The Mizners – A Very Interesting Family!

The Mizner Family was one of Benicia’s most interesting pioneer families. They arrived in California at the founding of Benicia in the 1840’s. They built a house and kept a small farm on what is now East L St. near First St. (where the Benicia Public Library is currently.) On January 7, 1847, Benicia founding father, Robert Semple wrote to his step-nephew, Lansing B. Mizner, “Within the last few days I purchased and paid for a site for a city on the Bay of San Francisco (five miles), one-half in partnership with General Vallejo….” Mizner was a native of Illinois where he studied law.  He served in the American Legation in Nueva Granda in Columbia where he learned to speak Spanish.  In 1848 The Mizner family left Illinois to move to Benicia. One in California he also helped settle the city of Vacaville. As a prominent San Francisco Attorney, he was appointed Collector of Customs for the Northern District of California. The district was from San Francisco Bay to the Oregon border.  He was elected to the state senate in 1865 and served as the Chairman of the Commerce and Navigation and the Swamp Land Committees.


In 1848-49 Lansing Mizner joined William Robinson, John S. Bradford and Robert Semple in a Benicia based general merchandise company called Semple, Robertson and Company.  He later joined with Dr. SK Nurse in starting a stage coach line which failed after several months due to the increase in deep water ships traveling up the Sacramento River. He worked very hard to establish the Benicia-Marysville railway line, but while it passed in the house, it failed in the senate. In 1850, Mizner, along with Nurse, Bynum and Benjamin D. Hyam were instrumental in founding the Benicia Masonic Temple, the first in California.  

Mitzer Home

Mitzer Home

Lansing’s wife, Ella Watson Mizner, was reported to be the most beautiful girl in San Francisco in her day.  She survived a shipwreck on her trip to California with her parents.   She was a tender hearted woman who could not bring herself to punish her children so she left that task to her mother, Grandma Watson.  Grandma Watson was more than a match for the Mizner boys.  She once caught two burglars and marched them down Benicia’s streets at the point of a revolver.  When the burglars attempted escape she fired a shot but when no one came, she rang the fire bell to draw a crowd for help.  Once the burglars had been recaptured she admitted that she had fired the only bullet in the gun, the two burglars were understandably upset.

 It had been reported that Ella had high hopes for her sons, she had dreams of one of them becoming President one day.  It was her wish that Addison and Wilson would be bishops or ambassadors.  As they grew older,  she was reduced to praying that they at least stayed out of prison!   Wilson, at 16 ran away from home. He later sent a telegram to his mother for $50, she sent the reply “Sorry, I did not get your telegram”.   This is one of many stories told about the Mizner boys’ antics, especially Wilson and Addison.

The Mizners put up their cousin Edgar, his wife and their two children for 19 months. Edgar was a general in the Army posted to the Benicia Arsenal.  When they finally left he repaid the Mizner’s hospitality with a gift of a silver tureen.  The Mizner boys promptly turned it into a bomb by filling it with their father’s black powder.  The story goes that they placed it in the trellised grape arbor on the family’s land and threw matches at it until it blew up, sending grapes flying as far as St. Mary’s school on East 2nd and L, a block from the Mizner residence. 

When Mr. Mizner installed the first modern toilet in Benicia, his boys gave demonstrations to their neighbors.  They were fond of putting on plays and circus’ in the barn, charging pins for admission.  It was thought that Henry would be an actor, however his mother had different idea’s and tried to steer him towards a career in the church.  Wilson, having access to one of the ex-Army Camels, gave rides to his friends, charging from 1 cent to sit on the Camel up to 10 cents to ride it around the block.

The only daughter, Min, was a handsome girl. The boys enjoyed torturing her suitors and would make the young men pay to see her. The charges continued until the suitors relented and left.  All of them did except one, Arsenal lieutenant Horace Blanchard Chase, managed to keep his wallet shut and win the grudging admiration of the Mizner boys.  Min married him in 1888. Chase later founded Stag’s Leap Vineyards in Napa County.

Wilson and Addison both became famous in their own circles,  Wilson as an American Wit and Addison as an architect, who was instrumental in the development of the city of Boca Raton, Florida, and whose variants on the Mediterranean Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles transformed Palm Beach, 

Wilson’s quote, “Never give a sucker an even break,” attributed to his friend W.C. Fields, is one of many misplaced sayings developed by Wilson.  Some of his other more famous sayings are: “I would be satisfied with more money and less prospects,” “The first hundred years are the hardest.’  “Be nice to people on the way up because you’ll need them on your way down,” and “The most efficient water power in the world is women’s tears.”  In the first twenty years of the Twentieth Century, Wilson gained fame as a New York dilettante, quipster and Broadway playwright.  He was all a sportsman and managed several boxers.

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