Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum

[The following e-mail of January 9, 2002 came about because the writer was organizing a banquet at "Staatsburgh", the Mills Mansion State Historic Site, based upon the menu of the Central Pacific Railroad's 1869 banquet.]

I have looked into the relationship of Edgar Mills, whom the ["Life and Times of the Central Pacific"] lists as Darius Ogden Mills' son.  In actuality, Edgar was/is the brother of Darius.  Knowing what we know about the family history, Darius had one son, Ogden and a daughter, Elizabeth.   Ogden married Ruth Livingston on April 11, 1882, and Elisabeth married Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, in 1881.

We checked our archive and found the biographical information relating to Edgar.  The source is the San Mateo County Historic Association.  The Historic Edgar Mills Estate, circa 1870, was located in Menlo Park, California.   Darius and Edgar established the National Gold Bank of Sacramento in 1852, and later the Bank of California in San Francisco.

The following excerpt is taken from STAATSBURGH:  The History of the Lewis-Livingston-Mills Estate by Allan Weinreb, former Historic Site Assistant Mills Mansion State Historic Site:

     Darius Ogden Mills, the founder of the Mills family fortune, was born in North Salem, New York to James Mills and Hannah Ogden Mills.13  James Mills was a leading citizen in his locality, serving at different times as postmaster, justice of the peace, and supervisor of the township.  He died in 1841, when Darius was sixteen.  The Mills family, which had already suffered from bad investments made before James Mills's death, fell into hardship.

     At seventeen "D. O.," as he was called, left Mount Pleasant Academy in Sing Sing and took a clerkship in New York City.  In 1847 he became a cashier and one-third partner in the Merchants' Bank of Erie County in Buffalo, going into business with a cousin.  In 1848 gold was discovered in California, and two of D. O.'s brothers, James Jr. and Edgar Mills, went by ship to California with a stock of goods to sell to the gold hunters.  At first D. O. resisted the idea of going west himself, as he was doing well in Buffalo.  Later that year, though, he resolved to exploit the opportunities California offered.

     Only ten days after deciding to make the trip, he boarded a steamer for Panama, taking a different route from that of his brothers, who were sailing around the southern tip of South America.16  At Panama Mills found himself stranded with 3000 other people who had expected to sail from there to San Francisco.  There were no ships to take them.  Gold fever had become so strong that, upon reaching California, vessel after vessel saw the desertion of its crews, leaving the boats stuck in the harbors.  Mills secured passage on a ship going south, in order to search for a California-bound ship in South America.  He had to go as far as Callao, Peru to find one.  In spite of the convoluted nature of his trip, he reached San Francisco ahead of James and Edgar, landing in June 1849.

     Mills became dissuaded from panning for gold himself after talking with others who had gotten to California before him.  Instead he became a merchant, selling supplies first at Stockton, then at Sacramento.  He rapidly made a substantial profit.  By November 1849 he was able to leave for Buffalo with $40,000 in earnings.  He then sold his interest in the Merchants' Bank, and moved back to California to concentrate his entrepreneurial efforts there.

     In the autumn of 1850 he established the bank of D. O. Mills & Co., which rapidly became the leading bank in Sacramento.  Within ten years, the phrase "the luck of D. O. Mills" became known throughout California as, in spite of his youth, he became the state's most powerful banker.  He developed a strong reputation for judgment, boldness, and integrity, the latter a quality lacking in many of those who developed the West.

     In 1854 D. O. Mills married Jane Templeton Cunningham.   Their son Ogden, as noted above, was born in 1856.  The couple's only other child was a daughter Elisabeth, who was born in 1858.   Around 1860 D. O. Mills purchased approximately 1500 acres of land in San Mateo County, not far from San Francisco, in order to create for his family an estate he called Millbrae.

     Mills's wealth grew further as a result of his 1864 co-founding, with thirty-one other investors, of the Bank of California.  The bank was formed in order that San Francisco might have a bank large enough to do international business throughout the Pacific.  D. O. Mills was elected its first president in the belief that his reputation for honesty and financial acumen would increase the public's trust in the new institution.

     The Bank of California prospered under Mills's management.  In 1873 he resigned its presidency and was succeeded by William Ralston, the bank's cashier.  Ralston, however, quickly drove the bank to ruin.  By 1875, the Bank of California had liabilities of nineteen and a half million dollars, and assets of little more than $100,000 cash.

     Mills was beseeched to return to the bank to deal with the emergency.  His name had been retained on the bank's list of directors, although he had not been actively involved with it since 1873.  By 1875, this "directorship" was being continued against his wishes.  Mills went so far as to sell his stock in the bank to end his nominal position there, but Ralston, in order to capitalize on the confidence Mills's name inspired with the public and with foreign investors, purchased stock in his name and persisted in publicizing the deception.  With the Bank of California now poised for collapse, and with his name still connected with it, Mills felt obliged to act to safeguard his reputation and to help his former associates.

     After meeting with the other directors and being briefed on the extent of the bank's predicament, Mills was asked by them to deliver to Ralston a request for his resignation.  Ralston complied.  Within a day, his corpse was discovered floating in San Francisco Bay.  News of Ralston's apparent suicide spread rapidly, creating a public sensation.  D. O. Mills was asked by the board to become president once again, in order to allay the public's fears and to reduce the probability of a panic.  He accepted the position, taking it without salary.  Mills soon succeeded in recapitalizing the bank, in part by contributing one million dollars of his own money, and in another part by convincing the Oriental Bank Corporation of London to cover a large share of the bank's outstanding drafts.

     The Bank of California closed its doors for a month and five days, then reopened to a jubilant public response.  An anticipated run on the bank failed to occur, and the State of California was saved from a severe financial crash.  Mills found himself spending much of the day of the reopening bowing to cheering crowds of well-wishers.  He put the Bank of California back on a sound financial footing in a few years, and in 1878 again resigned its presidency, this time for good.

     D. O. Mills had other significant business involvements, the most famous being with the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which he co-founded with William Sharon and William Ralston in 1868.  The Virginia & Truckee carried most of the silver ore mined from the Comstock Lode near Virginia City, Nevada.  It was originally constructed to reach the mines, high on Mount Davidson, after the first great strike of high-grade ore had been largely mined out, but where millions of dollars' worth of lower grade ore were left abandoned as uneconomical to transport by wagon.  The speed and vastly greater carrying capacity of the trains made it possible to transport and process the lower grade ore at a profit.23  Even greater gains came in a few years, however.  The railroad's earnings grew enormously after 1873 when the "Big Bonanza," the greatest deposit of silver ore ever found, was struck deeper in the mountain.24  So much wealth was generated from this strike that during the mines' peak earning years, D. O. Mills made $400,000 a year from the railroad alone.  The Virginia & Truckee Railroad became important enough in the economic development of Nevada for its Crown Point Trestle to be illustrated on the state's Great Seal.

     Among Mills' other Western investments were timberlands around Lake Tahoe and mercury mines on the Pacific coast.  Between 1870 and 1882 he was also a director at Wells, Fargo & Company, the California express company.

     In 1881 D. O. Mills made New York City his principal home, out of a desire to return to the East, and to advance an ambitious course of capitalistic enterprise.27  In this next phase of his life, his business involvements grew to include directorships in the Erie Railroad Company, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad Company, the New York Central & Hudson River Railroad Company, the Southern Pacific Railway Company, the Edison Electric Illuminating Company of New York, the Federal Steel Company, the International Paper Company, the Madison Square Garden Company, the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, and the Niagara Falls Power Company, of which he also served as president.28  He also held directorships and trusteeships at the City and Suburban Homes Company, the Lackawanna Steel Company, the Metropolitan Trust Company, the North Atlantic Steamship Company, the Bank of New York, the Morton Trust Company, and the United States Trust Company.29  When in 1881 his daughter Elisabeth married Whitelaw Reid, editor of the New York Tribune, Mills began buying its stock, a process that eventually led to full Mills-Reid family ownership of the newspaper.30  D. O. Mills also put a great deal of his money into commercial real estate.  In San Francisco he built a substantial office building called the Mills Building.  At 15 Broad Street in New York City, within a block of the New York Stock Exchange, he erected an even more impressive Mills Building, an eleven-story structure that held the offices of approximately eight hundred commercial tenants.  Its reported cost was three million dollars, making it the most expensive office building owned by a single individual.

... I thought perhaps this information about Edgar and Darius Ogden Mills would be of benefit to your museum.  ...  We are fortunate that the decendents of the Mills family still take an interest in our site, and we have been fortunate to be able to gather and verify the information relating to their history.

Kindest regards,
Cheryl Morse, Preservation Steward
on behalf of the Friends of Mills Mansion

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