McHenry Mansion showcases lifestyle of a bygone era
By DENNIS WYATT
Managing editor of the
209 staff reporter
MODESTO — The McHenry Mansion in downtown Modesto is an unparalleled treasure from the Victorian era.
Architectural aficionados would emphasize it is a fine example of “Victorian Italianate styling.”
Built in 1983 by farmer-businessman Robert McHenry on a series of city lots that sold for $100 each, the mansion has been restored to its Victorian splendor after being chopped up into apartments in 1923 and used that way for nearly half a century.
Admission is free to the Victorian jewel. Great pain has been taking to restoring the rooms and furnishings to what they would have looked like in the late 19th century.
The mansion is located at 15th and I streets in Modesto. Hours are Sunday through Thursday from 1 to 4 p.m. and Friday noon to 3 p.m. Take Highway 99 south to the Maze Boulevard exit in Modesto. You then turn left at the traffic light at the top of the off ramp and travel to Ninth Street and turn right. Take Ninth to I Street (the Modesto arch is on the right) and travel to 15th Street.
Virtually everything in the home is the real McCoy from the Victorian age. Obviously, they have been restored and new upholstery material and such used when needed. Given the delicate nature of the restoration, it is understandable that there is a strict prohibition against flash photography.
Every room is as it may have appeared in a Victorian mansion 121 years ago from the parlor to the kitchen complete with wood burning cooking stove and servant quarters off the back.
The mansion is decorated and furnished with antiques appropriate to the period when Robert and his wife Matilda inhabited the mansion from 1883 to 1896. Two rooms on the second floor, a bedroom and adjoining sitting room, reflect the period when their son resided in the mansion from 1896 to 1906.
Most residences in Modesto back in the 1880s were built on lots that cost upwards of $40 each, located within three blocks of the train depot. An average house occupied two 25-foot lots. In the 1880's, many beautiful residences were built east of downtown on lots that cost between $75 and $100 each. The McHenry Mansion is the only one of these residences that remains.
Shortly after building the Mansion, McHenry founded the First National Bank of Modesto. He also was named first board president of the Modesto Irrigation District. From 1884 to 1887, the home at 15th and I Streets was opened to the community on New Year's Day, a practice that many of the wealthier homeowners also took part in.
Oramil McHenry, Robert's son, inherited the McHenry Mansion upon his father's death. In 1903, he owned, according to the Stanislaus County Weekly News, about 8,000 acres in the two irrigation districts.
The neatest thing about the mansion is the fact visitors can wander through the rooms and soak up surroundings at a leisurely pace. There are, of course, roped off areas.
The mansion was saved from being turned into a parking lot by Julio Gallo Foundation that purchased in 1972 and donated it to the city.
Donations are accepted to help further the restoration while the grounds and the mansion can be rented for special occasions such as weddings. You can call Laura Mesa at (209) 652.7190 to see whether a date is available and for information on rental fees. Feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org.