Washington’s red brick Governor’s Mansion dates from the early 20th century, a time when the concept of a Governor’s Mansion was gaining in popularity—especially among the young states of the West. Providing an elegant residence specifically for the governor was a way for a state to announce its importance and tell the world it had arrived.
The cornerstone of Washington’s Mansion was laid in August of 1908 by Governor Albert Mead, who was voted out of office before its construction was finished. His successor, Governor Samuel Cosgrove, was gravely ill at the start of his term and died before moving into the Mansion. It was Lt. Governor Marion Hay (now suddenly promoted to governor) and his wife, Lizzie Muir Hay, who first occupied the Washington Governor’s Mansion, moving their family into the house in the spring of 1909.
From its beginning the Mansion was designed with a dual purpose in mind, serving both as a space for public events and as a private residence. Every effort was made to use Washington contractors and materials. Bricks for the house came from Seattle; the lime for the mortar came from the San Juan Islands, the sandstone for the trim was quarried in Tenino, and the wooden roof shingles were manufactured in Olympia.
The task of furnishing fell to the Hays. Working with a legislative appropriation of $15,000, they continued the “buy local” effort by purchasing rugs, furniture, china, and flatware from a department store in Seattle. Very little of the original Hay furniture survives inside the Mansion. The grandfather clock on the landing, some bedroom furniture in one of the upstairs guest rooms, and the entire suite of furniture in the state dining room are Lizzie Hay’s choices from 1909.
Unfortunately, the Washington Governor’s Mansion did not age gracefully. Almost from the time it was first occupied, governors complained about the gutters, the roof, the peeling paint, and the inadequate furnishings. The house was partially renovated in the 1930s (most likely at Governor Martin’s personal expense), but by the 1960s it was in such desperate condition that the state faced the question of whether to invest a substantial amount of money in fixing the Mansion or whether to tear it down.
In the early 1970s, largely through the efforts of Governor Dan Evans and his wife, Nancy Bell Evans, the legislature agreed to fund a complete overhaul of the house: new heating, new plumbing, new electrical service, new insulation, and new commercial-sized kitchen. The Mansion was also expanded by adding a number of new rooms to the rear of the house.
When the Evans family moved into the Mansion in 1965, the furnishings in the house were a mishmash of bits and pieces left by former residents. It was the goal of First Lady Nancy Evans to create a Governor’s Mansion that was elegant and well-appointed—an appropriate venue for official state events. The first lady enlisted the help of Seattle interior designer Jean Jongeward, who suggested a plan that centered around English, French and American antiques from the late 1700s and early 1800s. Nancy Evans also founded a non-profit, non-partisan organization, now known as the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, to raise the substantial funds needed to furnish the public rooms of the house.
Almost all of the pieces of art and antique furniture on display today in the public rooms of the Washington State Governor’s Mansion are owned and maintained by the Governor’s Mansion Foundation, at no cost to taxpayers. The Foundation also coordinates and staffs free public tours of the Mansion, offered weekly throughout the year.
All images Courtesy of State Archives except: Historic house and view of the water, “From a Private Collection.” Also Early View “From a Private Collection.”