703 - 707 First Avenue - Home of the Father of San Mateo
In 1862, before the railroad even came to San Mateo, James Byrnes, who had established a store and stage shop, bought up 10 lots between 2nd and 4th Avenues and between B and the tracks for $1200. Byrnes was known as “The Father of San Mateo,” for being the first to resell city lots there, and he used his cloud to boost their value. He pushed for a road linking San Mateo and Half Moon Bay, which was called Spanishtown at the time.
He established a number of businesses, including a brickyard and warehouse, but his best-know enterprise was the Union saloon, which he operated with county politician J.P Ames. Byrnes eventually bought Ames out, and the place became known as the Railroad House, with a restaurant managed by Tom Hicks, probably the first African American to take up residence in the village. In 1880 the Railroad House burned down. Byrnes replaced it with a brick building he called the Union Hotel, which still stands on Third Avenue & Main.
In 1875 Byrnes built a house on several acres near today’s First Avenue & Delaware (703-717 1st Avenue). The structure still stands, although it has been altered considerably.