William Augustus Brewer

The Rev. William Augustus Brewer surpassed his father as a leader in education, religion, and community development in San Mateo County.  William was born in 1863 in Detroit, Michigan two years before his parents packed up the family to start a new life in California.  After graduating from St. Matthew's Hall and the University of California Berkeley, he returned to work at his father's school and eventually took over as headmaster.  One of his early milestones was moving the school to a fine new campus in the hills west of San Mateo in 1892.  Then, three years later he married Ellen Douglas Wheaton who bore two sons, Wheaton in 1897 and William in 1900.  

The earthquake of 1906 may have been a turning point in the career of William Augustus.  For a few years after that event, many well-to-do residents of San Francisco moved their households to the calm and picturesque slopes of San Mateo County.  This migration led to the rapid development of Burlingame and the establishment of Hillsborough on its border.  William played a leading role in both cities, first as the founder of St. Paul's Episcopal church in Burlingame (1909) and then as the mayor of Hillsborough (1910 - 1925).  St. Matthew's Hall closed in 1915, but William continued as Rector of St. Paul's until two years before his death in 1931.  One of the church buildings is named Brewer Hall in his honor, and one of the streets in Hillsborough was named Brewer Drive.

The U.S. Census of 1910 shows a long list of members of William's household on the school grounds.  In addition to the immediate family, there were four boarders (students or staff members) and eight servants.  When the school closed five years later, the Brewers moved into a small house at 728 Fairfield Ave. in Burlingame only a few blocks from St. Paul's Church.  The modest bungalow is still there in apparently good condition.  William's granddaughter Elizabeth Brewer Sprunger remembers visiting the home as a child in the 1920's and sitting uncomfortably on a horsehair sofa in the parlor.  The U.S. Census of 1920 lists only William, Ellen, Wheaton, and William, Jr. as residents.  Ten years later, the census lists only William Augustus, a female servant, and William's second wife, Augusta LaMotte, whom he married two years after Ellen died in 1927.  Augusta was a member of the well-known DuPont family of Wilmington, Delaware.

As an educator and clergyman, William Augustus was not a man of great means, but he moved in circles that included wealthy members of society.  His name appears in the Burlingame Blue Book Directory (1924) and the Burlingame Country Club (1924).  Perhaps these connections were a natural result of holding several public offices in San Mateo County.  In addition to his work at the school, in the church, and on the Hillsborough City Council, he was the president of the San Mateo County Development Association.  He served on the County Planning Commission and the Peninsula Bureau of the Chambers of Commerce.  During World War I, he chaired several liberty loan and war saving stamps committees, and he was Secretary of the War Commission of the Diocese of California.  After the war he was a sponsor of the Bursum Act which provided for disabled military officers, and for many years he directed the Red Cross in San Mateo County.  Among his memberships in various philanthropic associations, he was proud to be a charter member of the Sierra Club through which he came to know Robert Louis Stevenson, Joaquin Miller, and John Muir.

With so much public work to do, William probably had little time for hobbies.  For many years he traveled about by public transport and bicycle.  Eventually, his parishioners purchased him a car and taught him to drive it.  One of his pastimes was book collecting which started with a library inherited from his father.  He also received many books from the Rev. William Ingraham Kip, the first Episcopal Bishop in California.  Some of William Augustus' handwritten letters, passed down to his descendants, have to do with the exchange of book plates among friends and other contacts around the country.

With such a strong family tradition of serving the church and the educational community, one would have expected that at least one of his sons would follow in his footsteps, but neither William nor Wheaton did so.  When they both left home as college students, they declared themselves to be atheists and enjoyed some local admiration as published poets before establishing careers in the business world.


Wheaton Hale (1897 - 1959)  

William Augustus, Jr. (1900 - ?)


Questions for further research:

1. What led to the closing of St. Matthew's Hall?
2. Did William ever publish any poems, articles or books?
3. What was William's position regarding the teaching of evolution vs. creationism?
4. Why did William travel to Delaware near the end of his life and marry Augusta LaMotte?

The sources for this biographical sketch:








"Biographical sketch of The Reverend William Augustus Brewer" by Emil G. Reichstetter,  Saint Paul's Episcopal Church


"Talk by Pioneer Minister Proves Very Interesting", San Mateo Times, March 4, 1926

"Mrs. Brewer, Wife of Dean, succumbs to illness here", San Mateo Times, August 24, 1927


Oral histories collected from:

    Elizabeth Brewer Sprunger, granddaughter of William Augustus Brewer

    Ruth Bradfield Brewer, wife of Robert Burnham Brewer, Grandson of William Augustus Brewer


Return to The Brewer Line Home Page