New owners find refuge at Bliss Mansion

Joyce Harrington and her husband, Ron Smith, weren't looking for a lifestyle change when they first stepped into Carson City's historic Bliss Mansion, but that's what they got.

They fell in love with and purchased the mansion in September 2001.

"I don't consider myself an antiques buff and I'm not interested in old houses, but I walked in the front door and knew this was it," Harrington said. "I just saw the place and something clicked."

Harrington left the high-tech business after 25 years, primarily in sales and operations. Smith retired after 30 years in the San Jose school system, where he taught history.

There were a few bumps in the road. Smith wasn't crazy about the idea at first and Harrington continued a commute to the Bay Area three times a week until recently. But the couple made the adjustment to Nevada living with room to spare.

"The whole area is delightful. Go a few blocks in almost any direction, and you're in the wilderness," Harrington said. "The neighbors are great and the house has incredible potential. We've got something special on our hands."

Built by Comstock lumber baron Duane L. Bliss, the nine-bedroom home sits atop a small knoll opposite the Governor's Mansion, a tribute to the opulence and wealth created by Virginia City's Comstock Lode.

The house was built entirely of clear wood and square nails, the exterior beam is a solid piece extending from the first to the third floors. The mansion retains its original Italian white marble fireplaces, moldings and staircase.

The couple bought the mansion from Teresa Sandini, who purchased it after the death of her husband in the early 1990s. She restored and converted the mansion to a bed-and-breakfast. According to Harrington, she did the real work.

"She put her heart and soul into it," Harrington said. "It gave her a purpose after her husband's death. She feels the project saved her life."

The restoration preserved some of the original fixtures, like the wallpaper in the foyer, but much was lost through the years and Harrington is looking for a picture of the inside of the mansion around the time it was built, in1879.

Harrington and Smith are marketing their new enterprise with new brochures and a Web site. They've also opened the home for a number of local events, including the Wild West Tour and a quilt show.

"We're in the heart of Carson City and history emanates from here," Harrington said. "It's time locals saw the inside.

"This house has magnetism. It's as if it wants people to come and when they do, it lights up," she said. "It's not us, it's this house, its history and how everything came together in Nevada. We both feel it's a privilege and an honor to own a historical treasure like this one."

Once an aspiring guitarist, Smith backed out of the music business when he was young, but the couple hosts many of the musicians playing locally at the Brewery Arts Center and The Upstage Center.

Blues singers Tom Paxton, David Cohen and Roy Rogers have stayed at the mansion, in addition to physicians interviewing at Carson-Tahoe Hospital.

"Some of the musicians performing here, like jazz musician Harvey Weinapel, have spent a lifetime perfecting their art," Smith said. "They can stretch out and relax here, unlike staying in a long string of cut-rate motels."

Smith was quick to add that caring for the 7,700-square-foot house is a full-time job and the grounds include 3/4 of an acre and 80 rose bushes.

He said he sees a lot of similarities between Santa Cruz and Carson City with respect to the arts.

"Carson City could become a performing arts mecca, in part because it's located between South Lake Tahoe and Reno," he said. "We'd like to see Carson City somewhat on the map -- as a getaway."


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment