Of the "Big Four” railroad men, Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins and Charles Crocker, Charles Crocker became the best known for his activities on the Peninsula and the only one to sire progeny who survived him.
Charles Crocker was born in 1822 in Troy, N.Y., quit school at the age of 12, then made his way to Indiana where he worked in a sawmill and later built a smelter business. The Gold Rush in California got his notice and he left Indiana to take a fling at the gold fields in 1849. With $5,000 he had accumulated for his efforts, he went back to Indiana in 1852 and married the daughter of his former employer, Mary Ann Demming.
Returning to Sacramento, his dry-goods business there afforded him and his new family a comfortable living. Son Charles Frederick was born in 1857, followed by another son, George, in 1858. A daughter, Harriet Valentine, was born in 1859 and the final son, William Henry Crocker, in 1861. Two other children, Emma and Ella, died in infancy.
In 1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Bill that authorized the building of a railroad line from the Missouri River to California. The Sacramento Valley railroad line was built from Sacramento to Folsom in 1854 and, when a line was proposed to run across the western part of the United States, Charles felt he could not be left out of this business adventure.
In 1861, the Central Pacific Railroad was incorporated with 85,000 shares. Charles Crocker formed a separate construction company that was to build the railroad tracks. From 1862 to 1869, Charles spent almost all of his time along the railroad, supervising construction and earning the reputation of a hard taskmaster. The money was good, however, and he became fabulously wealthy.
Crocker built a mansion on Nob Hill, 1100 California St., in San Francisco. Daughter Harriet and New York lawyer, Charles B. Alexander had their marriage reception there after being married at Grace Church in 1887. Harriet (nicknamed Hattie) had received her education in Europe in the 1870s and had became an avid traveler. She hobnobbed with the wealthy, had an audience at the Vatican with Pope Leo XIII and attended the coronation of Russian Tsar Nicholas II in 1896. She died in Paris, France, in 1935, at the age of 76.
In 1882, son Charles Frederick (nicknamed "The Colonel” due to his lifelong association with the National Guard) married Jennie Mills Easton. Jennie Easton was the daughter of Ansel Easton and Adeline Mills (sister of Darius Ogden Mills, the banker).
They raised a family consisting of three children — Mary, Charles Templeton and Jennie. The mother, Jennie, died shortly after giving birth to daughter Jennie in 1886.
In 1884, Charles F. who was in charge of the Crocker Land Company, bought 4,000 acres of land on and around San Bruno Mountain (The Crocker Industrial Tract would be built in the valley by Brisbane in the 1960s). He rose to become vice president of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He died in 1897, while only in his 40s. His children were raised by their maternal grandmother at their home called Los Robles in Burlingame (today’s Hillsborough).
Son Charles Templeton Crocker married heiress Helene Irwin (daughter of sugar millionaire William G. Irwin) in 1911.
In 1913, he built a $2,000,000, 39-room, three-story house he named "Uplands.” In 1950, this house, situated by Skyline Boulevard and Interstate 280, became a girls’ school. Son William Crocker married Ethel Sperry, the daughter of flour-millionaire Simon Willard Sperry, in 1886.
In addition to having a house on Nob Hill in San Francisco, he had a 67-room vacation home built on 523 acres in Burlingame named "New Place.” New Place was a showcase residence termed "the most beautiful residence in California.” William became the president of the Crocker National Bank. William and his partners owned the Ingleside Race Track in San Francisco.
In 1899, after gambling at the Ingleside Race Track in San Francisco was outlawed, his brother-in-law, Prince Andre Poniatowski, and several other partners built the first Tanforan Race Track in San Bruno. He was involved in numerous other projects that developed the communities of the Peninsula. He died in 1936.
The Crocker family used their wealth in many beneficial ways and greatly influenced the progress and development of the San Francisco Peninsula.