Timothy Hopkins (1859-1936)
Publication Date: Wednesday Mar 8, 1995

Timothy Hopkins (1859-1936)

Timothy Hopkins has been called the founder of Palo Alto. He was an associate of Leland Stanford and owner of a Menlo Park estate across San Francisquito Creek from Palo Alto. He was the original subdivider of the area where Palo Alto now stands.

Hopkins was born Timothy Nolan in Augusta, Maine. His father drowned after the family moved to California, and his mother took a job in the household of Mr. and Mrs. Mark Hopkins. The Hopkins family raised Timothy as their own son from the time he was 3 years old. He was not formally adopted, however, until a year after Mark Hopkins died in 1878.

Timothy Hopkins was to attend Harvard, but a fall affected his health. After recovering, he entered railroad work and in 1883 at age 24 became treasurer of the Central Pacific Railroad, later the Southern Pacific, which Leland Stanford presided over. He also oversaw the vast Hopkins estate until his adopted mother married an interior decorator 22 years her junior in 1887.

When he sought to buy a part of the Seale Ranch now called "old Palo Alto," on which Mark Hopkins had held an option, his mother's new spouse would not agree. So Hopkins asked for help from Senator Leland Stanford, who endorsed a loan. Hopkins then plotted the town, named the streets and sold lots. At Stanford's request, he wrote a liquor sales ban into the deeds.

Sherwood Hall, the former Latham estate in Menlo Park that Timothy Hopkins and his bride received as a wedding gift from Mrs. Hopkins in 1888, included 280 acres extending from San Francisquito Creek to Ravenswood Avenue and from the railroad to Middlefield Road.

The estate thrived until the 1906 earthquake ruined its gas plant. Hopkins also lost his income-producing San Francisco property and struggled to repay debts on it.

As a lifetime trustee, he served Stanford University loyally for 50 years and gave it many gifts.

--Peter Gauvin
This is the last in a series of profiles on the "Creators of the Legacy," 56 people who were honored last year by the Palo Alto Centennial for their roles in creating Palo Alto in all its aspects. 

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