The History of Healdsburg’s Victorian Grande Dame – Madrona Manor

August 23, 2014   – No Comments
Madrona Manor Mansion in 1881

Back when Madrona Manor was built in 1881, California had only been a state for a little over 30 years, horse and buggy were the main staple of transportation and women were still wearing the torture devices known as corsets.

Fancy Victorian Dress, 1880's
Victorian Dress 1880's
Red Victorian Dress,1880's

It’s hard to imagine how hard it was to even get up this way from San Francisco without the Golden Gate bridge and very limited train service, let alone take on building anything as grand as Madrona Manor! Fortunately for us Mr. John Paxton had the vision and drive to build his dream summer home here on a hillside in Healdsburg, California.  Here is the full 133 year history…


Healdsburg barn in 1880
 Healdsburg Plaza corner of Matheson and Healdsburg Avenues, 1872
Healdsburg in the 1880′s.  The picture on the right is the Healdsburg Plaza corner of Matheson and Healdsburg Avenues.


John Alexander Paxton was an extremely prosperous man engaged in many successful endeavors, including mining, banking and lumber, and later helped promote the fledgling wine industry in Sonoma County. He served as a State legislator from the Yuba County area.  In 1879, John Paxton bought 240 acres for $10,500.00 as a site for his home. In March of 1880, a contract was given to Ludwig and Guerne to erect a home for $12,000.00 west of Healdsburg across the Dry Creek bridge. The place was known as Madrona Knoll Rancho, and it was the grandest of show places in the 1880′s and 90′s. All of Healdsburg felt pride in its existence. Paxton was held in awe by most of the town’s people. Healdsburg workmen were employed almost exclusively on the building. The first story was up in June and, in July, 3,000 feet of manufactured gas piping was laid. By the end of the year the house was complete with its three stories,  17 rooms, 3 ½ baths and 7 fireplaces. Every Monday morning John would either ride horseback or be driven to the depot to entrain for the metropolis of San Francisco, and every Friday evening on his return he would be met at the train station by his groom, Mr. Zimmerman, with a saddle horse or members of his family in an appropriate rig.


Madrona Manor built in 1881
Madrona Manor Main Front Entrance and Terrace


The Paxton family consisted of John and Hannah, their two sons, Blitz and Charles (both grown and not living at home) and a sister of Mrs. Paxton’s, Miss Ruth McClellan, who, for a time taught at the local school. There was a coachman, a footman, a groom, several maids and at least one indentured servant. Paxton purchased the forty acre Sterling Ranch in 1881, and five years later began a winery at a cost of $10,000.00. Joe Deluchi laid the stone work, making the walls four feet thick at the base and two feet at the top. The winery was 50′ x 70′ and 2 ½ stories high. Its capacity was 75,000 gallons and designed to utilize the grapes from Paxton’s upland vineyards. The winery was severely damnaged in the 1906 earthquake and it stood unused for 35 years until it totally collapsed in 1941.  The stones from the winery were repurposed to form the boarder along the drives of the estate.


Madrona Manor's Poppy Room 1881
Madrona Manor's Poppy Room
The Poppy Room then and now.  If anyone has any idea who the woman in the picture is, please let us know!


Madrona Manor's Lobby  in 1881
Madrona Manor Lobby Fireplace
Madrona Manor lobby fireplace then and now – it still has the original tile work.


Madrona Manor's Hallway,  1881
Madrona Manor Antique Cabinet
This ornate cabinet still lives on the first floor of the mansion


Madrona Manor's Poppy Room, 1881 w/ Bacchus Clock
Madrona Manor Bacchus Clock
 The Poppy Room.  You can see the Bacchus Clock is still over the mantle today!  See the gas lines going to the chandenier in the old picture?


Madrona Manor's Carriage House 1881
Madrona Manor's Carriage House
Madrona Manor’s Carriage House then and now.


In 1881 Mr. Paxton left New York for business in Liverpool and died aboard the steamer just short of his 69th birthday. Funeral services were held in Healdsburg on June 19, and his body was interred in a stone vault on the eastern slope of Madrona Manor under a favorite evergreen tree. Hannah built a church at Matheson and East Street as a memorial in 1888. She died in 1902, at which time Mr. Paxton’s body was exhumed and both were taken to San Francisco where their remains are buried.

Their son, Blitz, took over the family home as well as the presidency of the bank of Santa Rosa following his father’s death. He then married Jenny Bates, which caused a family disruption.  Their other son, Charles, took his own life after some financial problems and the loss of his wife to another man. Madrona Knoll Rancho was retained by Blitz and was used as a weekend retreat until he sold it circa 1912. The property remained a private residence and through the years fell on hard times and enormous disrepair.  On it’s 100 year birthday in 1981 it was saved from ruin and  fully renovated and given a new life as a world-class country inn and restaurant.


Madrona Manor - Carriage House in 1978
Madrona Manor's Main Mansion in 1978
Madrona Manor falling on hard times in 1978.  Pink is not it’s color!


In April of 1987 the Madrona Manor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historic District.

Bill and Trudi Konrad purchased Madrona Manor in April of 1999.  Bill was a longtime employee of Ernst & Young accounting firm, he and Trudi live in Healdsburg.   They take great pride in the mansion and have taken enormous care to polish the manor up to it’s stunning state today.  Trudi loves the antiques and is always rearranging and adding to the enormous collection.   Many of the original antiques of the house still live on today in the various guest rooms and in the restaurant.   You can see Bill daily around the inn chatting with guests and deciding  new renovations to take on.   Although Madrona Manor is now an inn and restaurant, it still feels like a home and the staff are definitely a family.   We are excited that guests can come to the manor and experience this history for themselves by staying  in one of our 22 guest rooms or dining in our world renowned restaurant.

 Mansion Master Bedrooms; #201 then and now, #204 and #203


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Arielle Larson
Arielle Larson, Special Event Coordinator at Madrona Manor

 (707) 433-1542  ext. 111


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