On the corner of 8th Street and N Street in downtown Sacramento California is a magnificent home that at one time was the residence of Leland Stanford, an east coast educated lawyer, one of the Big Four railroad men of California, a California governor, a United States Senator and the founder of Stanford University.
Today, this historic mansion is a California State Historic Park and a federally protected site.
Like many men of wealth in northern California during the latter half of the 1800’s, their fortunes originated with the famous California Gold Rush. In Stanford’s case, he created his wealth as a merchant and wholesaler during the gold boom years. It’s often been said that the real financial winners during the gold rush were the merchants who sold vital equipment and supplies to the prospectors and miners rather than the people who actually panned and dug for the yellow ore.
Leland Stanford’s two brothers were very successful merchants in Sacramento and after moving west from New York State, he also became a successful merchant selling to miners and settlers. Leland Stanford went into the mercantile business with a good friend by the name of Captain Nicholas T. Smith. Their business operated out of Cold Springs in El Dorado County.
Business Success Led to Political Success
With his success in business Stanford met several influential people including hardware merchants by the names of Huntington and Hopkins as well as dry goods dealer Charles Crocker. Stanford along with the businessmen mentioned above formed the Republican Party of California.
In 1861 Stanford would become the president of the newly formed Central Pacific Railroad and also become the Republican nominee for governor. The Central Pacific Railroad was formed by Leland Stanford, Collis Huntington, Charles Crocker and Mark Hopkins, all names that were significant in early California’s growth. Leland Stanford was sworn in as Governor of the State of California on January 10, 1862 and the Central Pacific Railroad would go on to be the western link of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad in 1869.
The story of how the Central Pacific Railroad scaled the Sierra Nevada mountain range is a fascinating story itself. Constructing the rail lines over Donner Summit through winter snow storms and the building of snow tunnels to cover certain sections of track from snowfalls was one of the most daunting feats in the history of railroad construction. The work performed building the rail line over the Sierra Nevada by Chinese laborers is another unique story in itself.
The Leland Stanford Mansion
The mansion was built in 1857 by Sacramento merchant Shelton Fogus. Stanford purchased the mansion in 1861 for $8,000.
Built in the Renaissance Revival style, the mansion would become known as the “Gubernatorial Mansion” after Stanford’s election as governor. An interesting historical fact about this home is that three California governors conducted the business of the State of California from this massive residence. These were Leland Stanford, Frederic F. Low, and Henry H. Haight. Stanford and Low actually resided in the home during their terms as governor while Haight used only the office until the construction of the California State Capitol was completed in 1869.
Stanford’s Founding of Stanford University
Stanford University resides on 740 acres land that Leland Stanford purchased for a farm. The acreage was located between Menlo Park and Mayfield.
While touring Turkey in 1884 Stanford’s son Leland Jr. was stricken with typhoid fever and died at the age of 15. It was this tragic death that served as the impetus for Stanford University’s founding. Stanford declared that he wanted to do something for the children of California. He decided that the bulk of his fortune would be dedicated for education. Construction started in 1887 and the university opened in 1891.
Palo Alto came into being as a place where both students and faculty could reside. The city of Palo Alto where the university is located incorporated in 1894.
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The Leland Stanford Mansion State Park Today
The State of California took over the property in 1978 with the idea of designating it as a State Park.
It was many years however until funds were gathered together to restore the old mansion. In 1991 Peter McCuen, a Sacramento businessman and former Stanford professor, helped put together the Leland Stanford Mansion Foundation. The organization’s goal was to help raise the funds to restore the Mansion to have it serve as the Governor’s protocol center and as a historic park with public tours.
Funds were secured by a public/private effort and the restoration took place to return the mansion to the way it looked during the years it was occupied by the Stanfords.
Today the Leland Stanford Mansionis used occasionally for California state functions including the welcoming of various important visitors in addition to it’s public tours. Usually groups of twenty people at a time are allowed on tours. You’ll find very knowledgeable tour guides who will tell you about the mansion’s history as well as the charitable endeavors performed by the Stanford family. One of these is the work taken on by Mrs. Stanford to help establish the Stanford Children’s Hospital.
The house truly is enormous and fascinating with the entire building taking up about 19,000 sq.ft. The largest room is the ballroom. The mansion has been beautifully restored and decorated. The interior of the mansion is stunningly beautiful and many will say that there’s a good deal of railroad symbolism depicted in the furniture.
Public tours are operated by the California Department of Parks. The Stanford Mansion Visitor Center and Museum Store is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Guided tours are offered on most days between 10:00 and 5:00, with the last tour at 4:00 p.m. More information to help plan your visit can be found on website www.lelandstanfordmansion.org
(Article and photos copyright 2013 Trips Into History)