Skip To Main Content

Thurlow Estate becomes Dibble General Hospital becomes SRI International


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.

Dining 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)



Milton Slocum Latham (May 23, 1827– March 4, 1882) was an American politician, and served as the sixth Governor of California and as a member of the federal U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. Latham holds the distinction of having the shortest governorship in California history, lasting for five days between January 9 and January 14, 1860. A Lecompton Democrat, Latham became the second governor to resign in office after being elected by the legislature to fill the U.S. Senate vacancy following the death of David C. Broderick from a duel.


Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1827, Latham was educated in classical studies at Jefferson College in Washington, Pennsylvania, graduating in 1845. Following his graduation, Latham moved to Russell County, Alabama, working briefly as a school teacher while studying law. He was admitted to the Alabama State Bar in 1848, working as Russell County's circuit court clerk for two years until 1850, when he relocated to San Francisco, California following the gold rush.

In San Francisco, Latham continued in law, becoming a recording clerk for the county, and in 1851, the district attorney of Sacramento. After serving for one year, Latham entered politics, and in 1852, ran as a Democrat and won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. After the completion of his two-year term, Latham declined to run for another term and returned to California to again practice law, despite being renominated by state Democrats.

Only a year after returning to San Francisco, Latham was appointed U.S. Customs Collector for the Port of San Francisco by President Franklin Pierce, a post the former congressman protested initially, but reluctantly later accepted. Latham held the post until 1857.

Since the beginning of the 1850s, issues regarding slavery had effectively split the state Democratic Party. Initially divided by pro-slavery Chivalrists and anti-slavery Free Soilers, by 1857, the party had split into the Lecompton and Anti-Lecompton factions. Lecompton members supported the Kansas Lecompton Constitution, a document explicitly allowing slavery into the territory, while Anti-Lecompton faction members were in opposition to slavery's expansion. The violence between supporting and opposition forces led to the period known as Bleeding Kansas. Splits in the Democratic Party, as well as the power vacuum created by the collapse of the Whig Party, helped facilitate the rise of the American Party both in state and federal politics. In particular, state voters voted Know-Nothings into the California State Legislature, and elected J. Neely Johnson as Governor in the 1855 general elections.

During the 1859 general elections, Lecompton Democrats voted Latham, who had briefly lived in the American South, as their nominee for Governor. Anti-Lecomptons in turn selected John Currey as their nominee. The infant Republican Party, running in its first gubernatorial election, selected businessman Leland Stanford as its nominee. To make matters more complicated, during the campaign, Senator David C. Broderick, an Anti-Lecompton Democrat, was killed in a duel by slavery supporter and former state Supreme Court Justice David Terry on September 13.

Despite the party split and Republican entrance to the campaign, Latham won the election, garnering sixty percent of the vote.

Latham was inaugurated on January 9, 1860. In his inauguration speech, the new Governor outlined his main priority as solving the state's creeping debt, an issue that previously challenged former Governors John Bigler, J. Neely Johnson and John Weller. Latham suggested curtailing legislative expenses, erecting more governmental buildings—such as completing the new state capitol building--without raising taxes, and increasing U.S. Mail links from the Eastern United States to California to help facilitate commerce and personal links. Latham also suggested that the Office of the Governor should not be made more powerful, and be securely checked by the Legislature and courts.

However only hours into his term, Latham's desire for political advancement were quickly known. Within days, Latham had proposed to the Assembly and Senate to be selected as David Broderick's replacement in the U.S. Senate and serve the rest of his term. (Prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, state legislatures selected federal senators.) Running against challenger Henry P. Haun, Latham was selected by the Legislature, and on January 14, 1860, just five days into his governorship, Latham resigned. Latham had become the second California Governor to resign from office.

Latham's five-day tenure as governor remains the shortest in California history.


Post Governorship

Latham travelled to Washington, D.C. to take his U.S. Senate seat later that year. Serving for the next three years as a Democrat, he ran for reelection once Broderick's original term expired in 1862. However, political support in California had turned away from the Democrats in favor of Unionist Republicans, who now controlled the State Legislature. Latham lost his bid for a second Senate term to Republican John Conness, himself a former Anti-Lecompton Democrat.

Following his defeat, Latham traveled to Europe, joining the London and San Francisco Bank Ltd, where he became the bank's San Francisco chief. Throughout the late 1860s and into the 1870s, Latham helped finance the California Pacific and the North Pacific Coast Railroad, earning recognition as one of California's rail barons.

In 1872, Latham bought and began renovating a 50-room Menlo Park mansion, Thurlow Lodge as a gift to his bride, only for the estate to burn down before completion. Nevertheless, it was entirely rebuilt in 1873. In 1874, Latham commissioned Carleton Watkins to photograph the huge estate and produce two presentation albums of mammoth plate prints.

Latham later moved to New York City in 1879 to become president of the New York Mining and Stock Exchange. The former governor died in New York three years later in 1882 at 54.



Timothy Hopkins was born Timothy Nolan in August, 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. Mark Hopkins donated land for a museum in SF which eventually became the famous hotel. Hopkins joined with Stanford and Crocker to form the Central Pacific Railroad. Hopkins was the treasurer. He lived in SF during winters and summered in Menlo Park on a 400 acre estate.

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. In 1882, he married the niece of his adopted mother, Mary Kellogg Crittenden. Their wedding gift from Mrs. Mark Hopkins was Sherwood Hall, a large estate in Menlo Park centered on what is now the city's Civic Center. The estate stretched from San Francisquito Creek to Ravenswood Avenue.

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. Kellogg Avenue was named for his wife's family and Alma Street for a family friend.

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 1906 earthquake was a financial disaster for Hopkins. Much of his income-producing properties in San Francisco were destroyed in the ensuing fire, thus limiting his ability to support the university as in prior years. In addition, his Menlo Park summer home suffered such damage that it was never occupied again. He moved his summer residence to the estate's Gate House, which still stands on Ravenswood Avenue.

Stanford urged that Hopkins take an option on 697 acres of land with the purpose of developing it for a town to serve Stanford University. He was on the verge of dropping the option when Senator Stanford personally endorsed a $60,000 note for him and the purchase went through in 1887. He founded the town originally known as University Park. In 1892, the town was renamed Palo Alto.

Timothy Hopkins served as a Stanford University trustee for fifty-one years, donated his private collection of books to the University Library, established the Hopkins Marine station in Pacific Grove (1872), later giving it to Stanford University. He and his wife organized and helped fund the Stanford Home for Convalescent Children. At his death from pneumonia at age seventy-five on January 1, 1936, he was the last survivor from the original University Board of Trustees.

After Mary Kellogg Hopkins' death in 1941, a large auction was held to sell off the contents of the old Hopkins summer home. While local bidders purchased various items, the bulk of the items as well as the building itself was bought by Universal Pictures in Hollywood. The furniture was used by the studio as movie props. The building was dismantled, and the wood was used to build film sets at a time when wood was scarce because of rationing during World War II.



In the 1940's and 1950's over eighty subdivisions were recorded. With the minimum size of one acre, the era of the large estates was over.

Menlo Park had only 3,258 residents. Between 1943 and 1946 another military installation, Dibble General Hospital, was built to care for the thousands of soldiers injured in the South Pacific in World War II. Anticipating a wave of wounded soldiers from the Pacific operations during World War II, the U.S. Army bought the estate of Mark Hopkins, of California railroad and hotel fame, including the mansion formerly known as Thurlow Lodge, to care for the thousands of soldiers injured in the South Pacific in World War II. Originally, the post was named Palo Alto General Hospital but was soon renamed, "Dibble Army Hospital" to honor Colonel John Dibble who was killed in an aircraft crash in 1943. Between 1943 and 1946 Dibble specialized in plastic surgery, blind care, neuro-psychiatry and orthopedics and at its peak it had 2,400 beds, about two-thirds the population of the entire town. Dr. Bernard Silber was working at Letterman Hospital in San Francisco when he was transferred to the new Dibble hospital. But first, he had to ask four or five people where Menlo Park was. "It was a quiet, pleasant place," he recalled, noting that there weren't any stores yet on Santa Cruz Avenue except at the corner of El Camino Real. A post war boom occurred in Menlo Park after World War II. By the mid-'40s returning soldiers and newcomers were swelling the ranks of Stanford University, bringing undergraduate enrollment from a bit more than 3,700 in 1945 to 8,200 in 1947. Although facilities jammed, construction on campus was limited by continuing material shortages. But in 1945, Stanford established its first Planning Office to study space, soon figuring out that it could eke out more space in classrooms, labs and dorms, just in time to meet the post-war demand from discharged veterans.

Where was everyone to live? Realizing there simply wasn't room on campus, the university snatched up the Dibble Hospital site in Menlo Park, renaming it Stanford Village and providing 300 apartments for married students as well as 1,500 dorm beds. Under the leadership of former Menlo Park Mayor Charles Burgess, the City acquired 29 acres of Dibble General Hospital grounds for $4000 an acre. The civic center was built on this land. Pioneering steps were taken in zoning control which attracted such enterprises as Stanford Research Institute and the U.S Geological Survey. This led to the City’s first Master Plan in 1952.