History of Atherton

Fair Oaks

In 1866, Atherton was known as Fair Oaks, and was a flag stop on the California Coast for the Southern Pacific Railroad between San Francisco and San Jose for the convenience of the owners of large estates living north of Menlo Park. The entire area was called Menlo Park. It was part of the Rancho de las Pulgas, which is now southern San Mateo County.

Incorporation of Atherton

In 1923, Menlo Park wanted to incorporate its lands to include Fair Oaks. During a meeting of the representatives of the two communities, the Fair Oaks property owners maintained their community as a strictly residential area and they would incorporate independently. Both groups rushed to Sacramento but the Fair Oaks committee arrived first. It was at that time they realized that they could not keep the name Fair Oaks, as it 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 incorporated on September 12, 1923.

Town Name

Faxon D. Atherton, originally from Massachusetts, had spent several years as a trader in tallow, hides, and merchandise. His friend and business associate, Thomas Lark, had written to him about the opportunities, for family and business, on the San Francisco peninsula. Atherton purchased over 600 acres in 1860. His home, Valparaiso Park, was built several years later.

With the development of the railroad, other San Franciscans established summer homes further south. The dirt roads were usually treacherous in the winter and the families would only visit May through September.

Estates & Residents

The Mayor of San Francisco, Thomas H. Selby, purchased over 400 acres and called his estate Almendral. John T. Doyle, an attorney, also built a home off Middlefield Road, Ringwood. James C. Flood, owner of Linden Towers, is now known as Lindenwood. The Joseph A Donohoe estate was Holmgrove and is now the site of Menlo Atherton High School. James Thomas Watkins' home was Fair Oaks, which stands today on Alejandra Avenue, after being moved twice.

Edward E. Eyre reigned as the first mayor and in 1928, the residents voted to build a Town Hall, which is still in use today. The early residents sought to build a town that would be divided into large parcels and would not contain businesses. During the 1920s and 1930s, a few of the large land holdings were subdivided, including James Floods’ estate in 1938. In the 1940s and 1950s, over 80 subdivisions were recorded bringing the era of large estates to a close.


Atherton is still a plain of oaks. Native live oaks, white oaks, bays, redwoods, cedars, pines, and other ornamental trees cover the six square miles of town. There are approximately 50 miles of roads. The population is around 6,995 with approximately 2,500 households.

Ms. Olive Holbrook-Palmer left Holbrook-Palmer Park, a 22 acre park, to the town in 1958. It is an open, tree-covered park, which offers recreational programs and has facilities for functions.