A Vision That Began with Gold
When James Marshall discovered gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848, the news spread across the country and inspired thousands to head to California. Maine native Llewellyn "Lew" Williams was one of the dreamers who endured the dangerous trip by sailing vessel to pursue his dream.
Williams arrived in Sacramento in 1850 only to conclude that the gold fields would not bring him the easy wealth he desired. He worked his way from store clerk to part-owner of the Pioneer Milling Company, which provided the "49ers" with bread, and quickly became one of Sacramento's successful businessmen.
With his newfound wealth, Williams searched for a location to build a mansion for his wife and daughter. He chose an open lot at 10th and H Streets (an area known as Merchants Row) and hired noted architects Seth Babson and James Seadler who had designed the Stanford and Crocker mansions.
Babson and Seadler designed a house that's considered one of the finest examples of 19th century Italianate-Stick Style architecture in California, complete with intricate bracketing and an irregular design. It was completed in 1885 at a cost of $16,000.
The First of Many Moves
When Williams died in 1891 his partner H.G. Smith acquired the mansion for $30,000 in gold and became president of the Pioneer Milling Company. A few years later Smith sold the mansion to the Van Voorhies Investment Company. In 1906 the investment company moved the mansion from its original corner location about 40 feet into what were formerly the gardens of the house -- the first of three moves it would take during the next century.
An Unexpected Reincarnation
H. Edward Yardley bought the mansion in 1904 for his business and until 1956 Clark, Booth and Yardley was California's oldest operating funeral home. The successor to Clark, Booth and Yardley was Holmes Funeral Home. Mory Holmes ran the business until 1967.
The Party Years
Mory Holmes retired in 1972 and leased the mansion to the University Club, a private group of prominent judges, attorneys, and members of the legislature who used the space for meetings and informal business affairs. Mory took the mansion back in 1978 to open Mory's Place: The Victorian. He served noon meals to downtown workers during the week and rented the space in the evenings and on weekends for weddings, receptions, proms, and parties.
Home Sweet Home(s)
Mory sold the mansion one final time in 1988 to a consortium of developers who wanted to build a high-rise office building on the mansion's property. The developers donated the 13,000-square-foot, four-story landmark to the Golden Gate Council of American Youth Hostels (now HI USA, Golden Gate Council) with one condition: It had to be moved to a new site.
Five years later, the City of Sacramento offered a piece of land directly across H Street that was then serving as a parking lot. Hundreds of people came to watch when the 350-ton structure was moved on October 15, 1994.
After eight months of remodeling and restoration at a cost of more than $2 million, the stately Williams Mansion reopened on May 4, 1995, as the Sacramento Hostel. Public and private sources made generous contributions to HI USA Golden Gate Council, a nonprofit with numerous preservation awards for its adaptive reuse of historic buildings.
The historic mansion made one final move in 2001 -- back across H Street to its original location. This opened up the former parking lot, making room for the expansion of Sacramento's City Hall. The City and HI USA agree -- this is the last move. In its new, original location, the hostel is graced by beautiful grounds for picnics, relaxing, or a game of croquet.