Dr. Joseph Henry Poett

Dr. Joseph Henry Poett

Agnes’s father, Dr. Joseph Henry Poett (1805-1879), sold approximately 1,000 acres of land to Anson Burlingame.

Dr. Joseph Henry Poett, like the rest of his immediate family, was stranded in San Francisco when their ship from Valparaiso, Chile, finally reached the California port in June of 1849 and the entire crew jumped ship to try their luck mining gold.  Poett was 44 years old at the time and newly married to his second wife Mary, his children’s former Scottish nanny.  Their mother had died the year before.

Dr. and Sarah Poett, the children’s mother, met in London.  According to the stories passed down through the family, Sarah Susannah had been a Ward in Chancery (typically “wards in chancery” were illegitimate children of wealthy men).1   These circumstances apparently caused the young couple to leave England.  They first moved to the Azores, where their daughter Agnes, the future wife of W.D.M. Howard, George Howard and Henry Bowie, was born in 1833.  The family moved shortly thereafter to Concepción, Chile.

Even after Agnes married W.D.M. Howard on July 9, 1849, her father remained close.  It is hard to determine if this was because Dr. Poett was stranded in San Francisco and had nowhere else to turn, whether he was an opportunist who wanted to benefit from the wealth, connections and business knowledge of Agnes’s husband W.D.M., or because he was emotionally close to his daughter.  For whatever reason, Dr. Poett in the early 1850s accompanied his new son-in-law and daughter on numerous occasions.  He went on business trips to Northern California with W.D.M.   He accompanied his married daughter Agnes on a trip to Paris after the murder of her infant son.  From letters that W.D.M. wrote to Agnes while in Paris, it appears that Dr. Poett was not ashamed to let his daughter and son-in-law pay for his bills.2

When Agnes decided to marry George, the brother of her deceased husband, her father was not happy about it.  In a newsy letter dated October 19, 1857, to Valparaiso resident F.D. Atherton, Atherton’s San Francisco business agent wrote that “the only item of local news is the marriage of Mrs. Howard to George Howard . . . Dr. Poett is by no means satisfied with the marriage, which has deranged (sic) his plans.”3 Agnes and George’s marriage came shortly after the Howards’ claim to title to Rancho San Mateo was finally cleared in the Spring of 1857.  For some reason, perhaps as an appeasement to her father, Dr. Poett assumed ownership of the northernmost third of Rancho San Mateo.

After acquiring approximately a third of El Cerrito, Dr. Poett gave a portion of the property to his daughter and son-in-law Julia and John Redington.  In 1866, Dr. Poett sold approximately 1,000 acres of his land to a former U.S. Representative and Ambassador to China, Anson Burlingame.  The price was just under $55,000, or about $52 per acre.  William C. Ralston may have helped broker the deal after entertaining Burlingame grandly at his Belmont estate.4  In any event, when Burlingame died an untimely death in 1870, the property eventually wound up in Ralston’s hands.  He intended to create a housing subdivision on the property.

Map of Burlingame 1876

Map of Burlingame 1876. Click the map to enlarge it.

As indicated on the adjacent map, a business block on the east side of the tracks was proposed close to the small train stop that then existed near Oak Grove Avenue.  However, Ralston also died an untimely death before his plans could be implemented.  The map shown here, filed with the County of San Mateo in 1876, indicates that the name of the intended subdivision was  “Burlingame.” The map also shows how undeveloped the remainder of the mid-Peninsula was at the time.  Downtown San Mateo was a small confined area, surrounded by the Howard and Parrott estates.  In the northwestern section of Burlingame, the property that Dr. Poett gave to his daughter and son-in-law, Julia and John Redington, is noted, along with the property that belonged to the Williamses, the parents-in-law of Dr. Poett’s son Alfred.

Twenty years later, when Dr. Poett’s grandson William H. Howard and a few other second-generation Peninsula landholders formed a country club in 1893 they chose to call their club the Burlingame Club.  No one knows for certain why the founding club members chose that name, but because of the Burlingame Club the area became known as “Burlingame.”  When residents of the area chose to incorporate in 1908 they chose the name “Burlingame” for their new city.  The country club members, most of whom lived west of El Camino Real, did not join Burlingame when it incorporated.5  Two years later, they formed their own Town of Hillsborough.

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1 Poett, Rancho San Julian, 81.
2 In a letter to Agnes dated September 21, 1854,  W.D.M. wrote: “You speak of your Papa often speaking about economy and whenever you want him to go to the theatre or opera you will have to furnish tickets and if you go out together you will find he never has any money with him.”
3 This letter is part of the archives of the California Historical Society.
4 Ralston, a highly energetic businessman, served as the ad hoc goodwill ambassador to San Francisco one decade after W.D.M. Howard performed much the same functions.  A delightful account of Ralston’s dinner hosting Burlingame can be found in Constance Lister’s A History of Burlingame.
5 The Town of Easton did not join Burlingame in 1908 either, but Easton was annexed to Burlingame in 1910.
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