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Stories from the valley

Visiting Sacramento’s Stately Leland Stanford Mansion

Contributed by Keli Gwyn

Located just two blocks west of the state capitol in the shadow of modern office buildings, Leland Stanford Mansion adds an air of elegance to the downtown core. Visitors can step back in time and imagine what life was like for our eighth governor and his wife, Jane Lathrop Stanford.

Upon arriving at the Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park, I kept my camera busy capturing the beauty of the mansion, a fine example of the French Renaissance Revival style the Stanfords favored. Originally built in the mid-1850s, Leland and Jane oversaw two renovations after purchasing it in1861, expanding the house from eight rooms to its present 44—and raising it one story to prevent flooding of the main rooms.

While waiting for our hour-long tour to begin, I perused the informative displays in the visitor center at the back of the property. Our guide gathered our group, and we made our way into the mansion, entering by way of the grand ballroom.Photographs taken by renown Victorian-era photographer Eadweard Muybridge line the walls. They were used to guide the designers who recaptured the grandeur of the mansion when the Stanfords called it home.

Standing in the receiving parlor, the Stanfords’ wealth is evident. Our guide drew our attention to the lace curtains, replicas of the expensive handmade originals, which Jane saw to it puddled on the floor, a not-so-subtle declaration of the family’s elevated financial status. An impressive inlaid table and elegant cabinet that the Stanfords had shipped from New York, two of the finest pieces of furniture in the home, took my breath away.

Other rooms seen on the tour include two dining rooms, the master bedroom where Jane gave birth to the Stanfords’ long-awaited son, Leland Junior, and the two-room office that was used by two governors prior to the completion of the capitol. The offices are still used today for ceremonial services.

Although known for their wealth, the Stanfords were also known for their generosity. When they lost their beloved son to typhoid at the age of 15, they established Leland Stanford Junior University in his memory, creating a lasting legacy. This gift has touched many through the years. In fact, two members of our tour group were Stanford graduates!

The Stanfords’ benevolence didn’t stop there. In 1900, Jane gifted the mansion to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, along with an endowment, to be used for the “nurture, care and maintenance of homeless children.” One room has been maintained in the style of the orphanage, depicting two different eras in which young girls occupied the home.

In 1978, the State of California purchased Leland Stanford Mansion, located at 800 N Street, for use as a state park, and it was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1987. Following an extensive five-year renovation, the house was opened for tours in 2005. Because many of the items inside the house remain the property of others, visitors are not allowed to take pictures, but you can get a taste of what you’ll see here. Free tours are offered daily from 10 am-4 pm, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s and when preempted by an official activity.