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Publication Date: Wednesday, September 10, 2003
Edward L. Eyre: Atherton's first mayor
Edward L. Eyre: Atherton's first mayor
(September 10, 2003)
By Andria S. Daley-Taylor
Special to the Almanac
On March 23, 1866, as gale force winds blew through the mighty Comstock, Atherton's first mayor, Edward Lilburn Eyre, was born in the mining town of Virginia City, Nevada.
His father, Col. Edward E. Eyre, a celebrated Civil War hero, had been sent to Virginia City in 1863 by California Governor Leland Stanford to protect California's investments and keep the valuable silver mines in the Union fold for President Lincoln. He became the confidential broker for the "Bonanza Four" -- Flood, Fair, Mackey and O'Brien -- and made fortunes for them.
When Col. Eyre returned to California with his wife, Virginia beauty Mary Tutt Perry Eyre, and children they settled in the then-fashionable section of San Francisco, Rincon Hill. There they were in the company of those who built not just the banks and railroads of the American West, but its cultural and intellectual institutions as well. The Lathams, Ralstons, Millses, Stanfords, Sharons, Donohoes, Floods, O'Briens, Fairs, Athertons and Selbys all had stately homes on Rincon Hill.
By 1875, many of these families had established summer country estates on the Peninsula as well. Col. and Mary Eyre were attracted to the stately oaks and genteel serenity of Fair Oaks and built their summer estate, Glen Eyre, on land which had once been part of Don Jose Arguello's 69,000-acre Rancho de las Pulgas. Like most of the country houses of the time, Glen Eyre had no heat, so the Eyre children, Edward Lilburn Eyre, and his two brothers and three sisters, grew up spending their summers in Fair Oaks and the rest of the year in San Francisco.
In 1886, Edward L. Eyre married the green-eyed Florence Atherton, the seventh child of Faxon and his Chilean-born wife, Dominga Goni Atherton. Edward and Florence's primary residence was at 3512 Clay St. in San Francisco. He owned and ran the Edward L. Eyre Co., a major import/export business, which, among other things, exported malt and barley to England for the manufacture of beer. He also served on many boards, including those of the Bank of California, Soundview Pulp Co., and Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.
They had two sons, Edward Engle Eyre, born in 1890, and Dean Atherton Eyre, born in 1894. An infant daughter, Margaret, died in 1889.
Like their parents, Edward and Florence built a summer home in Fair Oaks. Their home at 169 Atherton Ave. was described by their grandson, Edward E. Eyre Jr., as "an enchanted place for children." It was painted a crisp colonial yellow trimmed in white, and the hydrangeas bordering the driveway seemed always to be in bloom. The expansive formal gardens with topiary, hedges and mazes were a magical "Alice in Wonderland" place for their children and grandchildren.
With their good friends, the Leland Stanfords, they founded the Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Menlo Park. The Eyres were known for their kindness, generosity and good manners. For example, their dining table was always set with an extra place so that an unexpected guest would feel welcome.
Even during the Roaring '20s, as the stock market soared and others lived at a frantic and furious pace, life for the Eyres continued much as it had for years, in quiet, genteel dignity. In 1923, this lifestyle was threatened when Menlo Park announced its plans to annex Fair Oaks and put in stores, sidewalks and streetlights. This so-called progress was regarded by residence of Fair Oaks as something akin to a street accident.
Edward L. Eyre, along with several other town fathers, rushed to Redwood City on September 12, laying down a new city charter and incorporating the town of "Atherton" minutes before the Menlo Park City Council arrived with carpetbag valises filled with their incorporation papers.
The Atherton town fathers had wanted to retain the name of Fair Oaks, commemorating both the town's native oak trees and the Union Army's victory at Fair Oaks, Virginia, in 1862. Unfortunately, the name was already taken by a Sacramento suburb, so Atherton was chosen, honoring the town's principal landowner and Mr. Eyre's father-in-law, Faxon Dean Atherton.
As part of the incorporation papers filed that night, Edward Lilburn Eyre was named the town's first mayor. In direct defiance of Menlo Parks' plans, the incorporation included the mandate that Atherton be a strictly residential town, requiring a one-acre minimum lot size and banning commercial activity within the city limits. This foresight enabled the town to remain a haven in spite of the then-unimaginable growth in the surrounding areas in subsequent years.
Edward L. Eyre was devastated by his wife's death in 1933. Whenever he drove to the city from Atherton, he would have his driver fill the car with flowers for the house in San Francisco and her burial place in Colma. Until his death in the early 1950s, he often visited his son, Edward Engle Eyre, and his family, which was among the first families to live in Atherton full time.
This article was written by Andria S. Daley-Taylor, in collaboration with Edward E. Eyre Jr., the grandson of Mayor Eyre. They are working on an intimate biography of Col. Edward E. Eyre and a social history of the American West during the Civil War.