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Going Back In Time At The Bower Mansion

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A Woman's Story: BowerS Mansion

An Interactive Portal To The Posh Lives Of Millionaires Eilley And Sandy Bowers Where Visitors Can Swim And Play

The Bower Mansion [Photo Credit: Ken Lund-CC]

Sitting on a pristine 50 acres, the historic Bowers Mansion is a step back in time to the 1860s, an interactive portal to the posh lives of millionaires Eilley and Sandy Bowers in Washoe Valley. Not only can visitors explore the fanciful two-story granite mansion, but swim and play on the grounds just as generations of visitors have done since the Victorian era.

A quick tour through Bowers Mansion reveals a unique history that further intrigues guests, a tale of heartache, of adaption and wit. It's definitely a woman's story, women's story, and a story of the local community coming together for a common cause.

During the tour of the Bowers Mansion, which is only open on weekends, curious visitors will learn of the Bower family, the mansion's history. They will also get to explore the mansion itself, seeing the 15 rooms, the historic furniture and décor, all donated from the community, the same community who came in to save the lavish mansion.

Park Operation Superintendent Colleen Wallace Barnum's favorite areas of the mansion is the library, a “neat area” with “stacks and stacks of books.” One of the mansion's owners, the Riders, had also used the library as a “behind-the-scenes place to go and have a drink” during the prohibition. With an old billiard table and ornate furnishings, it's easy to picture what it must have looked like back when it was in full swing...

“It's a great story about the history of Nevada,” said Park Operation Superintendent Colleen Wallace Barnum. “It's a great story of the community coming together to save a really special place.”

So why did the mansion need saving?

Eilley moved to the property in 1856 with her first husband, Alexander Cowan. Back then the property was 160 acres. Eilley and Alexander were living in a small wooden structure, the mansion not yet in existence. When the Mormons called everyone to come back to Utah, said Wallace Barnum, Alexander wanted to go back, but Eilley chose to stay. So the two were divorced.

Entrance Sign Explaining History [Photo Credit: Ken Lund-CC]
The Beautiful Mansion And Surrounding Yard [Photo Credit: Reno Tahoe]

Already, this was peculiar for the time, for a woman to ask for a divorce in the mid-1800s. For a woman to own property. Eilley also received the mining rights up in Virginia City, where people were mining for silver at the time.

There were several different people working the mines up there, including Sandy Bower. That's how the two met. It's said that the two joined their mining claims – and lives – forever. That's when the newly married couple struck it rich.

The Bowers started building the mansion in 1862. It was completed in 1865, after the two visited Europe to get inspiration for the mansion's architecture and design. They also furnished the mansion during their trip. But that isn't all that the couple is rumored to have taken back to the states...

“Eilley had many, many miscarriages and couldn't have children,” stated Wallace Barnum. “But when they came back from Europe they had a child. She was named Persia, which was the ship they traveled back on. As the story goes, there may have been a woman on the boat that died during childbirth and the daughter became the Bower's. That's kind of one of the those mysteries here...”

Unfortunately, Sandy died in 1868, only three or four years after the couple started building the mansion. It's documented that Sandy died of black lung, or miner's death. At that time, the mines stopped paying. Eilley was left with a beautiful mansion she couldn't pay for anymore.

But that didn't deter this strong businesses woman. At the time, the Bower Mansion had a third story, which Eilley converted into a place that could be rented out. It opened up as a resort, complete with hot springs and a pool on the property.

Noted Wallace Barnum: “It became a lavish place for people to enjoy. You were a well-to-be person if you went on vacation there.”

Bowers Mansion continued to operate that way through the early 1870s. It was around this time that Persia died at just 12 years old of appendicitis, not even that long after Sandy's tragic death years earlier.

Inside The Mansion [Courtesy/Bower Mansion]
The Bowers Graveyard [Photo Credit: Ken Lund-CC]
Nevada Veterans Monument [Photo Credit: Ken Lund-CC]

“It's sad. You think of her husband dying. Then shortly after, her daughter died... I think that's why she gave up on the mansion...” That's Wallace Barnum's take on Eilley's inability to keep orders on the property after a while. “She couldn't stay there any longer. Debt collectors were coming after her.”

But, once again, that didn't stop this clever woman. Instead, she once again transformed herself, once again she was able to adapt. This time, Eilley took a crystal ball with her when she left the mansion and moved to San Francisco, penny-less, where she became the Washoe Seeress, telling people's fortunes. That's where she passed away in 1904.

During the time from the late 1870s until 1903 there were several people who took titles to the house, but nobody owned it. That's when Henry Rider purchased the property, after coming across a photo of the mansion, a large house in a beautiful valley.

Rider and his wife fixed up the property and lived there until 1945. At the time he wanted to sell the mansion because they were getting older. The property was listed for $100,000. But the Riders also requested that it remain open to the public, which they had done while they lived there, allowing children and families to enjoy the pools and grounds.

It was the Reno Women's Civic Club – known as The 12 Women – who recognized the opportunity and began bargaining with Rider. They wanted to keep it open as a park and a museum for Nevada's future. An agreement was met: The women would raise $25,000 and then pay the remaining money over time.

The 12 Women created the Bowers Mansion Association, which launched a state-wide campaign to save the mansion. The money was raised and Washoe County also agreed to pay the remaining $75,000. It was reportedly paid off in 12 years and became a Washoe County park. A few picnic shelters were added and restrooms. They also received grants to build a playground and large expanses of grass.

“This story all centered around women,” said Wallace Barnum. “Everything Eilley accomplished was amazing. And it was women who saved the mansion... It's really been kind of a woman's story from the very beginning.”


Olivia Richman

A graduate of East Connecticut State University in Journalism, Olivia has written for Stonebridge Press & Antiques Marketplace among others. She enjoys writing, running and video games. 

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