Timothy Hopkins, the man whose adopted last name would become associated Hopkins Seaside Laboratory, was born Timothy Nolan, the son of Irish immigrants, on March 2, 1859 in Augusta, Maine. His father, Patrick Nolan, born at Glenmore, Ireland in 1829, came to New England in 1852, settled at Winthrop, Maine, where he found employment in an oilcloth shop and married Catherine Fallon. Three years later, in May of 1862, Patrick Nolan was lured from Maine by the gold fields of California. To earn money for the passage west for his wife and three children - Thomas, Timothy, and their new infant daughter, Margaret - Patrick Nolan took up work as a dockhand in San Francisco. Unfortunately, on the very day that his family set sail for California, Patrick Nolan fell into the San Francisco Bay and drowned. In another level of despair for the widowed Caroline Nolan, was the loss of her infant daughter Margaret, during their voyage to the west taken by way of the Isthmus of Panama.
Arriving destitute in San Francisco, with her two young son’s Timothy and Thomas Nolan, the widowed Caroline Nolan traveled to Sacramento and found work tending to the household of railroad magnate Mark Hopkins and his wife, Mary Frances Sherwood Hopkins. As a child, Timothy Nolan often visited his mother while she worked at the Hopkins residence. Mark and Mary Hopkins, themselves childless, were delighted by the young boy who they increasingly treated as a member of the family and welcomed him to live in their home. About that time, Mark Hopkins became identified with the great overland railroad enterprise, which brought the family a significant amount of wealth.
Growing up in Hopkins’ household, Timothy Nolan was provided with a fine education, attending public school in Sacramento and the Urban Academy of San Francisco, where he was prepared for Harvard University. In short time, Timothy Nolan became a friend of Hopkins' neighbor and business partner, Leland Stanford and his wife, Jane Stanford.
The death of Mark Hopkins in 1878 changed the life of the young Timothy Nolan, forcing the cancellation of his plans to attend Harvard University, and taking up an active role in the management of the Hopkins financial affairs. Court proceedings were quickly arranged that allowed Mrs. Mary Hopkins to formally adopt Timothy Nolan as her son in 1879. In November of 1882, the “now” Timothy Hopkins married the niece of his adopted mother, Mary Kellogg Crittenden in New York City. In January 1883, Timothy Hopkins, at the age of twenty-four, was next made treasurer of the Central Pacific Railroad. In this position, Tim Hopkins gained the experience that would serve him well in later years as an officer and director of some of the largest industrial and financial enterprises of California. In 1884, Timothy Hopkins was appointed by the founders of Leland Stanford Junior University to be one of the original Board of Trustees, a position he served continuously throughout his life. Whether it was due to his position as a trustee of the new university or because of his summer residence nearby, Timothy Hopkins, with the Leland Stanfords' support, purchased the land that would become Palo Alto. The new town was laid out in 1887 and named University Park. The name Palo Alto was not adopted until 1892.
Both Timothy and his wife Mary Kellogg Crittenden Hopkins were among the staunchest supporters of the University and of its founders. At the very beginning of the University's work in 1891, Timothy Hopkins provided a portion of the funds necessary to build and equip the Hopkins Seaside Laboratory of Natural History in Pacific Grove, California. In the early 1890s, Hopkins resigned his railroad positions and devoted his time to other business interests and to the young university. He became a major supporter of the university, especially in the years after Leland Stanford's death, when funds were scarce. At the same time, he presented to the University his valuable railway library of 15,000 bound volumes and pamphlets, one of the most complete in existence. He also made large gifts to the library and museum of biology and has maintained a series of publications.
During his lifetime, Timothy Hopkins was president of the Southern Pacific Milling Company, a director of the Wells Fargo Bank and Union Trust Company, a life member of the board of trustees of Leland Stanford, Jr., University, and had served as a director of the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company, and the Union Ice Company. He was a life member of the University Club and a member of the higher order of Masonry. When Timothy Hopkins died in 1936, he left approximately one million dollars in a trust and designated that sixty per cent of its income be used to maintain the library, research and development of the Hopkins Marine Station.