In 1875, a mysterious Frenchman, giving himself the name monsieur Peter Coutts, arrived at the small farming town of Mayfield and purchased a massive tract of land for a stock farm. All of the area soon became abuzz with rumors, as the Frenchman, obviously a man of wealth and education, began large-scale work on his property- known as Matadero Farm- building a country house, a farm, a lake/reservoir and an intricate series of walls and tunnels connecting them all. Finally, at the edge of Matadero Creek, Coutts built this 9.75m tall, two story tower.
The tower was an object of mysterious wonder to the locals. Coutts claimed the second floor held a water tank, while the first floor held a library. Strangely though, the second floor had windows (now bricked up), while the first floor had no door, the building likely connected to the outside world through one of the tunnels. Others pointed out the obvious danger of a leak destroying the entire book collection. For eight years he lived and worked on the farm. Then suddenly in 1882, as mysteriously as he arrived, Coutts vanished, his massive work on Matadero Farm incomplete.
Rumors abounded, especially one that Coutts was a military paymaster who had stolen money from the French army during the Franco-Prussian War and absconded with the ill-gotten gains. With the French government out to arrest him, Coutts built the tower as either a fort or weapons cache or at least a lookout against Gallic agents. Yet this does not explain the poor location of the tower, hidden behind hills along a large creek.
In 1882, Peter Coutts surprised everyone in Mayfield again when he reappeared, albeit only briefly. He quickly sold his massive farm to businessman and Senator Leland Stanford, and evidently returned to France. Leland Stanford, who ran the farm as part of his extensive stables, later (1891) converted it to a University, named after his son.
Later, interpretation of the whole incident came out. Peter Coutts was actually Paulin Caperon, a bank manager of the Bank of Bordeaux. After the Franco-Prussian War, defeat had ignited a financial panic which consumed the bank. As Gallic Law placed bank debt as the responsibility of the managers, Caperon was in danger of complete financial ruin and chose to flee the responsibility. He lived at Matadero until his situation was finally sorted out by the French government, and returned home. Another interpretation came from Caperon's granddaughter, who claimed his flight was not over finances, but his publishing of the "La Liberte" newspaper. This came afoul of Emperor Napoleon III, causing Caperon and his associates to flee abroad.
The mysterious Frenchman's Tower sits, barely remembered, on a back road near where I work. Someone had punched a hole in the bottom of the tower, and graffiti artists have plied their hobby. The holes in the brickwork held the wooden platform that divided the first and second floors, evidently destroyed by arson at some point in the past.