Redwood City’s history lesson

This may be one of the oldest and biggest cities in San Mateo County, but it’s one of the last to have its very own history book.

Published this month, “Redwood City: A Hometown History” is a massive, 520-page tome chronicling the history of the town, from its roots as a farming community to its 19th-century industrial foundations.

The book was compiled by local volunteers, many of whom pitch in at the city library’s history room, and took more than two years to produce.

“Every chapter was written by somebody different, so it was a little like herding cats,” library Director Dave Genesy said.

The book, which is for sale through local libraries and on Amazon.com, is already a hit, said history-collection librarian Molly Spore-Alhadef, who sees it as a sign that locals were clamoring for it.

“We’re the only big town that didn’t have a history book, and I think it’s because Redwood City didn’t have the kind of ‘baronial manor’ 19th century that most of the surrounding towns did,” she said. “It was an industrial place.”

Now, whole chapters are devoted to those industries, from the saltworks to the tanneries, as well as the chrysanthemum farms maintained by Japanese settlers.

Local historian John Edmonds contributed a chapter on how Redwood City became the county seat, and other sections detail forgotten transport hubs, from a local airport to the massive shipping port that once operated downtown.

Genesy hopes the book will be a jumping-off point for residents who want to dive into local history.

In the next few years, he said, he’d like to digitize the library’s history collection so curious Web surfers can check out photos and documents online. He’s also exploring what it would take to create a history walk with plaques and information downtown.

The book — and history in general — tends to be a hit with residents of all stripes, said Mitch Postel, president of the San Mateo County History Museum.

“They love to walk down a street and say, ‘I know a little bit about what’s happened here before,’” Postel said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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