Hills/ University Walking Tour
VIEW THE FULL TOUR HERE.
This tour is 7 miles long and includes 5 stops. It begins at 27000 Old Trace Lane and ends at Stanford University's Historic Red Barn.
You can take the tour in order, or click on any address below to see directions from wherever you are. If you take a detour to grab a snack, you can return to any stop on the tour!
Juana Briones, 1802-1889
Juana Briones was a healer, an early landowner, and an entrepreneur. She also secured a divorce her abusive husband, which was unheard of at the time. As a woman of mixed heritage who accomplished so much, she was a trailblazer.
Native, Spanish, Mexican, and American California cultures blended in the life of Juana Briones y Tapia de Miranda. In 1802, she was born into a mixed-race family (Native American, African-American, and European) in what was then New Spain, later Mexico. Halfway through her life, her home became part of California and then part of the United States. Her grandparents and parents had walked with the de Anza and Portola expeditions in Alta California, part of Spain's empire.
The daughter of a soldier posted near Monterey, Juana moved to the Presidio in 1820 and married a soldier, Apolinario Miranda. She raised a large family and adopted an orphaned Native American girl. Strikingly unusual for the times, she secured the equivalent of a divorce (a “clerical separation”) from her abusive, alcoholic husband, and then she dropped his surname.
The first non-native woman living in Yerba Buena, San Francisco, she ran a farm and sold milk and produce to sailors. She was known for her hospitality and medical skills. She never received a formal education, but trained her nephew, Pablo, who became known as the “Doctor of Bolinas.”
In 1844 Juana, who already owned land and multiple homes, purchased the 4,400-acre Rancho La Purísima Concepción—now Palo Alto and Los Altos Hills. While many land grant owners lost their property during the tumultuous period following the Gold Rush, she successfully fought for and retained title to her land.
Juana Briones sold most of her land to the Murphy family, who came to California with the first wagon train to successfully reach the west—two years before the ill-fated Donner Party.
The remnants of her early rancho home in the Palo Alto foothills were demolished in 2011, but local residents purchased the adobe wall section, which will be displayed in the future Palo Alto Museum.
In 1889, she died in Mayfield (now Palo Alto). Juana Briones Elementary School and Juana Briones Park are named for her, and several streets incorporate her husband and children’s names.
Take a photo of yourself at the Juana Briones historical marker, and post it to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #PaloAltoWelcomeWeek!
Peter Coutts/Jean-Baptiste Paulin Caperon, 1822-1889
Known locally as "the Frenchman," Peter Coutts arrived in Mayfield in the 1870s, and during his eight years on the ranch, he built a large horse and cattle farm, erected great barns, and built a race track. His real name—Jean-Baptiste Paulin Caperon—wasn’t known locally until 1925.
Before emigrating from France, Caperon published the newspaper La Liberté, in which he voiced opposition to the Franco-Prussian War and was critical of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte.
As a financier for a Swiss bank, Caperon invested in Alsace-Lorraine railroad stock. With France’s defeat in 1871, Caperon's railroad investment became worthless. In addition to his liability to investors, he feared recrimination if monarchists regained power. Facing an 11-year sentence for fraud, Caperon liquidated his own bank, paid clients, and traveled to Brussels.
He immigrated to New Orleans using the name of his deceased Swiss cousin, Peter Coutts. After arriving in San Francisco, he sent for his invalid wife, 11-year-old daughter, 5-year-old son, and the children’s governess.
In 1875, Coutts purchased property in Mayfield stretching to the foothills—a total of 1,400 acres for $90,000 (over $2 million in 2018 dollars). The bulk of this land had been part of Rancho Rinconada del Arroyo de San Francisquito, which included what is now the southern part of the Stanford University campus.
To protect his children’s inheritance, Coutts filed the deeds under their governess’s name, leading to speculation of an affair—rumors fueled by his wife’s condition and anti-French prejudice. Coutts had a home and library constructed; he originally called it Rancho de Matadero. He renamed it Ayrshire, and within four years, Ayrshire Ranch was renowned as a model orchard and dairy operation, specializing in Ayrshire and Holstein cows.
French politics stabilized in 1879, and creditors began to hold Caperon liable for the Alsatian stock loss. He and his family returned to France in 1881, and in order to pay off his debts, Coutts sold Ayrshire Ranch for $140,000 ($3.5 million today) to Leland Stanford in 1882. Coutts and his family moved to Lake Geneva the next year. Two years later, daughter Marguerite died of tuberculosis—the same year Leland Stanford Jr. died in Florence. Caperon visited Marguerite's her grave daily until he died in 1889.
Coutts constructed Frenchman’s Tower, made of brick with a crenelated top, alongside Matadero Creek on Old Page Mill Road. His Frenchman’s Bridge is next to Frenchman’s Road in the residential section of Stanford campus. In 1891, Stanford’s first president originally moved into Coutts’s former home, naming it Escondite "Hidden" Cottage, as it was beyond the main part of campus. Coutts’s brick library is across the road from the cottage.
Take a photo of yourself at Coutts’s Tower, and post it to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #PaloAltoWelcomeWeek!
E. Frederick Weisshaar, 1832-1911
Ottilia Diss Weisshaar, 1831-1910
Saxon farmer E. Frederick Weisshaar immigrated to the United States from Germany in 1852. He met and married Ottilia Diss in New Orleans, and they moved to Mayfield in 1862. Together they raised six children.
In 1870, Weisshaar and his friend Peter Spacher bought 120 acres of the former Robles Ranch in what is now College Terrace. They later sold the property to developer Alexander Gordon in 1887.
Weisshaar served as postmaster of Mayfield in 1885, and he was elected Mayfield's first treasurer. He opened a grocery store in the early 1890s and joined the Palo Alto Improvement Club. Frederick was one of the petitioners for town incorporation, serving as Town Marshall until Palo Alto was officially incorporated in 1894. Frederick was also a longtime Mayfield school district trustee.
Weisshaar Park at 2298 Dartmouth Street is named for Frederick. Otillia’s brothers, Joseph Diss and Armand Diss, both farmers from French Alsace, immigrated in 1861. The extension of East Meadow Road was called Diss Road until it was renamed in the 1950s.
Take a photo of yourself at Weisshaar Park, and post it to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #PaloAltoWelcomeWeek!
Scotch-Canadian James Otterson was born in Nova Scotia around 1805. After marrying, having children, and divorcing his first wife, he arrived in town of Hennepin, Illinois, in the early 1840s. There he married Elizabeth Smith, a widow with several children of her own. The lure of gold brought James to California alone in 1852. His family joined him a few months later. In 1853 Otterson settled on land near the intersection of the San Francisco-San Jose Road and the road connecting the redwoods to the bay. There, James built a tavern and hotel which was known as “Uncle Jim’s Cabin.” The tavern served as an inn, saloon, and stage stop—famous for dancing, feasting, bear-baiting, and bull fighting.
Two years later a post office was added, and Otterson briefly served as the town’s postmaster. Otterson chose the name Mayfield after a nearby farm. This is likely the first business in what would eventually become Palo Alto. Sometime after James Otterson sold the hotel, it was used for recruitment by the Union Army during the Civil War.
In the 1870 census, tavern owner James Otterson was listed with real estate valued at $10,000 (nearly $200,000 today). Elizabeth’s daughter, however, deserted her children when their father was stationed at Fort Humboldt, leaving them in Elizabeth and James’s care.
Elizabeth Otterson died in 1872 and was buried on a knoll on what would become Stanford University. James died at the San Mateo County Poor Farm in 1886 and was buried there. Subsequently, both of their remains were moved to the Union Cemetery.
Take a photo of yourself next to the “Uncle Jim’s Cabin” plaque on the Citibank wall, and post it to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #PaloAltoWelcomeWeek!
Leland Stanford, 1824-1893
Jane Stanford, 1828-1905
Leland Stanford was born into a well-off farming family in New York state. After passing his bar exam in 1848, he moved to Wisconsin to practice law. In 1850, he married Jane Lathrop of Albany, New York.
After three years in Wisconsin, Leland moved to California, where his brothers had already found success as merchants. Stanford joined them in 1852 and built a profitable business selling mining equipment in northern California. Jane joined her husband several years later.
Leland soon became involved in politics, first as a justice of the peace, and then after two unsuccessful political bids, he was elected governor in 1861. Leland made no effort to separate his political office from his business interests. As one of the "Big Four," he helped plan the eastbound section of the transcontinental railroad, and his contribution came in the form of political influence. Despite his responsibilities to the public, Leland helped secure massive state investment and land grants for the railroad project.
When his term ended in 1863, Stanford declined to run for governor again, choosing instead to become president of the Central Pacific, a post he held until his death. He also served as president of the Southern Pacific, and he owned many of the construction companies that built the railroad. Later in the century, as public pressure mounted for government regulation of such monopolies, Stanford's political connections in California continued to support his railroad business interests.
The immense wealth the Stanfords acquired from railroad building allowed them to live a lavish life. They maintained enormous vineyards and owned a large horse-raising ranch near Palo Alto.
In 1884, fifteen-year-old Leland Stanford Jr., their only child, died while on a trip in Italy. Leland and Jane founded Leland Stanford Junior University in their son’s honor. The university opened in 1891.
In 1885, Leland arranged for the California legislature to appoint him to the United States Senate, where he served without distinction but with pleasure until his death in 1893.
After Leland's death, Jane effectly took control of the university. She funded and operated the university almost single-handedly until her death in 1905.
Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School was named for her in 1985.
Take a photo of yourself at Stanford’s Historic Red Barn, and post it to Twitter and Instagram with the hashtag #PaloAltoWelcomeWeek!