Tiburon Tidbits

Although nowadays it’s famous for shopping and scenery, Tiburon has a far more rousing past. Here are some lesser-known facts about the town; join a walking tour to find out even more.

1. “Tiburón” means “shark” in Spanish.

When the first European explorers came ashore, they saw many small sharks offshore and found shark teeth and remnants on the beach. Consequently, the land was named La Punta del Tiburón, or “Shark Point” in Spanish.

2. For 83 years, Tiburon was a railroad town.

From 1884, when industrialist Peter Donahue extended his railroad from Petaluma to Tiburon, until 1967, when the last freight train left the town, Tiburon was a rough- and-tumble train town. Its evolution into the incarnation we know today accelerated after the railroad era ended.

3. The biggest and fastest double-ended passenger ferryboat in the world was built in Tiburon.

Not only did Tiburon become a railroad depot, but locomotives, rolling stock and ferries were also built and maintained there. The ferry Ukiah, built in 1890, was about the length of a football field and transported people and railroad cars across the bay. Rebuilt as the Eureka in 1922, it carried more than 2,300 passengers and 120 automobiles.

4. Downtown Tiburon burned down three times.

Three fires, in 1890, 1906 and 1921, virtually burned down Main Street. Flimsy building materials and the absence of sufficient (or any) firefighting facilities resulted in the rapid destruction of the town.

5. John Thomas Reed was 29 years old when Mexico granted him 8,600 acres, including the Tiburon Peninsula and more.

In 1834, after he became a Mexican citizen, Irishman John Thomas Reed was granted almost 8,600 acres, called the Rancho Corte de Madera del Presidio (“where wood is cut for the Presidio”). It included the entire Tiburon Peninsula and part of what is now Mill Valley, all of Corte Madera and part of Larkspur.

6. There was a 19th-century plan to create one of the world’s finest health resorts and residential communities in Tiburon.

Dr. Benjamin Franklin Lyford, the husband of J.T. Reed’s daughter Hilarita, planned to create “Lyford’s Hygeia,” named for him and the Greek goddess of health. It was the first real estate subdivision in Tiburon. Lyford had many requirements and regulations regarding how the houses were to be built and situated and how the residents would be chosen and how they were to behave. When Lyford went blind, the project was abandoned.

7. Mobster Al Capone was transported through Tiburon on his way to Alcatraz.

In 1934, Capone and 52 other inmates were chained in barred and armored railroad cars and transferred from Atlanta to be the first inmates of Alcatraz prison. To divert attention, the train was shuttled onto the Tiburon line, which hadn’t seen passengers for more than 25 years.