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For more information about the history of Mill Valley, visit the Mill Valley Public Library's History Room or the Mill Valley Historical Society website.
The City of Mill Valley encompasses the hillsides and canyons of the southeast flank of 2,571-foot Mount Tamalpais, 11 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Earliest inhabitants included Coastal Miwok and other early Northern Californian tribes, who settled throughout the North Bay. In Mill Valley, middens have been found near La Goma and Locke Lane, near the Edna Maguire school grounds and on Shelter Hill.

 View of Mill Valley in 1890

In 1834, John Thomas Reed was assigned the first Mexican land grant on the Marin peninsula. This grant encompassed the wilderness areas of Tiburon, Belvedere, and parts of Corte Madera and Mill Valley. He established a mill to provide lumber for the new military post being built in the Presidio, across the bay in San Francisco.

During the 1830’s-80’s, Mill Valley was primarily used as a Ranchero, with the abundant and desirable coastal redwood harvested for lumber, and the open, rolling hills used for grazing dairy cattle.
Old Mill in 1890
The years of 1889-99 marked an era of considerable expansion of Mill Valley. Two main forces in the development of the area were the Tamalpais Land and Water Company and the extension of the railroad. In 1889 the railroad was lengthened into downtown and caused a further expansion in the number of day visitors, hotels, businesses, and immigrants to the area.
A land auction in 1890 drew additional families, businesses and visitors into Mill Valley. The scenic railway, mud baths, and opportunities for hunting and camping made Mill Valley a popular summer vacation locale and many summer homes were built during this time. Camping in 1890
With the influx of new development, the residents of Mill Valley established the first municipal utilities and services to meet their needs, which included a Post Office, Town Hall, and Fire Department. The Mill Valley Town Hall Association held its first meeting on October 19, 1896, and elected Cornelius Toohey president.
1908 Town Hall and Fire Station
The Town incorporated in 1900, with Frank Fiske Bostwick elected president of the Mill Valley Board of Trustees. In 1907 the City built the first Town Hall at the current site of Mill Valley’s City Hall on Corte Madera Avenue. To learn more about this exciting time in the history of Mill Valley, please visit the Birth of Mill Valley page, written by local author Alan Nayer.


1911 Lovell Library

The early 1900’s were marked by the establishment of Mill Valley’s schools, churches, parks, and the Mill Valley Golf Course. The first Library was built by Andrew Carnegie in July of 1911 on Lovell Ave.

1919 Golf Course
Long-standing Mill Valley organizations and events were founded during this era, such as Boy Scout Troop 1, the Mountain Play, the Tamalpais Conservation Club, the Outdoor Art Club, and the Dipsea Race. The Town Trustees appointed the first five members of the Library Board of Trustees in December 1908. In 1910 the population of Mill Valley was 2,500.
1920 Mountain Play
The 1920’s and 30’s heralded the introduction of automobiles, regular mail service, the Fire of 1929, the Soapbox Derby, the incorporation of Blithedale Canyon, and the first meeting of the Mill Valley Rotary Club. Rotary
In 1937 the present-day City Hall was built. By 1930 the population of Mill Valley had grown to 4,100. City Hall
The 1940’s and 50’s marked additional changes to Mill Valley as the nation went to, and returned from, World War II. During the war years (1942-1945) the Army used the grounds of the Mountain Play for training, temporarily halting its use as an outdoor theater. The Town of Mill Valley changed its name to the “City of Mill Valley” in 1947. To read more about Mill Valley in the 1950's, please view the personal narrative "My School Years" by Sita Dimitroff Milchev. Firefighters
Railroad Passenger service ceased in 1940 and freight service ceased in 1950. Outlying areas of Miller Avenue were developed as citizens increased their reliance on busses and the private automobile. The Fall Arts Festival began in 1957 with a group of artists exhibiting their works in downtown store windows. In 1950 the population had grown to 7,300.
Bus and Car
The 1960’s through 90’s saw considerable growth and modernization of the City. In August 1966 the old Library building was closed and the present Library in Old Mill Park was opened. The Marin Theater Company was founded in 1966, and a year later the Mill Valley Art Commission was created to enhance the cultural life of the community by promoting the visual and performing arts. Old Mill Library
Mill Valley continued to grow as the 1960 population of 10,000 expanded to 11,000 in 1962 and to 12,000 by 1966. In response to the growing population and subsequent development, the City founded the Planning Commission in 1968 to act on zoning entitlements and ordinances implementing the Mill Valley General Plan.

 Public Safety Building

The 1970’s brought about the opening of municipal facilities such as the Mill Valley Public Safety Building for police and fire services, and the Sewerage Agency of Southern Marin Wastewater Treatment Plant.

This decade also saw the founding of the Tamalpa Runners, the Mill Valley Historical Society and the first Mill Valley Film Festival. The population in 1970 was 12,942. Development
The community created important coalitions in the 1980’s and 90’s with the formation of The Mill Valley Schools Community Foundation (also known as KIDDO!), the Emergency Preparedness Committee and the Mill Valley StreamKeepers. In 1984, Gem Pond, one of the few fresh water wildlife habitats in Marin County, was accidentally formed by a pipe that leaked treated water into one of the Wastewater Treatment Plant’s dry ponds. This is now a popular place for birdwatchers to see many species of native and migratory birds. Other municipal enhancements include the renovation and addition of 9,000 square feet to the Mill Valley Public Library in 1998. SASM Gem
The year 2000 marked Mill Valley's Centennial as an incorporated city. Organized events were held throughout the year, culminating with the Mill Valley Centennial Celebration Weekend. The 2000 census showed the population of Mill Valley to be 13,600. Centennial
Additional improvements occurred in the first decade of the 21st century. The new Mill Valley Community Center  opened in 2001, and three years later the Elizabeth Terwilliger Marsh was restored and dedicated to one of Mill Valley’s great environmental leaders and educators. The City continues to improve and restore important parks and facilities in an effort to serve the community and provide quality of life enhancements for its residents and visitors. Community Center
The history of Mill Valley includes a number of trends that have continued through the many eras of the City’s story. These trends include the appreciation of the City’s unique natural beauty and the desire to protect its natural resources, the enjoyment and encouragement of the performing and visual arts, and the strong commitment to community enhancement through public service. Mill Valley’s history tells the story of the unique people and events throughout the years which have contributed to make this City a very special place to work and live. Ms T



































































































The Mill Valley City Council encourages community members to become involved or continue their involvement in creating the future of the City by volunteering to serve on one of the many City Boards and Commissions, local community organizations, or by attending City Council, Board or Commission meetings as they occur throughout the year.

Historical photographs courtesy of the Mill Valley history photograph collection. Mill Valley Public Library, Mill Valley, California. Fireworks  and Terwilliger Marsh Ceremony photographs are © Alan Nayer.


Last updated: 3/25/2015 8:46:53 PM