Thurlow Estate was built in 1864 by William Eustace Barron who was a leading capitalist during California’s formative days. It was a 280 acre estate that extended from the Caltrain Railroad tracks to Middlefield Road and from Ravenswood Avenue to the San Francisquito Creek. There were several outbuildings on the estate that supported a 40 room mansion.
Barron's estate and its successors drew visiting English aristocrats who were astonished (and delighted) to discover a place of such gentility in uncouth frontier California. The gardens of the estate's second owner were even painted by Albert Bierstadt (circa 1873) while the San Francisco-based Carleton Watkins extensively photographed the house and grounds, which had since been renamed Thurlow Lodge. Barron's Menlo Park estate--a third the size of Central Park--consciously aped the domain of the English gentry. This was no solitary whim. Completion in 1864 of the railroad linking San Francisco and the state capital of San Jose (with a station at Menlo Park) facilitated both commuting and the rise of the country estate. Other wealthy San Francisco-based businessmen also sought rural retreats to complement their opulent Nob Hill mansions. They adjourned here on weekends, and for longer periods during the cool and foggy San Franciscan summers. Needing to be within easy reach of their city offices (Barron also served as acting Mexican consul in California), many members of the business elite bought up the best lands of the old Spanish and Mexican rancheros in San Mateo County, halfway down the Peninsula. The largest and most impressive cluster of mansions and estates west of the Mississippi emerged in the Menlo Park area.
Milton Slocum Latham purchased the estate in 1871 for $75,000 and named it Thurlow Lodge. Latham turned the property into the most elaborate estate in California. He spent most of the Civil War in France and brought back many fine outdoor fountains that he placed around the property, including the one that still stands near the Gatehouse. Latham served as a U.S. Representative from 1853 to 1855. In 1859 he was elected Governor of California but only served 5 days because California Senator David Broderick was killed and Latham was chosen to take his place. Latham lost his fortune in the Depression of 1875. He sold the estate in 1883 and moved to New York.
In 1877 when a local minister paid a casual visit. The Reverend Woods was smitten by its rather alien grandeur. Even the stable overwhelmed him: "had you been in a foreign land, you might have supposed that some nobleman had erected a castle of antique style ... you would sooner think these were the stables of some foreign prince than a private American citizen." Together, these estates Europeanized San Mateo county's social structure and landscape. While creating jobs for carpenters, domestics, grooms, gardeners and other retainers, this "manorial environment" acted as a barrier to the forces of urbanization and the agricultural and industrial development engulfing much of the Bay Area.
Barron embroidered his estate with ruined columns from Parisian parks and Pompeii. But his pride and joy was his greensward. Receiving an annual rainfall of under twenty inches, Menlo Park is semi-arid. Moreover, all rain falls during the short winter. So maintaining his lawns at their optimal English green during the long dry season presented a great challenge. When Barron bought his estate, expensive artesian wells supplied Menlo Park's water. His solution was to establish the Corte Madera Water Works, which created a reservoir in the foothills of the coastal range by damming Bear Gulch Creek. By the summer of 1866, seven-inch pipes were supplying the water that allowed him to install a sprinkler system that soaked his grounds twice daily, year-round. All summer long, he swamped his lawns under an inch of water. A local society lady reported (1875) that Barron "once said that a green velvet carpet over the land, frequently renewed, would be less costly, but he had a preference for grass."
An extensive description of the estate can be found in the diary of a young woman in her early twenties from Massachusetts. A house guest during the winter of 1884-85 at what was then called Sherwood Hall, Isabella Cass spent her time painting and strolling around the grounds, petting the deer, frolicking on the lawn, or perched in the wide branching oaks (retained from the former landscape) that lined the driveway. From the rustic summerhouse where she wrote her daily entries, Miss Cass watched "Chinamen" planting flowers, raking and rolling the gravel driveways and walks, planting English laurel hedges, and, seated on boxes, pulling weeds out of the lawns. She was taken aback by the unanticipated verdure. The "broad, beautifully kept lawns ... perfect, so fresh and green," were a source of deep pleasure, and she commented on the incessant watering by "pretty sprinklers" resembling fountains "playing in every direction."
English visitors in the 1880s were equally struck by a sense of familiarity. Albert Gray hailed the Menlo Park area as "Dame Nature's Park": "for miles and miles it seems as if some few score of the notable old country parks had been thrown together and transplanted bodily to this plain." Nineteenth-century American cultural nationalists, seeking fresh sources of identity and self-esteem, turned to the monuments that Europe lacked, a natural patrimony (embodied in the Sierra Nevada's "big trees") that the Connecticut-born scientist and explorer, Clarence King, dubbed America's "green old age" (1872). This sentiment was clearly weaker among California's nouveau fiche.
Mark Hopkins’ widow purchased the estate and renamed it Sherwood Hall. She had all of the buildings painted from white to green with red trim after seeing a similar look on a trip to Europe. The new colors did not suit the property but it was too costly to have everything repainted. When she remarried she deeded the property to her adopted son, Timothy Hopkins, as a wedding gift in 1888. After his death, his widow sold it to the US Government which created Dibble General Hospital to handle the expected Japanese invasion during WWII.
At the conclusion of the war, Stanford University bought the facility for housing to handle the increased enrollment from the GI bill. In 1946, the Stanford trustees formed a think tank known as Stanford Research Institute. Some of the famous accomplishments in the early days of Stanford Research Institute were the creation of automatic check processing (1955), identification of Anaheim as a site for Disneyland (1953), invented the computer mouse (1968) and received the first logon for the ARPANET (1969), the internet's predecessor, and was tasked with assigning domain names for many years. In 1970 SRI International became independent from the university. The separation was a belated response to Vietnam war protesters at Stanford who believed that SRI was making the university part of the military-industrial complex.
The residential streets of Menlo Park have largely replaced the lawns, fountains, groves, trout lake, deer park, aviary, hothouses and orchards. Little remains of the original Barron Estate except the gatehouse on Ravenswood Avenue (on the National Register of Historic Places since 1986), some magnificent oaks located within the grounds of the Menlo Park Civic Center, and two monkey puzzle trees in a bungalow's backyard.
Santa Clara County’s New Almaden Quicksilver Mine was the oldest and most productive quicksilver mine in the United States.
The local Ohlone natives had used the red cinnabar ore to ornament their bodies for centuries.
In 1845, a Spaniard familiar with quicksilver mines in Spain and a trained metallurgist, geologist and chemist realized the value of the ore. He and the local property owners began mining the quicksilver.
In 1847, shares of the mine were sold to Barron, Forbes Company an English Industrial firm. They named the mine the New Almaden after a mine in Spain that had been operating for centuries. The name “Almaden” comes from the Arabic for “the mine.” The Barron, Forbes Company ran New Almaden until 1863.
Eustace Barron and J. Alexander Forbes were British expatriates living in Mexico and operating cotton mills as Barron, Forbes Company. Mexico was in a state of chaos just then. It was through some questionable maneuvering that the quicksilver mine came to be owned by them.
William E. Barron was a more fun loving nephew of Eustace Barron. He decided to go into business in San Francisco as a commission merchant. Alexander Forbes thought this an excellent idea, as Barron could also act as agent for New Almaden. A man named James Bolton joined young Barron as Bolton, Barron Company. They built an office building at Montgomery and Merchant Streets that survived the 1906 earthquake.
A rift developed between Bolton and Barron, and Barron bought Bolton out. He reorganized his business as Barron and Company, with Thomas Bell as the other member of the firm. William E. Barron eventually became one of the partners owning New Almaden.
W.E. Barron was also one of the original members of Ralston’s Bank of California. Barron had become friends with Ralston back when they were both in Panama.
With friends and business associates like William Sharon, Alvinza Hayward and Darius O. Mills, Barron was in on many of the investment bonanzas of the times.
One of the first stately homes built in today’s Menlo Park area was the home of William E. Barron. He vacationed there and hoped the climate would help to restore his failing health.
He sold it to Senator Milton S. Latham and moved back into San Francisco. Barron died in 1871 at the age of 49.
His funeral was the largest San Francisco had seen to date. His house accidentally burned down during Latham’s renovation. Latham rebuilt on the same property, but all vestiges of the Barron place were lost to history. (Source: San Mateo Daily Journal)