Who Was Milpitas’s First Physician?

Drawing of medicine and stethoscopeThe first physician we know of to practice in Milpitas was Dr. William Lester Wilson. He was born in 1861 in Crawfordville, Indiana — then and now the home of Wabash College. One of his neighbors was Gen. Lew Wallace, a Union officer who later wrote the famous novel, Ben Hur: A Tale of the Christ in 1880.

Dr. Wilson married Sara Lucetta (maiden name unknown) and they had five children: Darby, Walter, George, Carl, and Maud. In the late 1880s, he packed up his young family and moved west. He lived and practiced at 10 Capitol Avenue in Milpitas Township until 1904 when he sold the practice to Dr. Rensaeler Smith, who moved to the “downtown” of the village and in 1915 built the wonderful home designed by Frank Delos Wolfe on Main St. (then called San Jose-Oakland Road).

One of Dr. Wilson’s patients was A.P. Giannini, the founder of the Bank of America. Dr. Wilson was a believer in Chinese herbal medicine and periodically traveled to San Francisco with a supply of herbal teas for Giannini. One of Dr. Wilson’s great granddaughters, Judith Hill, recalled that he made her and her siblings take a tea made from the herbs and that it tasted awful.

In 1934, Dr. Wilson delivered his own grandson at the old O’Connor Hospital, then located on San Carlos St. in San Jose.

Dr. Wilson moved from Milpitas to the Scotts Valley area and later lived in a large Victorian house across from the old tannery in Santa Cruz where he practiced until his death on October 14, 1943.

Many of Dr. Wilson’s descendants live in the San Francisco Bay Area.

By Steve Munzel
September 2016