The Stanford Mansion is a wonderful gem in California’s capital city and a “must see.” The mansion is a state historical park and is located in downtown Sacramento. It’s also California’s official reception center for entertaining world leaders.
The beautiful, Victorian mansion has an amazing 160 year history. Originally built in 1856, it has been lovingly restored. The tour is FREE and lasts about an hour. There are a few short films that play in the visitor’s center and they are fun to watch. During a tour of the mansion you’ll learn a little bit about the Stanfords, the railroad, and the history of the time.
Trains, gold, politics, the Civil War, Victorian opulence, the mansion represents it all!
The mansion was the home of Leland and Jane Stanford. Leland Stanford was a pro-Union Civil War governor of California, a member of the Big Four, president of the Central Pacific Railroad, and the founder of Stanford University. Historians are divided on the question of whether he was robber baron or the greatest California humanitarian. He was probably both. He made his money selling goods to the miners at inflated prices during the Gold Rush and as governor of California he signed 7 bills benefiting and giving money to the railroad he was president of. Then later in life he used his wealth to endow Stanford University in memory of his son, Leland Stanford, Jr.
Our guide was very knowledgeable and we were fortunate to have him to ourselves. We had lots of time for looking and for asking questions. The mansion is gorgeous on the outside and it continues to impress on the inside, however we were not allowed to take pictures of the interior. Our guide told us this was to protect historic contents from flash photography, and due to copyright issues. So many beautiful things!
The original mansion, built by a wealthy Gold Rush merchant named Sheldon Fogus in 1856, was originally 4 rooms. Both the Fogus and the Stanfords remodeled the house during their ownerships and today the elegant home has 44 rooms and is over 19,000 square ft.
The majority of the home was restored to the period the Stanford were in residence. It was decorated by Mrs. Stanford herself and it had all the modern up-to-date amenities of its time such as an intercom system and indoor plumbing. The restoration and rehabilitation of the mansion took 14 years and $22 million. Re-created carpeting and draperies were based on photographs from the 1870s to match the original interior design. In each room, our guide shared those photo with us. I was impressed by how close the restoration was to the photos.
Original period furnishings that belonged to the Stanfords had been stored in the attic. They were brought out and cleaned, repaired, or refinished. Other pieces were reproduced. I loved the 19 foot ceilings, the elegant 19th century crystal and bronze light fixtures, gilded mirrors and exquisitely detailed carved moldings, custom lace and lush brocades for the window treatments, beautifully restored wood scroll work and the glimpses at life in the Victorian age.
In 1900 Mrs. Stanford gave the home to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento along with a small endowment for the “nurture, care and maintenance of homeless children.” The Sisters of Mercy ran it as an girls’ orphanage named the Stanford and Lathrop Memorial Home for Friendless Children. A small room on the third floor is fitted out as a dormitory room representative of the 50 years the home was run by the diocese as an infirmary and home for orphaned girls. The Sisters of Mercy also had ran an infirmary for the influenza epidemic of 1918.
The lovely mansion also California’s official reception center for entertaining world leaders. It was a lovely tour of the mansion. The gardens surrounding the mansion is small but filled with heirloom roses. The Visitors Center includes some interesting exhibits on the Victorian period in Sacramento and the restoration of the mansion. There is also a small gift shop.
For other free, family-friendly things to do in Sacramento, check out my guest post on Traveling Moms, Free Fun Things for Families to Do in Sacramento.