Before any of the well-known land grants were dispersed, the area we now know as Novato was inhabited by the Chokeche, Puyuku, and Olompali tribes. However in 1839, the Mexican government distributed a series of land grants throughout the area. Five land grants were made in the area during that period; Rancho Novato to Fernando Feliz in 1839, Rancho Corte Madera de Novato was given to John Martin in 1839, Rancho San Jose to Ignacio Pacheco in 1840, Rancho Olompali awarded in 1843 to Camilo Ynitia, and Rancho Nicasio was awarded to Pablo de la Guerra and John B.R. Cooper in 1844. The city then became incorporated as a part of the United States in 1848, along with the rest of the official state of California.
Novato’s first post office opened in 1856, though it was closed shortly after in 1860, and a brand new post office reopened in 1891. The first school in town opened in 1859. The first railroad was built in 1879, which connected Novato to the rest of Sonoma County and San Rafael. At the time, the part of town surrounding the railroad was referred to as “New Town,” though today it is considered “Old Town Novato.” The first church was built in 1896 and is still a landmark in town today, though it has been renovated throughout the years.
During the Great Depression, many Novato farmers suffered great losses with their land. After World War II, Novato’s economy became more stable, largely due to the construction of homes and a freeway. The city was incorporated in 1960, which helped to control the growth of the town’s economy.