The land in and around San Anselmo was mostly pastoral until 1874, when the North Pacific Coast Railroad (NPC) added to its line a spur track from San Anselmo to San Rafael. In 1875, the railroad completed a line from Sausalito to Tomales and north to Cazadero via San Anselmo. For a few years, the town was referred to on railroad maps as "Junction", but in 1883 the name San Anselmo came back into use. The San Anselmo post office opened in 1892. Two postal substations were operated: Lansdale, from 1924 to 1962, and Yolanda, from 1924 to 1954.
From 1902 until the early 1940s, San Anselmo was part of Marin's Northwestern Pacific (in 1907, investors formed the NWP) Electric Train system. The Miracle Mile's and Center Boulevard's current "raised roadbed" were the railroad's right of way. Becoming unprofitable as a result of competition from the automobile and the opening of the Golden Gate Bridge, the railway was officially closed on March 1, 1941. The last of the major San Anselmo railroad station buildings was razed in 1963, according to the town's timeline.
The 1913 electric train schedule shows a commute time from San Anselmo to the Sausalito Ferry to the Ferry Building in San Francisco of a mere 58 minutes, including the 32-minute ferry transit.
San Anselmo incorporated on April 9, 1907. Its name came from the Punta de Quintin land grant, which marked the valley as the Canada del Anselmo, or Valley of Anselm, Anselm being the name of a Native American who was buried in the area. San Anselmo was a silent film capital in the early 1900s. On March 12, 1974, San Anselmo officially became a town. In 1963, a cast iron statue of a deer affectionately known as "Sugarfoot" by locals was donated to the town by Joeseph Dondero. This statue still stands today and children enjoy riding on his back after trips to the library next door.
The town features in the song "Snow in San Anselmo" by Irish-born singer/songwriter Van Morrison, about an unusual bout of winter weather that occurred when he was living in Fairfax, near San Anselmo, in the 1970s.
San Anselmo's most prominent resident, movie director George Lucas, used some of the proceeds from his film American Graffiti to buy an old Victorian house in San Anselmo; his then-wife Marcia Lucas named it "Parkhouse." Lucas worked on his Star Wars script for two and a half years, writing much of it at the back of his San Anselmo house in a room he shared with a gaudy Wurlitzer jukebox. In 1977, Lucas screened an early version of Star Wars, without completed special effects, at his San Anselmo home for a small group of Hollywood friends, including the producer Alan Ladd, Jr., directors Steven Spielberg, Brian DePalma, and Martin Scorsese, and screenwriters Jay Cocks, Willard Huyck, and Gloria Katz.
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