Historic Evaluation Report relating to Finger Avenue subdivision proposal
Historic Resources Advisory Committee, Redwood City
March 13, 2008
Simon Theodore Finger arrived in California in 1852 and moved to Redwood City in 1855. Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1816, Theodore (as he was known) was listed in the 1860 U.S. Census as a farmer. He purchased 13.45 acres from John Sprague on March 15, 1855. This parcel of land was "300 feet on the west side of the county road (El Camino Real), south of Cardillas Creek." By 1862, it was known as Finger's Arroyo, then later Finger's Creek or Finger Creek. An 1877 San Mateo County map shows it as Cordillas Creek; the Wellesley Park subdivision map labelled it Cordilleras Creek in 1888, and the USGS accepted this name in 1895. Local residents still called it Finger Creek for many years.
Seven months later, on October 15, 1856, Margaret Wilhelmina Finger, Theodore's wife, purchased a much larger section of land from Simon Mezes. This 50-acre parcel, "all lying east of the county road... also lying adjacent and south of the Cordilleras Creek, and extending down to the arm of the creek or slough named Smith's Creek, also shown as Finger's Creek." Mina Finger was a native of either Frankfurt or Saxony (census reports differed); she was born in 1827. The 1860 U.S. Census listed the Fingers as having three sons, Herman (aged 13, born in Texas; adopted by the Fingers), Henry (aged 7, born in California), and Frederick (aged 1, also born in California, and christened Lorenz Fredrick).
By 1861, Theodore had planted out the combined Finger acreage in table and wine grapes. (Remnants
of grape arbors could still be found on the Finger property as late as 1978.) He was one of the earliest pioneers
to try growing grapes in the area. A year later, he placed an ad in the San Mateo County Gazette, on February 15,
1862: "Grape vines for sale. The undersigned has a fine assortment of cutlings, yearling, roots, and 3 year old
bearing vines; this is a fine French table grape and as a large runner well adapted to be planted around houses,
arbors, etc. T. Finger, near Redwood City." The San Francisco Chronicle published a long article about grape
culture on May 18, 1885 that was reprinted in the May 23, 1885 Times and Gazette. Theodore was featured in the
...About a half mile from Redwood City is the vineyard of Theodore Finger. Mr. Finger is the premier vineyardist of the county, as he first engaged in the business over 24 years ago, when he planted the vineyard which he now owns, and which has ever since been in good bearing condition. The largest crop was during the famous dry year of 1877, when it produced 1400 gallons of wine... He also considers the Mission grapes the best adapted to the soil and climate... thus far, the indications are that the coming season's crop of grapes will be a large one.
In July of 1862, the Fingers had deeded both parcels of property over to local attorney George Fox, of Fox and Fox, as tenants in common. He promptly deeded the land back to them as joint tenants.
An 1868 San Mateo County map shows the two Finger parcels divided by the county road and Southern Pacific railroad tracks. W.C.R. Smith had built a wharf on the creek, as well as a warehouse and road that ran directly to the Fingers' fifty acre parcel. Smith, a successful and wealthy drugstore owner, owned two hundred twenty nine acres adjacent to the easternmost end of the Finger property. An 1877 San Mateo County map shows that Theodore and Mina purchased from Smith a third tract of land that included the wharf, warehouse, and access road. Marked 70 acres on the map, it may have been less, as the boundaries appear to define an area smaller than the 50 acre parcel. This wharf became known as Finger's Wharf or Finger's Landing; a boathouse was constructed at some point (whether by Smith or the Fingers is unknown). It is possible that Finger used the warehouse as a winery.
The Fingers were active members of the community and extremely well thought of. Both were noted for their generosity. They adopted several children (two boys and two girls) in addition to their three naturalborn sons. Rudolph Grund, a talented architect and draftsman from Hamburg, Germany, suffered from ill health and made his home with the Fingers for many years before he died in 1870 at the age of forty-one.
One of the gestures made towards the local community was the provision of Finger Grove for picnics. The grove was a patch of woods that sat at the westernmost end of the 13-acre tract, with the creek as the top boundary and Finger Lane dead-ending at its most southern point. (Finger Lane was changed to Finger Avenue after the property was subdivided in 1906.) In 1872, Theodore leased the property to the Turn Verein for ten years; the group built a dance pavilion that cost $800. The Turn Verein was a local chapter of a nationalist group that formed in Berlin in 1811; they combined promoting physical exercise with vigorous discussion of German political and economic reforms. Liberty and a love for the fatherland were two favorite topics; the Fingers called their home "Liberty Hall."
Theodore Finger also allowed fraternal organizations, such as the Odd Fellows, the local Sunday school children, and tourists from San Francisco to visit the grove. A live band provided music for the many dances that took place in the open pavilion, which remained standing until 1902.
Theodore Finger was killed on August 6, 1887, hit by the southbound 5:33 p.m. express train at Finger Crossing. The San Mateo Gazette claimed that he was "preoccupied, short sighted, at least slightly deaf." A week later, the editor corrected the account, writing that in fact Theodore Finger had been far-sighted and possessed of acute hearing. His boot heel had become caught in the track; the horrified engineer saw him struggling to free himself but could not stop the train in time. Theodore Finger's obituary described him as a "daily exemplar of frugality, of probity, of good citizenship in its best sense... The hospitality which gave the home of the Fingers its childset charm was an indescribable blending of old-world courtesy and new world informality." The paper goes on to describe the Finger home as "a Liberty Hall pervaded by an atmosphere of self-respectful dignity. It was a home where the flowers bloomed all the year, where vine and orchard tree fruited abundantly and deliciously, where good cheer tempered by simplicity was part of the daily regime."
On October 8, 1887, the following notice appeared in the local paper: "Notice to creditors, estate of Simon Theodore Finger, also commonly known as Theodore, deceased...Mina Finger, executrix." An 1889 reference to Mina Finger lists her as a farmer, two years after Theodore's death.