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The Leland Stanford Mansion, a prime example of evolving 19th century architectural tastes, stands as a reminder of much that is to be admired.
This elegant brick home was built during 1856-1857 by prominent Sacramento merchant Shelton C. Fogus. Its design reflected the popular Renaissance Revival style. In June 1861, Leland Stanford bought the Fogus home for $8,000. As the Republican candidate for governor, Stanford felt that the Fogus house—soon to be known as the “Gubernatorial Mansion”—would be a fitting residence for one who aspired to be California’s chief elected officer.
Three governors conducted the business of the State of California in the Mansion—Leland Stanford, Frederic F. Low, and Henry H. Haight. Stanford and Low resided in the home, while Haight used only the office until the construction of the Capitol was completed in 1869.
Born in 1824 near Albany, New York, Leland Stanford was the fifth of eight children. His father, Josiah Stanford, an innkeeper and farmer, engaged in a number of business ventures. Although he showed an early talent for business, his parents guided Stanford to attend law school. After completing his studies, young Stanford became apprenticed to an Albany law firm, where he met his future bride, Jane Eliza Lathrop. Before Stanford left Albany to set up his own law office in Port Washington, Wisconsin, the couple became engaged.
In September 1850 he returned to Albany to marry “Jennie” (his name for Jane), and the couple left for Port Washington. In 1852 a fire destroyed an entire block of the town, including Stanford’s office and valuable law library.
News from the California gold fields helped with their decision to move West. Stanford’s two brothers had become successful Sacramento merchants. Arriving in New York from where they planned to sail, the Stanfords found that Jane’s father was seriously ill. The couple agreed that Jane would remain in New York to care for her father. In June 1852 Stanford sailed for California alone, arriving in San Francisco on July 12. Following a visit to his brothers in Sacramento, Stanford headed to Cold Springs, in El Dorado County, where he went into business as a merchant with a long-time friend, Captain Nicholas T. Smith.
With the decline of mining in the area, Stanford and Smith relocated their store to Michigan City (later Michigan Bluff), where gold was still to be found. Soon his reputation as a sound and fair businessman won him the elected office of Michigan Bluff’s Justice of the Peace.
Jane and Leland Stanford, while separated for three years, wrote to each other with regularity. Receiving news of Dyer Lathrop’s death, Stanford returned to Albany to move his wife to Sacramento. Stanford would become the sole owner of the Stanford Brothers Store.
As a successful businessman Stanford would become friends with a highly influential group with important connections, including the hardware dealers Huntington and Hopkins, and the Miller brothers who owned a store, the E. H. Miller & Company. Stanford would join these merchants, along with dry-goods store owner Charles Crocker in helping form California’s Republican Party. As a result, Stanford would become even more interested in politics.
In 1860 he stumped the state for Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign. Leland Stanford served as an advisor to presidents, assisting President Lincoln with California’s political appointments, and helping to guarantee California’s loyalty to the Union.
In June 1861 Leland Stanford became the Republican Party’s nominee for Governor. Prior to the election that year he had been named the president of the newly incorporated Central Pacific Railroad of California. Leland Stanford was now one of “The Associates” (later known as the “Big Four”), with Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins. Leland Stanford was sworn in as Governor of the State of California on January 10, 1862. Jane Stanford would stand by her husband’s side as California’s First Lady.
In the offices he built next to his house, Stanford dealt with the critical issues inherent in the Civil War. Here he managed to cut the state’s debt in half. He also enacted and enforced laws dealing with squatters, boundary disputes, and the security of San Francisco’s harbor. After serving as the last California Governor to serve a two-year term, Stanford would decide to devote himself solely to the Central Pacific Railroad.
On May 10, 1869, two locomotives—Union Pacific’s No. 119 and Central Pacific’s “Jupiter”—drew up facing each other on Promontory Summit, and Leland Stanford swung a silver hammer, driving home the legendary golden spike. This event culminated the building of America’s first transcontinental railroad, an accomplishment that made a continental United States possible.
When it came to social affairs, Jane Stanford dictated various rules of etiquette and presided over formal receptions, dinners and balls. Visitors to the Stanford Mansion included such dignitaries as U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, President and Mrs. Rutherford B. Hayes and his Secretary of War, Alexander Ramsey, and General William Tecumseh Sherman.
In the fall of 1871, the Stanfords began a major expansion of the 4,000-square foot, two-story home. Among other changes, the work involved raising the brick home about ten or twelve feet and adding one story below and one mansard-roofed story above. The original 4,000-square-foot home was expanded to 19,000 square feet. On February 6, 1872, the Stanfords celebrated the reopening of the house by inviting 700 guests to a party described as “brilliantly dazzling” (San Francisco Call, February 7, 1872).
On May 14, 1868, the Stanfords became the parents of their only child, Leland Stanford, Jr. An energetic, intelligent and thoroughly indulged child, Leland, Jr., was the light of his parents’ lives. The Stanfords took him on many travels, visiting historic sites and museums in the United States and in Europe. In 1883 the family traveled to Europe. While visiting Florence, Italy, Leland Stanford, Jr., contracted typhoid fever. Despite the best care by Catholic Nuns, the boy died on March 13, 1884, not quite 16 years of age.
Following the death of their son, the Stanfords decided that if they could not educate their child they would make it their business to build an educational institution in his name. They endowed the Leland Stanford Junior University, and on November 14, 1885, the board of trustees, meeting for the first time, accepted ownership of several properties that would be the site of the new university in Palo Alto.
In June 1893 Stanford, now a United States Senator, died, leaving his estate in chaos. It was fully expected that his entangled estate would keep Jane Stanford from achieving her vision, but she was strong and capable enough to fight a government lawsuit against the estate.
The Stanfords had always been generous, especially in causes dedicated to children. When it seemed that the university might not survive the claims on Stanford’s estate, the widow sold her home in San Francisco and turned over the proceeds and other assets valued at more than $1 million, to the trustees. She succeeded in saving the university from bankruptcy. She continued to oversee its operation until her death in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 28, 1905.
In 1900 Jane Stanford turned over her residence (the Stanford Mansion) and furnishings to the Catholic Bishop of Sacramento, to be used as an orphanage. The Stanford and Lathrop Memorial Home for Friendless Children was managed by the order of the Sisters of Mercy.
Over ensuing years the house underwent many changes—eventually serving the neighborhood as a settlement house. A fire on the fourth floor in 1940 damaged parts of the house, including a stained glass skylight. In the 1950s the Stanford Mansion, under the direction of the Sisters of Social Services, would become a residence for dependent high school girls. In 1957 the house achieved State Historic Landmark status. In 1978 the State of California acquired the property by eminent domain to be used as a state park. The Sisters remained on the property until 1987, when California State Parks assumed control.
For many years, State funds for the restoration of the Stanford Mansion were not available. In a Senate Concurrent Resolution (No. 65), Senator Rebecca Morgan urged California State Parks to use the Mansion to accommodate visiting dignitaries and trade missions. First Lady Gayle Wilson also promoted the need for a prestigious facility for California governors to receive important visitors.
In 1991 Peter McCuen—Sacramento businessman and former Stanford professor—led the creation of the Leland Stanford Mansion Foundation to help raise the funds to restore the Mansion to serve as the Governor’s protocol center and as a historic park with public tours.
Through a groundbreaking public/private partnership, the Stanford Mansion is now returned to its appearance during the Stanford family’s residence in the Victorian era. Historic photographs, many original furnishings, and archaeological and historical analyses have guided the re-creation of the Mansion’s rich details, from crystal chandeliers and gleaming wooden paneling to delicately painted brackets, gilded mirrors, and elaborate draperies.
Today the Stanford Mansion is once again ready to receive California’s most important guests and to provide opportunities for visitors to learn about both the home’s fascinating past and its exciting future.