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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 04, 2002

Atherton found its name after race to Sacramento Atherton found its name after race to Sacramento (September 04, 2002)

By the Atherton Heritage Association

In 1868, Fair Oaks (now Atherton) was a flag stop on the San Francisco/San Jose Railroad for the convenience of the owners who lived on the large estates north of Menlo Park.

The entire area was called Menlo Park. It had been part of the Rancho de las Pulgas that covered most of the area that is now southern San Mateo County. There were several unsuccessful attempts to incorporate Fair Oaks, one in 1874 and another in 1911.

In 1923, Menlo Park wished to incorporate its lands to include the Fair Oaks area. During a meeting of the representatives of the two communities, it became clear to the Fair Oaks property owners that in order to maintain their community as a strictly residential area, they would have to incorporate separately.

Both groups rushed to Sacramento to incorporate, but the Fair Oaks committee arrived first. It was at that time that they realized that they could not keep the name Fair Oaks, which was already the name of a town near Sacramento. It was decided to honor Faxon Dean Atherton, who had been one of the first property owners in the south Peninsula and name the town for him. Atherton was recorded on September 12, 1923.

Faxon D. Atherton, a native of Massachusetts, had spent years in Chile and Hawaii as a trader in tallow, hides and merchandise. His friend and business associate, Thomas Larkin, had written to him, "there is education available for your children ... and a dignity of living on landed estates down the San Francisco Peninsula (that is) convenient and accessible."

Mr. Atherton purchased 640 acres for $10 an acre in 1860. His home, "Valparaiso Park," was built several years later. It was simple in design and ample for his family of seven children.

With the development of the railroad, other San Franciscans traveled south and established summer homes. Because the dirt roads were usually impassable in the winter, the families were only in residence from May through September.

Other prominent families followed Mr. Atherton, including Thomas H. Selby, whose 420-acre estate was called Almendral. John T. Doyle, a San Francisco attorney, built a home known as Ringwood off Middlefield Road. James C. Flood purchased successive parcels and built an extravagant mansion, Linden Towers, in an area that is now known as Lindenwood. And today, Menlo-Atherton High School occupies the site of Joseph A. Donohoe's Holmgrove estate. A home built by James Thomas Watkins called Fair Oaks has survived two moves, and now stands restored on Alejandra Avenue.


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