Darius Ogden Mills

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Darius Ogden Mills
Darius Ogden Mills.jpg
Darius Ogden Mills
Born(1825-09-25)September 25, 1825
North Salem, New York, United States
DiedJanuary 3, 1910(1910-01-03) (aged 84)
Millbrae, California, United States
Resting placeSleepy Hollow Cemetery,
Sleepy Hollow, New York
EducationMt. Pleasant Academy
OccupationBanker, investor, mining & railway executive, philanthropist
Jane Templeton Cunningham
(m. 1854)
ChildrenOgden Mills
Elisabeth Mills
RelativesOgden L. Mills (grandson)
Ogden Mills Reid (grandson)
Gladys L. Mills (granddaughter)
Jane B. Mills (granddaughter)
Jean T. Reid (granddaughter)
Signature of Darius Ogden Mills (1825–1910).png
Darius Ogden Mills and family (c. 1890) at the Millbrae estate, in present-day Millbrae, California
Darius Ogden Mills and family (c.1890) at the Millbrae estate with Whitelaw Reid, and J.P. Morgan - present day Millbrae, California
Millbrae estate (1869–1954), image from c. 1895
Millbrae estate (1869–1954), image from c.1895

Darius Ogden Mills (September 25, 1825 – January 3, 1910) was a prominent American banker and philanthropist. For a time, he was California's wealthiest citizen.[1]

Early life[edit]

Mills was born in North Salem, in Westchester County, New York, the fifth son of Hannah Ogden (1791–1850) and James Mills (1788–1841), a supervisor, postmaster and justice of the peace for the town of North Salem.[2] His maternal grandfather was William Ogden (1767–1815),[3] who was from Dutchess County and a member of the prominent Ogden family of New York and New Jersey.[4] He was educated at North Salem Academy and Mt. Pleasant Academy.[2]


Shortly after his father's death in 1841,[5] he began working as a clerk in a small general store in New York City at the age of 15.[4] At age 21, he moved to Buffalo, New York, at the invitation of his cousin, Elihu J. Townsend (the son of Malinda Ogden Townsend, his mother's sister),[2] and became the cashier of the Merchants' Bank of Erie County,[6] and later a one third owner.[3][7]

In December 1848, he took an exploratory trip to California, through the Isthmus of Panama, where he joined the California Gold Rush, following two of his brothers, James and Edgar Mills. By November 1849, he had made $40,000 and decided to make California his permanent home.[2] Therefore, in 1850, he returned to Buffalo where he sold his interest in the Bank and returned to Sacramento, where he founded his own bank, the "Gold Bank of D. O. Mills & Co."[3][8] This was helped significantly by a cousin from the English branch of the Mills family, Charles Mills, 1st Baron Hillingdon, who ran the Glyn, Mills & Co. bank in London. He never invested in gold mining or silver mining directly, as he considered mining to be too speculative.[5] He rather started ancillary businesses that supported the mining industry, such as banks and railroads. He was a part owner of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, which was the only link from the Comstock Lode to the Central Pacific Railroad. The major shareholder in the railroad was William Sharon, whom William Ralston had sent to Virginia City as representative of the Bank of California.[2]

In 1864, with other investors, he founded the Bank of California, which grew large in the 1860s and 1870s, but collapsed due to financial irregularities involving its chief cashier, William Chapman Ralston. Mills used his personal fortune to revive the bank, along with Sharon, and attract new investment, and within three years, the bank was again strong.[2]

Later life[edit]

In 1880, two years after resigning from his second term as the president of the Bank of California, Mills returned to New York, where he participated in the development of a number of buildings in Manhattan, including 160 Bleecker Street, or "Mills House No. 1".[3] He also invested in the Niagara Falls Power Company, one of the first large power companies organized in the United States.[3][9] His devotion to philanthropy involved sitting on the boards of a number of charitable and cultural institutions.[2] He was a trustee of the Carnegie Institution from 1902 to 1909.[10]

Millbrae estate[edit]

The mausoleum of Darius Ogden Mills, in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Mills bought part of Rancho Buri Buri from José de la Cruz Sánchez and built an estate named Millbrae (also known as the Mill's estate and the Mill's mansion), which gave its name to the present town that grew up around it.[11] The estate took three years to build and was an imposing three-story structure featuring 42 rooms, a conservatory, a carriage house, a gatekeepers house, three artificial lakes, a dairy farm, 37,000 acres of land (at its peak), and various manicured gardens.[12][13] Due to a large fire, the estate burned down in June 1954.[12][13]

After the fire the estate was subdivided and sold, with the bulk of the land going to the Paul W. Trousdale Construction Company in 1953 and eventually becoming Mills High School, Spring Valley Elementary School, and Peninsula Hospital.[12][13] The 150 acres (0.6 km2) of the original estate bordering San Francisco Bay were leased by his grandson Ogden L. Mills to be used for Mills Field, now known as San Francisco International Airport.

Personal life[edit]

On September 5, 1854, he married Jane Templeton Cunningham (1832–1888), the daughter of Elizabeth Griffiths (1809–1869) and Scottish born James C. Cunningham (1801–1870), who was a pioneer and shipowner.[3] Together, they had a son and a daughter:[14]

Death and legacy[edit]

He died of a heart attack in 1910 at his Millbrae home, leaving an estate worth $36,227,391.[17][18][19] His remains were returned to the East Coast for burial in the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, New York.[18][20]

A number of local institutions are named for him, include Isabella I of Castile Mills Hospital, the Mills Estate housing subdivision, San Francisco's Mills Building,[21] and Mills High School. The city of Millbrae, California, is named after his estate.[4] The San Francisco airport, was formerly named Mills Field, after him.

The California State Capitol rotunda houses a statue donated by Mills that depicts Queen Isabella financing Christopher Columbus's initial voyage.[22]


  1. ^ Pecuniary Emulation Archived 2007-02-06 at the Wayback Machine by Gray Brechin.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Harrison, Mitchell C. (1902). Prominent and Progressive Americans: An Encyclopædia of Contemporaneous Biography. New York Tribune. pp. 230–235. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Carson, Samuel (1917). The Overland Monthly, Vol. LXVIII. Samuel Carson. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c "DARIUS OGDEN MILLS". The Successful American. Press Biographical Company. 2, Part 1: 14–15. January 1, 1899. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  5. ^ a b Gordon, John Steele (June 1, 2002). The Business of America: Tales from the Marketplace - American Enterprise from the Settling of New England to the Breakup of AT&T. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. ISBN 9780802776358. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  6. ^ Hamersly, Lewis Randolph (1906). First Citizens of the Republic: An Historical Work Giving Portraits and Sketches of the Most Eminent Citizens of the United States. L. R. Hamersly & Company. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  7. ^ Ramirez, Salvador A. (2007). The Inside Man: The Life and Times of Mark Hopkins of New York, Michigan, and California. Salvador A. Ramirez. ISBN 9780615283159. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  8. ^ Bradford, Brad (August 30, 2011). Information Age Tales: From Adam's Apple to the Apple II and Beyond. iUniverse. ISBN 9781462030484. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  9. ^ Jonnes, Jill (August 19, 2003). Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World. Random House Publishing Group. ISBN 9781588360007. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  10. ^ Carnegie Institution of Washington. Year Book No. 47, July 1, 1947 – June 30, 1948 (PDF). Washington, DC. 1948. p. vi.
  11. ^ "Darius Ogden Mills". burlingamefoundingfamilies.wordpress.com. Peninsula Royalty: The Founding Families of Burlingame-Hillsborough. January 26, 2012. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  12. ^ a b c "Millbrae History Walk". Millbrae Historical Society. Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  13. ^ a b c Niekerken, Bill Van (October 10, 2017). "When the Peninsula's most lavish 19th century mansion went up in flames". SFChronicle.com. Retrieved August 14, 2020.
  14. ^ "D.O. MILLS DIES SUDDENLY IN WEST | Heart Disease Unexpectedly Ends Life of the Aged Capitalist and Philanthropist. | BUILT THE MILLS HOTELS | Gained Riches in California During the Gold Rush and Later by Wide Business Activities Here" (PDF). The New York Times. January 5, 1910. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  15. ^ "Ogden Mills Dies At His Home Here. Financier Is the Victim of Pneumonia After Three Weeks Illness. He Was 72 Years Old. Active in Many Philanthropies and Long a Leader in Social Affairs. A Native of California. Interested in Racing" (PDF). The New York Times. January 29, 1929. Retrieved December 18, 2013. Ogden Mills financier and father of Ogden L. Mills, Under-Secretary of the Treasury, died at 1:30 A.M. today at his home, 2 East Sixty-ninth Street, following an illness of more than three weeks. ...
  16. ^ "Reid Sails for Mills Funeral" (PDF). The New York Times. January 6, 1910. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  17. ^ "D. Ogden Mills Dies Suddenly. Financier and Philanthropist. Father of Mrs. Whitelaw Reid Fortune Estimated at $60,000,000 Mr. Reid to Attend Funeral". Hartford Courant. January 5, 1910. Retrieved May 10, 2011. Darius Ogden Mills, the financier and philanthropist and father of Mrs. Whitelaw Reid, wife of the United States ambassador to Great Britain, died of heart disease at his winter home near this city last night, aged 84 years. Mrs. Reid, who came to California with her ...
  18. ^ a b "Mrs. Reid and Ogden Mills Inherit All Save $400,000 Left to Public institutions" (PDF). The New York Times. January 18, 1910. Retrieved May 10, 2011. The will of Darius Ogden Mills was filed yesterday in the Surrogates Court. It was a comparatively short document, and with the exception, of six bequests to public institutions, divided the estate, which has been estimated at between $50,000,000 and $60,000,000, equally between his two children -- Ogden Mills and Elisabeth Mills Reid, wife of Ambassador Whitelaw Reid.
  19. ^ "FIX MILLS ESTATE TOTAL $36,227,391; Son and Daughter Receive $17,509,901 Each After Deductions Are Made" (PDF). The New York Times. April 18, 1914. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  20. ^ "D.O. MILES BURIED; MR. REID TOO LATE; Ambassador, Who Crossed Ocean for Funeral, Still Stormbound on the St. Louis" (PDF). The New York Times. January 15, 1910. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  21. ^ Times, Special To The New York (October 15, 1908). "D.O. MILLS GIVES BUILDING.; Presents $2,500,000 Structure In San Francisco to Son and Daughter" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved April 24, 2017.
  22. ^ Biennial Report of the Board of State Capitol Commissioners to the Thirty-Ninth Session of the Legislature of California. Sacramento, California: W. W. Shannon, Superintendent State Printing. 1911. Retrieved April 24, 2017.

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