The Wisnom Family

2016 San Mateo County History Makers

Since 1873, this Wisnom Family has played a crucial role in the creation of the mid-Peninsula’s communities with ramifications that have had influence far past the borders of San Mateo County.

The San Mateo County-Wisnom Family story begins with Robert Wisnom who arrived on the Peninsula in 1873. An Irish immigrant who knew how to build things, he was attracted by the opportunity to work on the beautiful Parrott Estate, “Baywood,” just west of the small village of San Mateo. He liked what he saw here, went back to Ireland, got himself a wife (Sarah Donnan) and made the mid-Peninsula his home and eventually the home of generations of Wisnoms that followed.

Robert built many commercial buildings and residential homes in San Mateo, some constructed so well they stand as historic sites today. He became involved in a variety of other businesses, including helping to establish the mid-Peninsula’s first bank, the Bank of San Mateo. He supported a variety of community and charitable causes. He was on the first San Mateo City Council. He watched as his San Mateo grew tenfold, with much of the progress made because of his hard work.

Later his five sons and two daughters also became important builders and leaders of the mid-Peninsula. John operated an important lumber company. Robert J. and William created the enduring Wisnom’s Hardware store. Samuel became a designer, contractor and builder of commercial buildings and some of the loveliest homes of San Mateo Park, Burlingame and Hillsborough. David was the banker of the family. He was major owner and manager of the National Bank of San Mateo. His son David Jr., later managed the bank which eventually merged with Crocker Bank. Daughters Jane and Anne were important to the development of the family’s holdings through the Wisnom Company and participated as leaders in the society life of old San Mateo County. Long after the second generation passed, subsequent Wisnom family members continued to shepherd economic growth with holdings that eventually stretched out to many other parts of California.

However, the great focus of the family has always been local. No wonder why, in 1946, Frank Stanger, the founder of the San Mateo County History Museum, wrote: “Can anyone imagine San Mateo [County] without the Wisnom Family?”