Highway 35: Old La Honda Road Winds into the Past

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe stopped on Old La Honda road in La Honda, California, 2010. Photo: Grummblecakes.

1955 Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe, stopped on Old La Honda Road in La Honda, California, 2010. Photo: Grummblecakes.

Old La Honda Road was the precursor to present day La Honda Road (Highway 84) in the Portola Valley of California, south of San Francisco. It is very winding so if you want to bike or drive it, be prepared for a narrow roadway snaking around blind corners. When autos came into the mountains after 1900, signs were posted along the road advising drivers to “sound your Spartan” (the Spartan was a brand of automobile horn).

What the Garmin dashboard GPS display looked like at the top of Old La Honda Road, June 2007. The photographer, Antti T. Nissinen, commented that "Garmin tricked us big. Old La Honda Boulevard was not made for cars."

What the Garmin dashboard GPS display looked like at the top of Old La Honda Road, June 2007. The photographer Antti T. Nissinen, commented that “Garmin tricked us big. Old La Honda [Road] was not made for cars.”

Turnpikes of Yesteryear

Old La Honda Road is based on several historic roads that were the equivalent of turnpikes or freeways in the 1860s and 1870s. Timber and other commercial interests were demanding access to their mountain properties, but the newly formed counties did not have the money to fund all of the requested roads.

Entrepreneurs were allowed to petition their county or state governments for a franchise to construct a road financed by their stockholders. They charged a user toll for the upkeep of the road. Stockholders rarely made money, and there were many complaints from travelers about the poor condition of these roads. Eventually, the roads were acquired by the counties, and turned into public thoroughfares that served ranchers and tourists.

The Knights Stage Line ran daily on Old La Honda Road, taking passengers from the train depot in Redwood City through the redwoods of La Honda and on to the beaches of Pescadero. 1897. Photo courtesy of Bud Foss and Bob Dougherty.

The Knights Stage Line ran daily on Old La Honda Road taking passengers from the train depot in Redwood City through the redwoods of La Honda and on to the beaches of Pescadero. 1897. Photo courtesy of Bud Foss and Bob Dougherty.

Summit Landing

The area where Old La Honda Road crossed the summit was a center of activity in the late 1800s and was called Summit Landing. It is difficult to imagine the landing now, because all we see today are a long row of mailboxes and a redwood forest. The old foundations were filled in during the construction of Skyline Boulevard.

The Rapley house at Summit Landing, 1898. Photo courtesy of Portola Valley archives.

The Rapley house at Summit Landing, 1898. Photo courtesy of Portola Valley archives.

Try to imagine the scene at the Summit Landing in the 1890s. On the southwest corner stood the spacious Rapley House and barn and the Summit Saloon. Another house and barn, surrounded by grazing sheep, was nearby. Tired stagecoach drivers and passengers could stop for some refreshment at the small Summit Saloon and play a few rounds of pool. At holiday time, local ranchers gathered there for dances.

It took a great deal of horsepower to haul even a single wagon load of grain, apples, and especially lumber up from the coast, so teamsters often stored their goods at the Rapley barn before hitching up a double load for the trek down the mountain to Redwood City or Palo Alto.

A group of summit area ranchers celebrate the Fourth of July at the Summit Saloon, 1906. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Rapley.

A group of summit area ranchers celebrate the Fourth of July at the Summit Saloon, 1906. Photo courtesy of Jimmy Rapley.

Read the rest of the story to meet the father of the San Francisco cable car, here at MobileRanger.com.

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Julia Gaudinski


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