The Valley of Heart's Delight
Father of Palo Alto
Santa Clara County, California


SURNAMES:  Roseberry,  Gray, Morris, Scofield, Maza,  Weaver,

A prominent Mason who is so identified with the early history of the town that he well deserves the title of the Father of Palo Alto, is J. F. Parkinson, of **616 Cowper street
, in which attractive thoroughfare he is a familiar figure--six feet, three inches tall, and weighing 240 pounds. His life-story is intimately the history of Palo Alto, for he built the first residence here, put in the first lumber yard, incorporated the first bank, and drove the first spike in the great railway he had promoted.

 He was born in Marshall County, W.Va., on December 2, 1864, when his father, Dr. Benoni Parkinson was serving in the civil war with the rank of a major. He had just finished his course of study as a physician and surgeon, at the Waynesburg, Pa., Medical College, when the war commenced, and he lost no time in enlisting, registering from West Virginia. He served as army surgeon throughout the great struggle, and had four enlistments and several promotions to his credit. He was the son of John Parkinson, a native of Virginia, a contractor on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, when it was built through the Cumberland Mountains. The Parkinson family, dating back to both England and Scotland, settled the Old Dominion and the Keystone State, active in business and in the professions, especially as lawyers and doctors.

Dr. Benoni Parkinson was married in Virginia on October 14, 1862, after which he went to the front. He was born on March 3, 1836, and died in Palo Alto on February 7, 1899, after residing in this city for six years. His bride, before her marriage to Dr. Parkinson. was Katherine Mary Gray, and was born in Grewene County, Pa., on November 28, 1840. Her parents were Francis and Sarah (Roseberry) Gray, and the Grays and the Roseberrys were both English settlers in Virginia. She died in Washington, Iowa, in 1880, highly esteemed by all who knew her.

When J. F. Parkinson, who was the eldest in a family of seven children, was six years old, his parents removed with him to Washington County, Iowa, in 1870; and then Dr. Parkinson gave up the practice of medicine and embarked in the lumber trade. He also helped to organize a number of banks in Iowa and the Middle west, and he owned a number of farms in Iowa, and our subject helped to run them during school vacations, and also helped in his father's lumber yard. He attended the public schools in Washington, Iowa, and he completed the courses at Washington College, having previously taken a business course at Burlington. Then he went to the University of Michigan, where he pursued a classical course; but he was taken with hemorrhage of the lungs, which led him to quit college and to hurry west to California in the hope of regaining his health. Thirteen relatives of his mother from Pennsylvania and Virginia had crossed the plains to California in 1852, lured by the prospects for gold, and a cousin, Mr. Morris, was still living at Woodland, in Yolo County, in 1888, and welcomed our subject to the Golden State. This cousin's widow and sons are still living in Yolo County, although Asa Morris, Jr., the well-known cattleman, was killed in an automobile accident in July, 1921.

J.F.Parkinson who was then twenty-three years old, had fallen in love in Iowa, and he had come out to the Coast not merely to regain his health, but to look for employment and secure a prospective home. His betrothed, Miss Helen M. Scofield, was born in Washington County, Iowa, and was a daughter of William Scofield, the Washington, Iowa, attorney, and a cousin of General Scofield of New York, and Sarah (Maza) Scofield, a native of Ohio. Miss Scofield, it happened, had preceded our subject to California, and had been spending the winter of 1884-85 with her folks at San Jose, while she also put in a year at school in San Jose, and hence young Parkinson went to San Jose for employment, believing that his intended wife would like to live there. He found something worth while in the service of J.P.Pierce, president of the Pacific Manufacturing Company, at Santa Clara, commencing work at the modest salary of sixty-five dollars per month; but he rose to a commanding position, with the largest salary granted anyone in that county. He worked for the Pacific Manufacturing Company in charge of their lumber yard at Santa Clara from 1888 to 1892; and during this time he had not only met with Gov. Leland Stanford, but he had become acquainted with the plans for the building of the Leland Sanford, Jr. University.

He could easily foresee that there was plenty of room for a good-sized town in front of the proposed University site, and he resigned his position with the Pacific Manufacturing Company, and resolved to open up a lumber yard at Palo Alto which was then called University Park. He had saved considerable money, and so was able to commence in a small way, hauling his first load of lumber from Santa Clara on March 1, 1892. By the first of January, 1893, he had transacted $70,000 worth of business. He then started a hardware store in connection with his lumber yard, and then a plumbing and tinning establishment, and later still he built the first planing mill in Palo Alto. After that he started another lumber yard and hardware store at Mountain View, and still later he opened a hardware store and lumber yard at Sunnyvale, when that now thriving town was known as Encinal.

His business expanded so rapidly and steadily during those years that he prospered exceedingly, and with C.C. Spalding, W.E. Crossman and Mr. Richards of San Jose, Mr. Parkinson organized the first bank of Sunnyvale. He also organized, in 1892, the Bank of Palo Alto, on a wire from Iowa, from his father, who was the main  stockholder. The bank was capitalized at $100,000, and Judge J. R. Welch of San Jose drew up the articles of incorporation and became the bank's first vice-president. Stock to the amount of $80,000 was taken by Dr. Parkinson and an uncle George R. Parkinson, both of whom became well-known residents of Palo Alto, where they died.

At that time, Mayfield was the nearest trading center, and had the only school and the only post office; it opposed every energetic forward movement proposed at University Park, and insisted on the people having children at the latter place sending them to the Mayfield school. Mr. Parkinson resolved that University Park must organize its own school district, and he set resolutely about to accomplish the task. In 1892 he gave, free of charge, all the lumber needed for the first school house in Palo alto, which was built at the corner of University and Bryant streets, and in the fall of that year, the school house was opened for the twenty-five or more pupils. Mr. Parkinson also donated $250 for the building of the First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto, the first church edifice in town, and he donated liberally toward the building of all the succeeding churches in Palo Alto.

He became a good friend of Governor Stanford, and he was thus enabled to do much toward carrying out his laudable enterprises.

Timothy Hopkins owned and laid out the town site of what was at first called University Park, and when ambitious folks petitioned to have the name changed to Palo Alto, they were influenced by the Spanish name of Governor Stanford's extensive stock farm of 8,600 acres, included in the present site of the University, meaning "high tree," and referring to the large sequoia on the San Francisquito Creek at the extreme northerly point in Santa Clara County.

It seems that the Cornell, Fitzhugh, Hopkins Company of San Francisco owned sixty acres southwest of the old town of Mayfield and they plotted it and called it Palo Alto, and began to sell lots. Governor Stanford lost no time in enjoining them from the use of Palo Alto as a name, and this led to much litigation and hard feelings. The matter was finally compromised by then Senator Stanford renamed the sixty-acre plot College Terrace, and this is now an addition to the town of Mayfield. Thereupon, Mr. Hopkins, by and with the consent of those who had bought lots in University Park about 1894, petitioned the board of county supervisors to call University Park -Palo Alto; and the first post office was established in Palo Alto with Mr. Parkinson as postmaster. He was elected a member of the Palo Alto School Board and he served for eight years.

Mr. Parkinson organized the Palo Alto Mutual Building and Loan Association, and became its first president. He also helped actively to establish the first newspaper in Palo Alto, the "Times," and afterwards himself owned the Palo Alto "Citizen," which in time was consolidated with the "Times." He owned the first water-works, supplied by two artesian wells and before the town was incorporated he laid four-inch water mains. He built the city line of street railway in Palo Alto, and also got franchises for the Santa Clara County Interurban Electric Line. He then obtained franchises for a road extending from Palo Alto through Mayfield, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose, and afterwards bought out J.H. Henry lines from Santa Clara to Alum Rock. In this project, he was bitterly fought by the southern Pacific Railway, which bought these lines and renamed them, calling the now popular line the Peninsular Railway. When this was built, Mr. Parkinson drove the first spike in its construction, on January 4, 1906.

More personal experiences of Mr. Parkinson are full of interest even for the stranger. In 1906 he was elected mayor of Palo alto, and soon afterward his automobile turned turtle, and he was so severely injured that he was in bed for four years. A week after he was injured, the earthquake shook everything topsy-turvy in Palo alto, and when some of the groceries and meat markets commenced to profiteer and charge two and three times the regular price for what they had, fear made the public panicky lest starvation might confront the town. Thereupon Mr. Parkinson, although an invalid, drove around in his buggy and saw the extortioners, and through his prompt and firm measures, he stopped the profiteering, and the result was that Palo Alto got its provisions at prices prevailing before the great disaster. This act was generally applauded and the mayor of Palo Alto was exalted not only in his own city, but newspapers West, East, North and South, and even editorials in English papers. Owing to the accident referred to, and its serious consequences, Mr. Parkinson sold his business and remained mayor only until the adoption of the new special charter; and then he sought to regain his health. Later, he endeavored to promote new ventures.

Parkinson's Addition to Palo Alto comprises Alba Park and Ravenswood, and his object in boosting the latter place was to promote a harbor for Palo Alto at the same time that he made it a manufacturing center. He was on the point of realizing his dream, and had sold his holdings at Ravenswood to a New York man, J.E. Eisenhuth, the first builder of gas-engine automobiles in the United States, when the World War came on, and through a combination of unfortunate circumstances, which grew out of the war, what otherwise would have been his crowning achievement, and what would have made him a wealthy man, his bondsmen foreclosed on him, and he lost $500,000. He has regained his health, however, and he is bravely making a second start. He is the president of the American Lumber Company, of Sonoma County, a corporation having a capital  of $150,000 and a sawmill at Cazadero; and they bid fair to expand as rapidly as did some of the earlier associated in his long business career.

If anyone in Palo Alto is entitled to the whole-souled esteem and good will for which mortals sensibly crave, it would seem to be Mr. Parkinson and his good wife, to whom he was married at Washington, Iowa, in 1888, for together they have done much to help build up Palo Alto. Mrs. Parkinson was one of the ladies who organized the Palo Alto Woman's Club, and she gave the first book towards establishing the Palo Alto Public Library; and she worked as hard as any of the organizers when the ladies of Palo Alto took turns in serving as Librarian. It was Mr. Parkinson who convinced the idea of enlisting Andrew Carnegie's magnificent cooperation in the providing of a library building; and when committees were appointed and correspondence conducted without any results, he went to New York and saw Mr. Carnegie personally, and was instrumental in getting the $10,000 with which the present library building at the corner of Bryant and Hamilton streets was built in 1904.

The influence of Mr. Parkinson's forceful character and clear-minded foresight has in a way permeated the very spirit of Palo Alto, which is known far and wide for its progressive ideas and its municipal utilities. Mr. and Mrs. Parkinson are living in the house at 616 Cowper street which he built in early days, sold and then bought back again. They have had five children, and all have reflected creditably upon the family name. Katherine M. is the wife of S.E. Weaver, a newspaper man in New York City. Robert Roseberry is vice-president of the local American Legion and a manufacturer of Safety First step-ladders at Palo Alto. He was in the Engineer Corps and served nineteen months in France. Benoni S. Parkinson is the Tynan Lumber Company, at Salinas as the superintendent of their yard; and John F. Parkinson Jr., is a student at Stanford University. Katherine, Robert and Benoni are already Stanford graduates. Sarah Gray, in her fifteenth year, is a student in the Palo alto high School. Mr. Parkinson is well up in Masonry and, as might be expected, enjoys the popularity and esteem due him.


Transcribed by Marie Clayton, from Eugene T. Sawyers' History of Santa Clara County,California,  published by Historic Record Co. , 1922. page 427

October 24, 2004
c feroben

JOHN F. PARKINSON OBITUARY-The Times (San Mateo, CA) Sept 7, 1956

Palo Alto, Sept. 7- John F. Parkinson, 91, last member of a pioneer group which founded the city of Palo Alto , died yesterday at his home here at 730 Cowper street following several years ill health.

He came to Palo Alto from Iowa in 1891 and helped incorporate the city in 1894.  He was Palo Aslto's first postmaster and was mayor in 1906, when he organized relief measures for refugees from the San Francisco eathquake and fire.  He also organized the city's first volunteer fire department.

Parkinson, a hardware and lumberyard owner, suffered severe financial losses in 1914 when his business, uninsured, was destroyed by fire. 

He leaves a daughter, Sarah Parkinson of Palo Alto and a son, John Jr., Los Angeles. 

Services will beheld at 11 a.m. tomorrow from Roller & Hapgood chapel, with interment in Alta Mesa cemetery, Los Altos (sic), of which Parkinson was a founder.


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