John Read, Ferry Pioneer

By Larry Clinton

The first English­speaking settler in what was then called Saucelito was Capt. John Read (aka Reed), who came here in 1826, and is said to be one of the first, if not the first Irishman who ever located permanently on the Pacific coast. Shortly after arriving, Reed applied to the Mexican Government for a grant to the Saucelito Rancho. While awaiting his land grant, he established a San Francisco Bay ferry service using a sailboat.

According to and early 20 CALIFORNIA, “This was doubtless the first ferryboat on the bay, which now counts them by the dozens, and the first in the State. When we compare this mere pigmy of a sail­boat making its one or more trips a week, with the palace steamers which now pass to and fro over the same track more than a dozen times each day, we can form some conception of the magnitude of the changes which have occurred in the past half century.”

Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library

Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library

The service didn’t last long, because, in the words of the Chronicle’s Peter Hartlaub, “The American Indians, who paddled across the bay, were faster and more reliable.” After Read’s land grant application was refused, on the grounds that this tract had been reserved for government purposes, he went up to Sonoma County, then back down to San Rafael where he served as major domo of the mission.

Read came back to Saucelito permanently, in 1832. “He located on the Saucelito ranch,” the book reports, “near where the old town stood, hoping now to be able to get a grant for it, but, like many other matters entrusted to friends to be done, when the papers arrived they were not in his name.” William Richardson, following in Reed’s footsteps, also applied for a grant to Saucelito Rancho (after marrying the Presidio commander's daughter), and that application was approved in 1838. Two years later, Read was given a grant to Rancho Corte de Madera del Presidio, encompassing what is now southern Corte Madera, Mill Valley, the Tiburon Peninsula, and Strawberry Point.

After Richardson had lost control of his holdings, the town began growing under the auspices of the Sausalito Land and Ferry Company. Beginning in 1868, these developers used the ferryboat Princess to lure prospective buyers from San Francisco, and the popularity of the concept created a boom in ferry service all over the Bay.

The completion of the Golden Gate Bridge in 1937 led to the demise of Sausalito’s ferry service until the 1970’s when it was reborn, ironically, by the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District.