Saga of early Menlo Park farmer (yes!) and his Stanford Dairy – and why there is a jog in Avy Avenue

by Jesse Arnold on April 1, 2012

one of Menlo Park's first houses

John Murray and his wife Mary were both Irish immigrants who came to New York City in 1848 or ’49 and met and married there. Mary was pregnant with their first child when the decision was made for Murray to go to California to seek the family’s fortune, while Mary stayed in New York City with friends.

Murray arrived in Menlo Park in 1850 and got a job working on the I.C. Woods estate on Middlefield Road in the Ravenswood area. Murray worked there until about 1856. He then returned to New York to get his wife and young son. When the Murrays came back to California in 1857, they settled at Searsville and bought 38 acres of land. Murray became a dairy farmer.

In about 1873, John Murray made the best business decision of his life. He bought 109 acres on the bank of San Francisquito Creek. The land was rocky and covered with brush and was of no use for cattle grazing. But he could see that it would be an ideal place to put a dam, and he bet the $900 purchase price that someone would pay him far more for the land should a dam be built there.

Sure enough, in 1878 the Spring Valley Water Company bought all of Murray’s land at Searsville for $13,000. Murray rented the property back from the water company and continued his dairy while he looked for a new farm. The dam was completed in 1891.

Murray relocates his farm to land closer to downtown Menlo Park

Sometime after 1878, Murray bought a 70-acre farm in Menlo Park. The property was on both sides of the Alameda de Las Pulgas from Altschul Avenue to Cloud Avenue, and from Valparaiso Avenue to Avy Avenue, plus a 10-acre parcel bounded by the Alameda, Avy and Cloud Avenues and Sharon Road.

However, back then the Alameda was called Mulberry Street, and Sharon Road was called Menlo Avenue and both were paper streets (streets that exist only on a subdivision map).  Altschul, Cloud and Avy had not yet been drawn on a map.

In 1885 Murray built his house and barn on his new farm. The buildings were located in the 10-acre parcel described above.

The house was located near the well. It was a typical farm house for its time and place: a one-story house with a porch around two sides. The front porch faced downtown Menlo Park and the side porch faced Stanford. The house was all redwood. The original configuration of the house is unknown. It either consisted of two bedrooms and a large parlor, or three bedrooms and a small parlor with a kitchen and dining room combination. There was no indoor plumbing.

The barn (pictured right) was located about 100 feet from the house where Murray could look down Santa Cruz Avenue and see if he had any visitors coming out from town.

Murray called his dairy at Menlo Park the Stanford Dairy. At the time Murray’s son James worked as the horseshoer on Leland Stanford’s farm shoeing Stanford’s world champion trotting horses. I believe that John Murray and Leland Stanford were acquainted and that Murray had permission to use the Stanford name. Whether it was put in writing or any money changed hands is something I would like to know.

On July 17, 1889, John and Mary Murray sold their farm to Eugene Avy. Avy was a subdivider, and he and others were eager to sell lots to people coming to teach and work at Stanford University, which was scheduled to open in 1891. Avy called his subdivision University Heights.

What I think happened is that John Murray agreed to sell the farm to Avy provided that Avy would allow the dairy to continue to operate on a small part of the farm. Murray then found a new owner for the dairy and retired to downtown Menlo Park.

Why Avy gave the street that bears his name a jog in the road

Avy had to divide the 10-acre parcel that contained the house and barn in a way to give the dairy room to operate. The way Avy did that was to place Lucky Avenue closer to the Alameda than to Cloud Avenue and to expand the 10-acre parcel containing the buildings about 100 feet toward Valparaiso Avenue, thus putting the jog in Avy Avenue.

Avy then received the rental payment from the Stanford Dairy on his land while he worked on selling his lots. He was also free to sell the dairy parcel.  The Stanford Dairy continued to operate on the 4.6 acre parcel created for it by Avy until 1933 or 1934. A dairy was still there in 1935, but I don’t know if it still had the name of Stanford Dairy.

My parents, Tom and Fanny Arnold, used the barn for their horse business, the Idle Hour Stable, from 1935 through 1950. Finally, John Murray’s barn — that caused the jog in Avy Avenue — was torn down in 1951 but the house (pictured top) is still standing.

Mary Murray died in 1890 and John Murray died in 1893. They are buried at Holy Cross cemetery just two blocks away from the house they built in 1885.

(P.S. On the tract map for the neighboring Escondite tract, filed on Feb. 26, 1889, Avy Avenue was called Murray Avenue. Although Avy filed his map later, he must have had more pull because the Avy name is what we got.)

Originally published in The Gate Post Vol. XXXVIII, March 2012, Menlo Park Historical Association; used with permission.

Oil painting of John Murray’s barn by “Miss Mooney, a Stanford student, in the late 1940s,” writes Jesse Arnold. “Stanford art classes often came over to paint the barn. I begged one of the students to give me her painting after she got her grade on it, and she said would and she did.”

Photo of existing farmhouse by Linda Hubbard

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lloyd Huff April 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm

Great story and has special meaning to me, as I grew up across the street from the Arnold’s home. I lived at 2023 Liberty Park ave. in the 1950’s to early 1960’s.
My father, who is now 82 yrs. old took me across the street, to there home and introduced me to Fanny Arnold on their front porch when I was a small boy. Its great to see that the home is still there after all these years and has not been torn down like so many of the older structures.
Does anyone know, if that home has still remained in the Arnold family?

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Laurel Clohossey May 9, 2012 at 12:03 pm

@ L. Huff: Fanny still lives there!

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Linda Hubbard Gulker April 2, 2012 at 8:51 am

Louise DeDera emailed InMenlo this comment: “This is from Millie Campbell who was our AAG historian: ‘We received the following message from the grandson of the Murray who I believe was the great grandson of the couple you had in InMenlo yesterday. Here is his message: ‘The 3.5 acres bought by the Merners was the home of my grandparents, John Jarvis and Catherine Murray. John was usually called ‘Jeff.’The house and other buildings were built by Jeff’s parents as a wedding present for them in 1890.
Jeff and ‘Kate’ lived there the rest of their lives and raised all their children there, including my father, James E. Murray. My father and mother, Louise, lived at 505 Olive Street where I was raised.The big wooden barn at Allied Arts was my grandfather’s barn,as Mr. Keininger knows. Jeff died in April, 1928 and so the Merners must have bought the property from his estate or his family.'”

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Jym April 4, 2012 at 5:20 pm

This comment passed by Louise DeDera is confusing. Who are the Merners? Is it John Jarvis MURRAY? Was he a brother of James Murray? Who is Mr. Keininger? Was it the Stanford Dairy barn that was moved to AAG? If so that must have been about 1950? Who is Mr. Keininger? See separate comment about W.C. Wilber.

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Jym April 21, 2012 at 12:54 pm

The history of the John Murray Family written (and last updated in January, 2011) by a great-grandson, James Lewis Murray, clarifies the message. After he sold the dairy, John and wife (Mary) lived at corner of Oak Grove Ave and Laurel St. About 1890 they built a house on 3.5 acres on the San Francisquito Creek as a wedding present for their son, John Jarvis (“Jeff”) Murray and his fiancee Cathrine “Kate” Phelan. In 1929 the house with barn and land were bought by the Merners (Merner Lumber Co of Palo Alto) who donated it for the founding of the Allied Arts Guild. The barn still exists and the main building is constructed on the framework of the original 2-story farmhouse. About 1931 James Elmer Murray, grandson of Jeff, and his wife Louise K. (Joulie) Hebert built a house on 5 acres at 505 Olive St, where they operated the Toyon Dairy. This house, which still exists, is where James Lewis Murray grew up.

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Jym April 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I can’t seem to avoid small errors. James Elmer Murray was the son of John Jarvis “Jeff” Murray, not the grandson. So it goes: John–>Jeff–>James Elmer–>James Lewis Muray.

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Linda Huff Highsmith April 2, 2012 at 10:39 am

I too love this article, sister to Lloyd Huff. As very young children we were more than fascinated with this home. I always admired it. We did find a passage way that leads under the house. It very much resembled a cave and on one of our bravest days we went through it. I’m sure it was the home of many spiders and who knows what. Back then life was full of mysteries right outside your own front door. How wonderful was that. Much Aloha from Hawaii.

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Jym April 4, 2012 at 5:26 pm

According to the Palo Alto Weekly of Aug. 10, 2005 (http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/morgue/2005/2005_08_10.cvr10piers1.shtml , and also http://www.paloaltoonline.com/weekly/morgue/2005/2005_08_10.cv10side1.shtml ), William Charles Wilber founded House Dairy on Willow Rd [where Willow Oaks School is now located] in 1900. He sold it to M.I. Piers in 1914 and subsequently bought the Sanford Dairy in University Heights, which he operated until his death in 1933. [Piers later moved his dairy to Ross Rd in Palo Alto, and eventually leased a large acreage from Stanford.]
The USGS 1898 Palo Alto topographic shows all existing roads (without names) and structures in the Menlo Park area. There is a road between Alameda and SCA that presumably is today’s Sharon Rd (formerly Menlo Ave) and it aligns exactly with a road downtown (but see below). There are 2 structures in the area between Sharon (or Menlo) and Avy (or Murray) that are presumably the Stanford Dairy house and barn. There are no other nearby streets and only about 5 additional structures in nearby University Heights (the rest of Menlo Park west of University Ave had only a couple structures and no streets other than SCA).
On a 1931 map of Menlo Park printed in The Searchlight (MPHA Archives), the section of today’s Avy Ave between SCA and Cloud was still named Murray Ave, and today’s Sharon Rd was still named Menlo Ave and was shown as extending NE to Olive (this extension may have been on paper only), aligning with today’s Stanford Ave. A 1948 map (MPHA Archives) still labels what is today’s Stanford Ave NE of the cemetery as Menlo Ave. Nonetheless, a line drawn from Menlo Ave/Sharon Rd to downtown shows it aligns with Live Oak Ave more closely than downtown Menlo Ave. Menlo Ave downtown did not exist until after Camp Fremont.

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