Travel to San Jose from San Francisco was a long, arduous and dusty trip.
To accommodate the travelers along this trail, establishments were built to provide food and drink for people, feed for the horses and a place to stay if night arrived before you could reach your destination. These "roadhouses” were indispensable as they provided the only comfort for travelers who many times could not carry their own provisions and who had to rely on the roadhouses in case of accidents with the horses and wagons. In the winter, the creeks were often at flood-stage, preventing the travelers from continuing their journey.
The "mile houses” were named so because they represented the distance traveled from Mission Dolores in San Francisco. The missions had been intended to be a day’s walk from each other with the Mission Dolores established at the head of the San Francisco Peninsula. The main mode of transportation between the missions was walking or riding a horse or mule. The trip was long and exhausting in bad weather. Creeks had to be traversed without the benefit of bridges and any injury or mishap to the traveler could be life-threatening. The first "house” established after leaving Mission Dolores was at the "Top of the Hill” (Daly City) and called Abbey House. Next was built the 7-Mile House beside the creek in Colma (Woodlawn Cemetery). The date of construction is unknown and the exact place is speculative as no photos exist. The 12-Mile House in Baden (South San Francisco) was built near the Miller-Lux Ranch that stretched from the Mission Road (El Camino Real) to the Bay. The ranch was confined on the north by San Bruno Mountain and on the south by San Bruno Creek (Colma Creek). Much traffic passed by and to the ranch and business was good. After crossing the creek, El Camino Real continued south until the deep and wide Crystal Springs Creek was reached in San Bruno.
One of the best known road houses on the San Francisco Peninsula during the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s was the 14-Mile House. Know better as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, it was established on El Camino Real at the Crystal Springs Creek in San Bruno in 1849. The 14-Mile House was a natural site for a rest stop for people, horses and later wagons and stagecoaches. The creek here was wide, deep and treacherous and presented a hazard to both man and beast. Developed by Mr. Thorpe, the roadhouse lasted, after passing through many owners, for 100 years and was torn down in 1949.
The next road house was designated the 16-Mile House and was built at Center and El Camino Real by the heirs of the Rancho Buri Buri grantee, Jose Antonio Sanchez. This establishment was built in 1872 and lasted until the early 1970s. When it was razed in 1972, a business was established on Broadway in Millbrae using the 16-Mile House identification, although much to the dismay of many patrons, it is not the original 16-Mile House.
Farther south of the 16-Mile House was built the 17-Mile House at the corner of Millbrae Avenue and El Camino Real. No photos or lithographs exist of this house, but it had a fabulous reputation for serving oysters taken directly from the Bay by Morgan Oyster Farm.
The naming of the "houses” seemed to have lost its appeal as the next establishment that could be called a roadhouse in the northern stretch of this road was built next to San Mateo Creek and named The San Mateo House. Across the street from the San Mateo House had been a granary-hospice that the Mission had built in the late 1800s. The often treacherous San Mateo Creek presented a barrier much as Crystal Springs Creek had in San Bruno and was very difficult to cross in winter. The site where Nicholas de Peyster built the San Mateo House (at the corner of Second Avenue and El Camino Real) was a natural for travelers to stop and refresh themselves before moving on. This became a stagecoach stop in the 1850s. Many roadhouses were built south of this, but they were not designated as "mile houses”
In 1858-59, another road was blazed to San Francisco around the east side of San Bruno Mountain. This was called the San Bruno Toll Road and it shortened the trip to downtown San Francisco. After passing the east side of San Bruno Mountain, it went into Brisbane and then north paralleling the present Bayshore Highway. The Toll Road later became San Bruno Avenue in San Francisco. A 3-Mile House and a new 7-Mile House were built along this Toll Road. The 3-Mile House was approximately at the site of I-280/Bayshore Highway, and the 7-Mile House was built at Geneva Avenue and Bayshore Boulevard. The 7-Mile House was used to collect the tolls as you traveled south. In San Bruno, the San Bruno House was built in 1861 at San Bruno and San Mateo avenues, but it was not designated a "mile house.”