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Frenchman's Tower: Palo Alto

Dear Weird CA;
My friend's family has lived in the area if Palo Alto for generations and showed me Frenchman's Tower, something only locals know about. It was built in 1875 by Peter Coutts, a mysterious Frenchman whose farmland is now most of Palo Alto and Stanford University. It's located on Old Page Mill Road in Palo Alto, on a quiet, one-lane residential street. As you drive past the goats and trees, you suddenly find a red brick tower to your right.

I would say it is about 30 feet tall, and only 5 feet or so from the road. You have to climb over a barbed fence that is obviously bent from previous explorers. My friend's mom told me that in the 1970s the daughter of the Stanford Athletics Director was kidnapped, and they found her body there.

The weirdest thing about Frenchman's Tower is that nobody knows why it's there. The windows were bricked over around 1970, most likely because of arson within the tower (there used to be wooden platforms inside). Most people think it was meant to be a base for a water tower, but the windows suggest otherwise. Others think it was part of a network of secret tunnels, a weapons cache, or a prison for the mad Madame Coutts.

According to the nearby plaque, it was begun in 1875 as a part of Peter Coutts' irrigation system. "His real name was Paulin Caperon  and he was a wealthy newspaper publisher who was banished during The Franco-Prussian War. He fled to California in [1874]".

The historian at the Palo Alto library believes it is a "folly," a decoration to mark the boundries of properties and provide interesting scenery. Whatever it was originally built for, it became very popular for people to visit and carve their names and years on the outside bricks (the dates go back over 100 years, and some people returned decades later to carve it again.)  –Jocelyn Laney


Weird California


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