California Beat Hero: Timothy Hopkins
1859 – January 1, 1936
Had it not been for the famous family who adopted him, chances are Timothy Hopkins might never have become anyone important in California. Had it not been for Timothy Hopkins, one can only speculate how a map of the Peninsula would have looked and had it not been for Timothy Hopkins, one can only wonder how differently Stanford University could have become. Though his name is largely forgotten today, Timothy Hopkins had the honor of closely associating himself with two of the state’s best-known historical figures and built his own reputation because of it.
Originally born Timothy Nolan, his father died while he was child and his mother was forced to find a job working for the family of California railroad pioneer Mark Hopkins. Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins came to love young Timothy and following Mark Hopkins’ death on March 29, 1878, Mrs. Hopkins adopted the now twenty year old.
Entering into the railroad business himself, he would serve as treasurer of the Central Pacific Railroad from 1883 until 1892. In 1885 he became a trustee of the newly established Leland Stanford Junior University, founded by friend, railroad pioneer, and former California Governor Leland Stanford in honor of his late son.
In 1887, he founded a town nearby Stanford University that was named University Park. A few years later, that town would adopt the name it is known as today – Palo Alto.
While much of his former estate in modern-day Menlo Park is long since gone, one small piece does still exist. At 555 Ravenswood Ave, located near the town council chambers, one can find the estate’s old gatehouse. Built in 1864, the gatehouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It is currently being used by the Junior League of Palo Alto.
Not far away, at the intersection of Middlefield Rd and Palo Alto Ave, one can find Hopkins’ name memorialized in the form of Timothy Hopkins Creekside Park. Fittingly it is located just across the street from a Palo Alto welcome sign.
Timothy Hopkins died at the Stanford Hospital from pneumonia on January 1, 1936. Drive up the main roadway of the older half of Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma and you will come across the large white monument that marks his grave in Section E.
So in honor of his close association with one of the nation’s top universities and for founding of one of the Bay Area’s distinct communities, we honor Timothy Hopkins as a California Beat Hero.