Robert Simson (September 13, 1819 – February 12, 1901) was a lawyer, landowner, and trustee of the College of California, 5 the predecessor of the University of California. He is the namesake of Simson Road near Mills College and for a short time owned the land that later became the site of the school. 6 He also was one of the original trustees named in 1876 of what was then known as Mills Seminary. 7

Simson was born in Scotland and came to the U.S. c.1826 (although the 1900 census lists his immigration year as 1820). 9 An 1866 Tribune article says he was educated at Columbia College in New York, graduating in 1841, and that he and N.W. Chittenden came to California together in 1849. 2 An 1895 San Francisco Call article agrees with the 1849 arrival, but says he graduated from Yale College in 1843, and also refers to him as a colonel, while other sources say he was a captain. 8 His obituary says he graduated from Columbia and got a law degree from Yale, 4 but according a to genealogist researching the Reading family, Yale has no record of his attending. He may served as a captain in the U.S. Army 1846-1848 during the Mexican-American War.

He married Jeanette (Janet) Reading (Simson) (August 7, 1842 - 1910), daughter of Major P. B. Reading, at Grace Cathedral in SF in 1866. 1 Reading established the first European settlement in what is now the town of Redding, CA.

The Simsons had one son, Leslie Simson (October 6, 1867 – October 30, 1939). Leslie Simson is noted for accompanying Henry Snow on his African expedition, and for donating for the Simson African Hall at the California Academy of Science in SF, during the Great Depression.

Simson was law partners with Nathaniel W. Chittenden, whom he had known since Columbia College. When Chittenden died his estate was worth approximately $200,000, and his will left apparently everything to Simson. Although people who worked with Chittenden testified to the validity of the will, Chittenden's relatives contested it, and hired detectives who said it was not written by Chittenden. The case dragged on, and in a compromise, Simson deeded the property to them in exchange for $45,000. 2 The Chittenden and Simson Compromise Line (between present day 81st and 82nd Avenues) became a reference for real estate transactions.

excerpt from 1912 map showing Chittenden and Simson Compromise Line10

Links and References

  1. Robert Simson on
  2. The Chittenden Compromise Oakland Tribune May 4, 1886
  3. The Chittenden Estate Daily Alta California March 30, 1886
  4. Captain Simson Passes Away San Francisco Call February 13, 1901
  5. Overland Monthly July 1885
  6. Before Mills Hall (p 22) Mills Quarterly Winter 2002
  7. Overland Monthly November 1885
  8. Frank Pixley's Career San Francisco Call August 13, 1895
  9. Robert Simson 1900 census entry on (free account required)
  10. Realty Union Map of Oakland and Vicinity, 1912