Celebrating St. Patrick’s Day: Menlo Park’s history is green from its earliest beginnings

by Linda Hubbard Gulker on March 17, 2010

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St. Patrick’s Day is a good excuse to dust off some historical facts that tie our city of Menlo Park with its Irish predecessor. We are indebted to the thorough research done some 35 years ago by Stanley Pearce who was compiling a history of Menlo Park’s  Trinity Episcopal Church and, in doing so, recorded the town’s earliest beginnings. Here are Mr. Pearce’s word from his book Lift Up Your Hearts:

“Up to the coming of the railroad the little town [Menlo Park] had grown hardly at all since 1851 when a pair of Irishmen invested one dollar an acre to launch a 1,700-acre farming project to the north of San Francisquito Creek which they named ‘Menlough’ in sentimental remembrance of their birthplace [in County Galway]. A few years later they erected a high wooden gateway at the entrance to their farm, and it was the existence of this structure that prompted the San Francisco & San Jose Railway Company to make Menlo Park a station stop when the line came through, and to build the station four years later.

“The ‘Menlo Park Gate,’ almost as conspicuous a landmark as the the towering redwood tree, ‘Palo Alto,’ a couple of miles to the south, was an elaborate wooden structure with a wide center arch through which any conveyance could pass, and with smaller arches over footpaths at each side. Around the topmost center arch in foot-high letters were the words ‘Menlo Park’ and in the centered keystone was inscribed, ‘August 1854.’ Above the arches were the names, ‘D.J. Oliver’ and ‘D.C. McGlynn.’

“In seeking to immortalize themselves, the sentimental designers of the ornate gateway had intended that ‘Menlough’ (a Gaelic word meaning ‘Lakeside’) would go on one side of the keystone and ‘Park’ on the other. However the itinerant sign painter engaged to do the lettering immediately demonstrated the lopsided appearance that would result, and Oliver and McGlynn were faced with making a decision. The keystone was already in place; moreover, it set the whole thing off, and certainly the date was essential. They finally were driven to sacrifice the spelling of their beloved home town in Country Galway for the phonetic spelling, ‘Menlo.’

“Oliver and McGlynn’s trinity of arches was by no means the only entrance to their ranch. For at least another decade no other structure was in sight to the north or to the south along the unfenced frontage of the lonely stretch of rutted trail that would not gain the regal title, ‘El Camino Real,’ for many years yet to come. The gate was a monumental landmark only. However, it was in its vicinity that the first houses were built edging the county road between pathways that later became Santa Cruz and Oak Grove Avenues.”

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