The Mills Family

Whereas the Howard family made money buying and selling—first goods and later real estate—the Mills family made their money as bankers.  Darius Ogden (“D.O.”) Mills created a huge fortune by helping others protect and expand the fortunes they made during California’s Gold Rush and later, the Silver Rush.  He was the founder of the Bank of California, which eventually became today’s Union Bank.

The Mills Mansion

D.O. Mills’s mansion “Happy House” towered over its neighbors for almost 90 years.  In 1954, a fire destroyed the home within two hours.

In the mid-1860s D.O. Mills constructed a huge country mansion on his 1,500-acre estate, which he called “Millbrae.”1  After amassing one of California’s largest fortunes, he returned to his native New York when he was in his 50s, but left his huge country mansion in Millbrae, California, intact.  For the next seventy years—from the mid-1880s until the sale of the property in the mid-1950s—the mansion was used as a vacation home for three generations of the extended Mills family.

By far the wealthiest of the founding families, the Mills family left a national, if not international, legacy of philanthropy and public service.  The Mills family and their extended members have served as ambassadors, vice-presidential candidates and cabinet members.  They have also been generous benefactors of numerous institutions including Columbia University, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church by Moon Light

The Mills family provided major funding for the reconstruction of St. Matthew’s church after the Great Earthquake of 1906.  The large western window “On Earth Peace Good Will Toward Men,” depicting the birth of Jesus, was donated by the Mills family in honor of D.O. Mills.
Image courtesy: © 2006 Steve Whittaker.

Locally, they are best known for founding Mills Hospital (now part of Mills-Peninsula Hospital) and for being the namesake family of the City of Millbrae.  Although the Howard family founded St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, it was largely the Mills family that financed its reconstruction after the Great Earthquake of 1906.  The family’s private airstrip was sold to the City of San Francisco in the 1930s and became San Francisco International Airport.  Additionally, the family had a connection to the great racehorse Seabiscuit:  D.O. and Jane Mills’s grandchildren owned Wheatley Stables—the stables that bred Seabiscuit. Later, the horse was sold to Hillsborough resident Charles Howard.  Charles Howard was not related to the Howard family discussed in this exhibit.

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1 Mills’s property extended from El Portal Creek near modern-day Millbrae Avenue in the north, to Mills Creek, near modern-day Adeline Drive in the south.