Mansions in the valley built by the same brothers in law
On the corner of M Street and West North Bear Creek Drive in Merced stands the Hooper House Bear Creek Inn (http://www.hooperhouse.com/index.html). This large colonial style home was constructed in 1936 to replace the Huffman Mansion, which burned in 1933.
Merced’s Huffman Mansion was a near twin of Modesto’s McHenry Mansion. The homes were built by brothers-in-law Charles Huffman and Robert McHenry in 1883.
Both men prospered from the development of the Central Valley and its irrigation systems. Charles Huffman acquired land for the Southern Pacific Railroad’s route through the Central Valley and selected the townsite of Merced.
Huffman and McHenry’s 10,000 square foot mansions were the largest and most extravagant homes in the area.
Although Huffman’s house burned, McHenry’s house was saved from demolition by the Gallo Foundation and donated to the City of Modesto in the 1970’s.
It was completely restored and was opened to the public in 1983. It remained open until December of 2011 when it was nearly lost in a fire. A vigilant neighbor and Modesto’s firefighters saved it from total destruction.
Over the past year a second meticulous restoration has removed the signs of damage – much of which was caused by the house’s fire sprinklers. Furniture and art have been cleaned and restored. Wallpaper has been replaced with detailed reproductions of the original patterns.
The mansion is open for tours while the final repairs are being made. When I visited in December, one of the few things remaining was the replacement of the carpeting.
The floor coverings are currently being reproduced by the British factory that made the original ones purchased by Robert McHenry.
The McHenry Mansion is the best-preserved and largest Victorian mansion in Central California that is open to the public (outside of the Bay Area).
Admission is free and you can join a tour Sunday through Friday between 12:30 and 4PM. Tours last at least an hour and are led by docents who are experts about the time period recreated in the mansion (1883-1906).
On our recent tour I learned several new things about life and technology in the Victorian Era, despite having previously toured a number of other homes from the same time period. I was impressed by the success of the restoration.
The interior of the house is close to sparkling like it did on the day it was completed. When the carpet is installed (planned for spring 2013) the effect will be complete.
The mansion is located at the corner of 15th and I Streets in Modesto.
Tours start at the Visitor Center and Gift Store – two doors down from the mansion at 924 15th Street. A ten-minute video shown prior to tours does a great job of introducing the time period and telling the story of the McHenry family.
It is illustrated with an extensive collection of historic images. If you’re looking for unique gifts or special Christmas ornaments, the Gift Store has a nice selection.
All proceeds go to the McHenry Mansion Foundation and its work to maintain this special house.
For more information
To learn more about the mansion, the McHenry family and the early years of Modesto, pick up a copy of Colleen Stanley Bare’s The McHenry Mansion: Modesto’s Heritage. Bare has also written an excellent book about the Huffman family of Merced and their mansion: Pioneer Genius: Charles Henry Huffman.
For more information go to www.mchenrymansion.org/mansion or call (209) 652-7190.
The mansion is decorated for Christmas every year and the garden may be rented for parties, receptions, and weddings.
A regularly-updated event calendar may be found at: http://www.mchenrymansion.org/events.html
Located nearby at 1402 I Street is the McHenry Museum. A vast collection of Stanislaus County historical exhibits and photographs are housed in a former library building that was built for the City of Modesto by the McHenry family in 1912.
The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 12 to 4PM. Due to the size of the museum’s collection and the length of the tours offered at the McHenry Museum, it is difficult to visit both the mansion and the museum on the same day. It is best to plan two separate trips.
For more information about the museum, go to www.mchenrymansion.org/museum
or call (209) 577-5235.
Other historic homes within an hour’s drive of Merced that offer tours include: