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This historical marker denotes the location of the first commercial building in Mayfield, now known as Palo Alto. James Otterson constructed and maintained a small hotel at this site, providing lodging and meals to the cattlemen and lumberjacks who worked in the area when Palo Alto was heavily forested. During this period, this section of northern California produced lumber and beef instead of tech products. The hotel also served travelers and provided temporary housing for early settlers to the area. Otterson sold the hotel in the late 1850s. During the Civil War, the hotel was a gathering place for area recruiters, leading many men to sign their enlistment papers near this historical marker.


  • The Palo Alto Historical Society provided the research that led to the dedication of this marker in 1969.

A native of Canada, James Otterson lived in Putnam County Illinois until 1852, when the prospect of making a fortune led him to California. Like most of the successful fortune-hunters, Otterson focused on building a business rather than looking for gold. Otterson built a tavern and hotel at this site, which was strategically located on the road that connected the lumber producing communities near San Jose with the growing city of San Francisco. His tavern was called Uncle Jim's Cabin. It is believed to have been the first building in Mayfield. 

Because of its advantageous location, Uncle Jim's Cabin became a successful business. The tavern was in an ideal location to serve travelers making the trip from San Jose to San Francisco, as well as cattle ranchers who regularly drove their teams to the city this way. Later, during the Civil War, the tavern would be used as a recruitment station for the Union Army.

Otterson sold the hotel in the 1850s and drops from the historical record until 1886, when he died at the San Mateo County Poor Farm. His remains were later moved to the Union Cemetery in Redwood City. 

James Otterson, Sr., Historic Union Cemetery, (accessed 7/26/16 ) http://www.historicunioncemetery.com/Person.php?person=Otterson%2C+James James Otterson Sr.. Historic Union Cemetery. Accessed July 22, 2017. http://www.historicunioncemetery.com/Person.php?person=Otterson%2C+James.