Businessman. He was a 19th Century railroad tycoon, best known as a founding partner and Treasurer of the Central Pacific Railroad. Born in Henderson, New York to a family of Puritan roots, he started his career in the mercantile trade at the age of 16, first as a clerk in Niagara County, New York and then at Lockport as a leading partner in Hopkins & Hughes. He began studying law in 1837, but he gave it up to join the California Gold Rush. He opened a general merchandise store in Placerville in 1849, hauling his own goods from Sacramento with an ox team. He expanded into the wholesale grocery business the next year and later partnered with Collis P. Huntington in 1855. Huntington & Hopkins initially entered the hardware business in Sacramento, and later combined forces with Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford to form the celebrated "Big Four" partnership, which tackled much bigger enterprises. When the Central Pacific Railroad Company was organized by the Big Four in 1861, Hopkins became Treasurer, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. Every project the partnership embarked on was submitted to Hopkins for his final approval. All the other partners had implicit faith in his judgment, honesty, and integrity. Collis Huntington once remarked that he "never thought anything finished until Hopkins looked at it." After the Central Pacific the Big Four built the Southern Pacific, which spanned all of California and provided a second transcontinental route. In private life, he was a member of the Congregationalist Church. He married a cousin, Mary Sherwood, in 1854. They had no children of their own, but did adopt one son, Timothy. Although wealthy, the couple lived simply, almost ascetically (Hopkins was a vegetarian) until the 1870's when Hopkins yielded to pressure from his wife, purchased half a city block on Nob Hill in San Francisco from Leland Stanford, and built a mansion. Hopkins did not live to see the completion of his splendid new residence; after a winter of crippling pain caused by rheumatism, he made a trip to inspect Southern Pacific's lines in Arizona, seeking warmth, sunshine and relief from his pain. He died in his sleep aboard his private rail car in Yuma at age 64. At the time of his death, the value of his estate was estimated at $40-50 million.
Bio by: Edward Parsons
Mary Sherwood Hopkins-Searles