Alfred Lee Brewer
Alfred was born into a large family in 1831, nine years after his parents were married. He surely had many fine examples to follow, but ultimately he chose a career like that of his grandfather, Rev. John Tyler. Alfred attended Trinity College in his home town of Norwich, Connecticut and received an Episcopal ordination.
The young minister served as a curate at the Church of Epiphany in New York (1856-57) and then as a rector of a church in Detroit, Michigan. Probably, while in Detroit he met and married Frances Chittenden Hale who was born in that city in 1844. In 1865, two years after the couple's first child was born, the Episcopal Board of Missions persuaded Alfred to uproot his family and start a new church and school for boys in faraway San Mateo, California. From the East Coast, they took a steamer to Panama, crossed overland to the Pacific, and took another ship to San Francisco.
San Mateo in 1865 was a village of 150 people surrounding a grocery store and a railroad station. There, Alfred established St. Matthew's Church and started a military academy for boys called St. Matthew's Hall at what is now 415 South Ellsworth Street. He was also much in demand to preside over funerals, weddings, and baptisms in neighboring communities. Meanwhile, Frances Brewer worked as a teacher at the Laurel School for Girls in San Mateo. The couple also founded two orphanages - The Armitage (for boys) and Maria Kip (for girls).
Several accounts mention St. Matthew's Hall as having a high reputation among secondary schools throughout the Pacific Slope. The Brewer household must have prospered along with the growing reputation of the academy. One notable document from 1880 is the listing of Brewer household members for the U.S. Census of that year. In addition to Alfred and Frances there were two sons, two daughters, Alfred's brother Charles and nephew Lyman, and eight servants. During that same decade the Queen of Hawaii visited the school to observe the progress of her nephews who were students there. Rev. Alfred Brewer reportedly glossed over their academic deficiencies for the sake of diplomacy. At the end of the term, however, the boys were asked to leave in order to be given "practical training".
In 1892, the school directors found more suitable space for the campus on an estate in the area later named Hillsborough a few miles from San Mateo. Both of Alfred's sons had graduated from St. Matthew's and the older son, William Augustus, followed in his father's footsteps becoming both an Episcopal minister and the headmaster of the school. Alfred died on February 16, 1899 of unknown causes. Adelaide lived until about 1950 and is fondly remembered by a few older members of the Brewer family as Aunt Taddie.
A. (1863 - 1931)
Edward C. (1865 - ?)
Adelaide W. (1868 - ?)
Susan M. (1871 - ?)
Questions for further research:
1. Did Alfred serve as a military chaplain during the Civil War?
2. Why was St. Matthew's Hall set up as a military school?
3. What was Alfred's attitude about protecting the interests of California Indians?
4. Did Alfred or Frances ever travel to the East on the transcontinental railroad?
The sources for this biographical sketch:
La Peninsula, The Journal of the San Mateo County Historical Assn., Winter/Spring 2002/2003
"St. Matthew's Church - 107 Years Later", San Francisco Chronicle, Millie's Column, by Millie Robbins, October 1973
Return to The Brewer Line Home Page