The breathtaking Leland Stanford Mansion was built in 1856 by Gold Rush merchant Sheldon Fogus, but it is named after one of its prominent later owners, Leland Stanford, who bought it in 1861.
Stanford came to California around the time of the Gold Rush and was a successful merchant and wholesaler. The Governor of California from 1862-1863, Leland Stanford also spent eight years as a senator and, with his wife, Jane, founded Stanford University.
As a pro-Union Civil War governor and president of the Central Pacific Railroad, Stanford negotiated political and business deals at the mansion that helped complete the transcontinental railroad. It is also where Leland and Jane’s only child, Leland Jr., was born on May 14, 1868.
The mansion was expanded in 1872, creating a lasting architectural legacy. Among other changes, it went from 4,000 square feet to a whopping 19,000 and redesigned to reflect the French Second Empire architecture popular at the time.
In 1884, the Stanford’s teenage son tragically died of typhoid fever in Italy while on a European trip. Stanford University was founded the following year, when the Stanfords donated 40 million dollars to start the school (the equivalent of $1.138 billion dollars today).
Leland died in 1893, and his wife oversaw the mansion afterward. In 1900, Jane gave the mansion to the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento, with an endowment of $75,000 in railroad bonds, for the “nurture, care and maintenance of homeless children.” The Sisters of Mercy, and later the Sisters of Social Service, adapted the aging building to their needs. In 1978, the Stanford Home for Children moved to new facilities in north Sacramento.
That’s when the State of California purchased the property for use as a state park. The imposing structure was listed as a National Historic Landmark in May, 1987.
Starting in 1991, the mansion underwent a 14-year, $22 million dollar renovation.
With its 17-foot-tall ceilings and many original furnishings belonging to the Stanfords, the mansion now serves as the state’s official reception center for world leaders.
One odd and mysterious note: Jane Stanford was poisoned while on a trip to Hawaii, resulting her in death in 1905. A culprit was never identified and the mystery remains unsolved. Read a super interesting article about it here.