Eilley Bowers' Mansion of Sorrows
Bowers Mansion, 1940
From Scotland to America
Eilley Bowers' mansion of sorrows started as a dream come true. Coming from Scotland at the tender age of seventeen she had hopes, dreams, and a strong will to succeed.
Growing up in Scotland, Eilley had no idea what her future held, but she had faith in herself and a desire to find happiness in America. Eilley became the richest, most talked about and written about woman in Nevada history. She was a woman of strong will, determination, and stamina. She was motivated, innovative and a smart business woman.
Allison (Eilley) Oram, came from a large family of ten children. She was born on a farm in Forfar, Scotland, on September 6, 1826. In 1840 or 1841, Eilley married Stephen Hunter, she was just fifteen and Stephen was nineteen. Stephen was from Fishcross, Clackmannan, Scotland.
Stephen and Eilley moved to America in early 1849. Stephen had converted to the Mormon religion sometime around 1847 when they were still in Scotland. Their new home was in the Great Salt Lake Valley where Brigham Young had founded a city for followers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Not long after they moved to the Great Salt Lake Valley, Stephen and Eilley divorced. The reasons for the divorce are not known -- some speculate that Stephen, following customs of his new religion, took a second wife and Eilley would not tolerate that, so promptly divorced him.
For the next few years, Eilley was able to support herself by working in a general store.
Utah to Nevada
In 1853, Eilley married Alexander Cowan, also of the Mormon faith. In 1855 they joined a mission which led them to Mormon Station in the Utah Territory. When the mission relocated to Franktown, Nevada, they resettled near Virginia City and purchased 320 acres of land. The land had a natural hot spring and great potential. Alexander took up farming. Eilley scouted around, found what she wanted in nearby Gold Canyon, and opened a boardinghouse.
When the Utah War (sometimes referred to as the Mormon War), and the Mountain Meadows massacre caused severe problems for the Mormon people in 1857 - 1858, Brigham Young recalled Mormon colonists back from the western areas. Alexander did not hesitate to return at Young's request. However, Eilley did not want to go.
With the help of Robert Henderson, Cowan's nephew, Eilley continued to run the boardinghouse. She hired men to work the farm in Alexander's absence. Cowan returned a few times to be with Eilley. In 1858 he returned to Salt Lake City to never return.
Eilley, keeping 13-year-old Robert with her, moved to Johntown. More and more miners were coming to the Comstock lode and needed places to stay. Eilley opened another boardinghouse in Gold Hill. One of the miners who stayed there was Lemuel Sanford "Sandy" Bowers. Sandy, along with another miner, James Rogers, owned a 20 foot mining claim.
In 1859 Eilley paid Rogers $1.000.00 for his half of the claim. Sandy and Eilley were married in August of the same year.
Lemuel Sanford "Sandy" Bowers
The Comstock Lode hit and made many people suddenly rich. Sandy and Eilley found themselves owners of one of the richest strikes of silver ore in the state of Nevada.
Fortunately for them, the lode was easy to access and remove, because it was so close to the surface -- hence, they did not need to put a high investment in to have it extracted. Their claim brought them over four million dollars. That would be the equivalent of almost $100 million today.
During the highest yield from the mine, they received $100,000 a month. The Bowers became one of the richest families in the United States -- the first millionaires in the state of Nevada.
In June of 1860, Eilley and Sandy were blessed yet again with the birth of their first child, John Jasper Bowers. The baby lived just two months. The following year a daughter, Theresa Fortunatas Bowers, was born. Theresa died at the age of three months.
Not long after their second child died, the Bowers decided to build themselves a magnificent home on the 160 acres Eilley and her husband Alexander Cowan had purchased. Eilley had received the land from Cowan in the divorce settlement.
While the mansion was under construction, Sandy and Eilley set off on a two year tour of Europe to purchase items for their new home.
The tour included London, Scotland, Paris, and Florence. Luxurious furnishing, paintings, statuary, dresses for Eilley, jewelry, silverware, and other household items were purchased.
Returning to Nevada in April 1863, Eilley and Sandy not only had a beautiful mansion to come home to, they brought with them from Europe a darling baby girl.
Many speculations and rumours swirled around society as to who the baby's parents were and where she had come from. The Bowers apparently paid no attention to the gossip and named the baby Margaret Persia Bowers.
Eilley always called her Persia. The happy parents never spoke about the baby's parentage, possibly because there was nothing unusual about it. The baby did strongly resemble Eilley.
The completion of Bowers Mansion with all its beautiful appointments and adornments was a dream come true for Eilley. This lovely and well-furnished home meant prestige and respectability to Eilley. The home was designed with a combination of Georgian Revival and Italianate architecture. The architect's design was based on a model that Eilley herself had created, from memories she had of styles in her homeland of Scotland. Eilley and Sandy even had stone cutters from Scotland hired for the construction.
Sandy and Eilley's marriage was blessed. Their new home, filled with expensive and beautiful furnishings, gave them the status of belonging to the new millionaires of the Comstock Lode mining boom. This "respectability and prestige", along with her beautiful little daughter gave Eilley what she had always wanted. Eilley was content and happy.
Margaret Persia Bowers
For six years the Bowers family had a life of contentment and happiness. Then tragedy struck at Eilley once again. Sandy, at the age of 35, died suddenly. He had a lung disease, Silicosis, which was caused by inhalation of crystalline silica dust from the mines.
Unknown to Eilley, Sandy had not been financially wise. It was soon discovered that Sandy had not handled their financial affairs properly. Loaning out large sums of money without securing collateral, mortgaging their stock, and other ill-planned negotiations, left Eilley destitute.
Sandy was buried on the hillside up behind the mansion in a quiet and shady little pine grove. Wooden steps, curving up the hillside in a peaceful and nostalgic pattern, led to the graveside far above the home Eilley and Sandy so lovingly created.
To survive and try to save her home, Eilley tried many different ventures. She opened up part of her mansion as a resort, she did laundry for the Comstock miners, she held seances for society people, billed herself as a seeress, she held huge parties for society people, and anything she could think of to earn money.
During this time of sharing her home with so many other people, she thought it best to send Persia to Reno to live with friends and attend school there. In July of 1874, an outbreak of four deadly diseases hit Reno -- typhoid, malaria, diphtheria, and cholera had taken many lives.
Eilley was notified that Persia was ill with a severe fever. Rushing to be with her beloved daughter, Eilley arrived in Reno to find out Persia had already died. Eilley was now further devastated and totally alone. Persia was buried beside Sandy on the hill behind the mansion.
Eilley was unable to hold on to the only thing she had left, her beautiful mansion. The bank foreclosed on Bowers Mansion and sold it in auction on November 27, 1876, for $10,000.00. Sandy and Eilley had spent well over $630,000.00 to build it.
Eilley moved to Virginia City and continued her seeress career. In 1880, after the decline of the mining industry, she moved to San Francisco.
Graves on the Hillside
Shortly before 1900, Eilley returned to Nevada. Her health was failing and she could no longer continue her career as a seeress. Unable to support herself, she was placed in the Washoe County poorhouse.
Due to a legal dispute between California and Nevada as to which state should pay for her care, Eilley was given $30.00 cash and sent to San Francisco -- it had been decided California should see to her welfare. Eilley died in Oakland at the King's Daughters Home on October 27, 1903.
The urn containing the ashes of Alison "Eilley" Oram Bowers was sent to Washoe County, Nevada. Eilley's ashes were buried alongside Sandy and Persia on the hill behind her beloved mansion.
Bowers Mansion Historical Site
Bowers Mansion is currently owned and operated by the Washoe County Parks Department. Some 500 Nevada families have donated period furniture housed in the mansion.
The park blends the historical site with recreational facilities such as a spring-fed swimming pool, picnic areas, and a playground. Tours of the mansion are given in summer and autumn.
- Adults (ages 18-61) - $8
- Seniors (ages 62+) - $5
- Children (ages 6-17) - $5
- Children ages 5 and under are free.
You will note the difference in the mansion from the picture taken in 2012 just here to the right, and the one taken in 1940. An earthquake in April of 1914 destroyed the third floor of Bowers Mansion.
Bowers Mansion in 2012
Georgian Revival and Italianate Architecture
Bowers Mansion is located in Washoe City, Nevada. It was built in 1863 by architect J. Neely Johnson in the Georgian Revival and Italianate style. The mansion and grounds were added to the National Register of Historic Places listings in Carson City, Nevada (NRHP) on January 31, 1976.
Bowers Mansion Park is located at:
4005 U.S Highway 395 North
Carson City, Nevada 89704
Park Ranger: (775) 849-1825
Nevada state capital, Carson City
Virginia City, Nevada
Gold Hill, Nevada
Questions & Answers
© 2010 Phyllis Doyle Burns