Geoff Dornan

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September 6, 2009
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Governor's Mansion celebrates 100 years

For its first 45 years as a state, Nevada didn't have a residence for its chief executive.

That's why there are at least a half-dozen homes on Carson City's west side that can claim to be the home of a governor.

The state Legislature finally got a bill passed to build a mansion in 1907. Gov. John Sparks initially opposed the idea, saying Nevada had more pressing financial needs than a mansion. But he bowed to public pressure and signed the bill appropriating $40,000 to build it.

Sparks made clear he didn't want to live there, and he never did - he died in office before the mansion was built.

The two-story southern colonial style mansion was built at the corner of Mountain and Robinson streets on a slight hill overlooking downtown and the Capitol. Gov. Denver Dickerson and his wife Una moved in July 13, 1909. In September, she gave birth to a daughter, June - to this day the only child to have been born in the mansion.

That makes the mansion 100 years old, which will be celebrated Saturday with an open house at the mansion.

Mansion Coordinator Helen Wiemer said Gov. Jim Gibbons opened the event to all Nevadans, saying it's their mansion.

Two days before that, First Lady Dawn Gibbons is celebrating with a dinner in Las Vegas honoring not only Nevada's six living governors but the century-old mansion. She said proceeds from the black tie dinner at Trump Plaza will all go to Nevada Families for the Treatment of Autism.

The fund-raising effort also includes sales of a new coffee-table book about the mansion, its history and occupants over the years, "100 Years in the Governor's Mansion" by Jack Harpster.

A haunted history

Wiemer says the old reports of a ghost living in the mansion are true.

"I never believed any noises would come from a clock but they do," she said. "And the door on it opens."

Another time, she said she watched First Lady Dema Guinn shut off the music tape upstairs but, after they left and walked downstairs, it turned itself back on.

She said the ghost won't interfere with the Sept. 12 celebration, however, because "he doesn't like noise."

Neena Laxalt, who lived there when her father Paul was governor from 1967-1970, said she definitely believes the mansion has a ghost.

"You could hear footsteps in the attic. You could hear somebody walking up there."

Ross Miller, whose dad Bob served 10 years as governor, moved into the mansion when he was in 7th grade. He said he and his friends wasted a lot of time looking for that ghost.

The mansion was not only a home but also a public building with numerous events every month. That was a problem some days.

"You'd wake up on Saturday morning and come downstairs to find you were going to share your bowl of Cheerios with 300 Shriners," Miller said.

Construction of the Nevada Room in 1998 on mansion grounds cured that by moving most events out of the mansion itself.

Miller said his favorite memory of the mansion was sliding down the grand staircase on a sled.

"You could slide down the stairs, across the floor and out of the house," he said. "I'm not sure anybody had enough speed to get all the way down the front steps but that was the challenge."

And no, he said, that activity wasn't approved by his parents.

Laxalt said her best memory of the mansion is the work her mother, Jackalyn, did during the extensive remodeling in 1967-68.

"All the work she put into it," she said. "The designers, the interior people, she picked out every fabric, every chair."

She said it was all done with donations.

Wiemer said the mansion is in better shape now than any time since she first became mansion coordinator in 1991. She said shortly after the Millers first hired her, there was a major water leak in the ceiling, forcing repairs to the ceiling, pipes, flooring and other interior features.

She said Gov. Bob and Sandy Miller raised $5 million to upgrade the mansion and build the Nevada Room next door which, she said has taken pressure off the mansion itself and allowed it to once again become more of a home instead of a meeting center.

The mansion was designed by George Ferris of Reno, who also designed historic buildings including the McKinley Park School in Reno.

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The Nevada Appeal Updated Sep 7, 2009 06:51PM Published Sep 6, 2009 02:33AM Copyright 2009 The Nevada Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.