville was a thriving town catering to the whims and fancies of hundreds of lumberjacks.
In the years when Stanford racing steeds were world-famous and when handsome carriages and swift horses sped along the Peninsula's unpaved roads, a highway ran from the town of Mayfield through the site of the present Stanford Quad, across the old San Francisquito Creek bridge, along the present Sand Hill road, and through the village of Searsville. Dashing riders pulled up at the hotel on the western shore of what is now the lake to wash the dust out of their throats or make reservations. Sunday afternoons several hundred mill hands from the near-by mills would gather in the town and indulge in their favorite pastimes of fighting, wrestling, horse-racing, and, of course, poker. Thousands of dollars changed hands on the turn of a card. Life in Searsville was vivid and daring.
Yet it has passed--passed so compltely that there are few who even know of the town under the lake, and only a handful who remember. Gone are the mills which brought great wealth to many. Gone are the huge redwoods which kept hundreds of lumberjacks employed. When the mills exhaused their supply of timber they closed down or moved elsewhere.
Then came the death of Searsville. About 1887, the Spring Valley Water Company, which was then building Crystal Springs Dam to form the present Spring Valley Lakes, planned also to draw water from San Franciquito Creek. The original plan was to bring the water through a tunnel nearly five miles long to augment the supply in the Crystal Springs Lakes. This plan was abandoned in favor of a dam at Searsville, from which the water was to be carried through a pipeline at the rate of 5,000,000 gallons daily to the Belmont Pumping Station, from where it would flow to San Francisco. The dam was built in 1891 to a height of fifty feet, giving a reservoir capacity of nearly 330,000,000 gallons, but the pipeline connection with Belmont was never made. Instead, the property was sold and the reservoir became in time a modern "swimmin' hole" for the Peninsula.
Those of us who never saw the bustling town of Searsville find it difficult to imagine what took place when the dam was built and the water began to climb. The Spring Valley Water Company, had, of course, bought up all the property involved, including the entire village. None of the residents had been required to vacate, and no one took the matter seriously until it appeared to some that, at the rate the water was climbing, the town might be flooded within a short time.
For an eye-witness account of the vanishing town we are indebted to Mr. James J. Swift, a cub reporter for the San Mateo County Times-Gazette. He visited Searsville toward the end of October, 1891, and wrote the following account:
"When a reporter of the Times-Gazette drove over that way yesterday, all was bustle and activity. It looked as if the water would come up inside of twenty-four hours from the way that houses and barns were being torn down and fences removed. On the road just this side of Searsville was a small frame house mounted on a sled, drawn by six horses, slowly working its way toward high ground. This house was formerly owned by Charles McLaughlin, and was purchased from the water company by Harry Cutter, who conducted a saloon around the turn below Eikerenkotter's. A respectable frame house could be bought for from $5 to $50. A force of men were at work on Eikerenkotter's store taking it to pieces. The lumber will be hauled to Redwood City and used sometime in the future in building a house on some lots owned by Julius Eikerenkotter. The hotel will stand and will be used by the water company. George Eikerenkotter will, for the present, go out of business. It is reported that the post office will be taken by J.H.P. Gage, foreman for E.F. Preston (near the Shilling estate) place. The row of pretty cottages below the hotel has been torn down, the fences taken away, and the ornamental trees and shrubs and fruit trees removed. As the road leading from Eikerenkotter's hotel and store toward Preston's will be partially submerged, a force of men has been engaged in laying out and building a new road from the hotel across the fields, which will join the old road near the foot of the mountain."
Searsville, the town where life was vivid and daring, is gone. Its buildings, streets, and schoolhouse are no more.
At present, Searsville Lake is a beautiful body of water, where Peninsulans come to spend the day swimming, boating, or canoeing as their wishes dictate.