Stateline Story

Perry Not Alone as Gov Without a Home

  • June 16, 2008
  • By Nathaniel Weixel
Photo courtesy of the Texas governor's office
The Texas governor's mansion was nearly destroyed in a June 8 fire. The governor's office has posted pictures from the fire online .
Governors' mansions - the official residences where states' chief executives and their families live - have made headlines lately with the one in Texas reportedly torched by an arsonist and Nevada's at the center of the governor's messy divorce case.
 
Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) has vowed to completely rebuild the state's mansion after it was nearly destroyed in the June 8 fire. In Nevada, Gov. Jim Gibbons (R) recently moved back into his official residence after his estranged wife refused to move out. She has since moved to the guest house.
 
In five states, problems like these aren't an issue - because they don't have governors' mansions.  While 45 states provide their governors with an official residence, Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California and Vermont do not. And even if they do have the use of an official residence, some governors choose not to live there.
  
Some governors' homes can be traced back more than a hundred years.
  
Photo courtesy of the Idaho governor's office
The Idaho House was originally donated to Idaho by J.R. Simplot. The Idaho Statesman provides a photo tour of the residence.
For example, Charles Olden Smith, a wealthy New Jersey businessman and future governor, began building his home, named Drumthwacket (Gaelic for "wooded hill"), in 1835. Smith became the first governor to live there when he was elected in 1860, according to the Drumthwacket Foundation, curator of the house and grounds. The state bought the estate in 1966, but it wasn't until 1982 that the mansion became the official governor's residence.
  
Some mansions are much more recent acquisitions. Idaho didn't have a governor's mansion until 2005, when elderly billionaire J. R. Simplot donated his family home to the state. Yet it has been used only once for an official function, while Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter (R) continues to live on his ranch outside of Boise.
  
John Hanian, a spokesman for Otter, said the governor is perfectly happy living at home. "He's a cowboy and a rancher," Hanian said. "He's comfortable, and it's close enough (to Boise)."
  
The home also requires significant renovations, and Hanian said Otter would rather not spend state funds to do it. "He's trying to raise the money privately," Hanian said.
  
Photo courtesy of the New Hampshire governor's office
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) does not live at Bridges House, the New Hampshire governor's mansion.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch (D) also chooses not to live in the official residence, Bridges House, and instead commutes about 10 miles daily each way from his suburban home, according to state architectural historian James Garvin.
  
Garvin said Bridges House, which dates back to 1835, was designated the governor's residence in 1969, but has usually served as a second home for governors who have lived too far to commute to Concord every day.
  
"It was originally a farmhouse, so it hasn't adapted so well to being a governor's residence," because it only has two bedrooms, Garvin said. The only governors who have lived there full-time were those whose children had already grown and left home, he said. "It's quite humble, unlike other opulent mansions," Garvin said.
  
Some governors don't have a choice of where to live. When Gibbons left his wife and moved to Reno, he was breaking a Nevada law that requires governors to live in the residence provided to them in the state's capital city.
  
Photo courtesy of the Kansas governor's office
Madge Overstreet MacLennan donated Cedar Crest , now the governor's mansion, to Kansas in 1955 with the condition the governor keep a permanent residence there.
There's no state law in Kansas that says governors have to live at the official mansion, but there's a good reason that they do. If the governor doesn't maintain permanent residence at Cedar Crest, the state will lose the home and the large park it sits on, Nicole Corcoran, a spokeswoman for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D), said. If that happens, the mansion becomes the property of Washburn University.
Even if governor's homes are unoccupied, states are still paying for them. Hanian said Idaho is paying for "modest upkeep" of the Simplot mansion in Otter's absence, spending about $98,000 so far this fiscal year. Even with the state paying the governor a housing stipend of $4,800 a month, Hanian said taxpayers are spending less than if the mansion were occupied full time.
  
New Hampshire's Bridges House is still occasionally used for official functions, Garvin said. The state keeps it heated in the winter and snowplowed, along with other usual maintenance, he said. "If someone lived there, there wouldn't be that much of a difference [in cost]," Garvin said.
 
Of course, the easiest way to save money on mansion upkeep is to just not have one. Bob Murphy, a librarian at the Vermont Historical Society, said the Green Mountain state has never had an official governor's home, and there aren't any plans in the future to change that.
 
Rhode Island also has never had an official residence for its governors. According to the Rhode Island Historical Society, governors have lived in their own homes.
  
There is a governor's home in Massachusetts, but it is a historic site that hasn't been occupied since 1911. The Shirley-Eustis House was home to only two governors since it was constructed in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston in 1751: William Shirley, who was appointed governor by King George II, and William Eustis, who won the gubernatorial election in 1823. The building was purchased in 1913 by an association founded specifically to save the house. It is now open to the public for tours.
  
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) lives with his wife in their house in Milton, about 10 miles south of Boston.
  
Arizona had a governor's mansion in the original territorial capital of Prescott in 1864, but the state capital was moved to Phoenix in 1912. The original log cabin residence is now part of a museum in downtown Prescott.
  
Photo courtesy of the California state parks department
Then Gov. Ronald Reagan (R) left the California governor's mansion (PDF) in 1967. Since then, governors have lived in private residences, and the mansion has become a state park.
Ronald Reagan was the last California governor to live in a state-owned home. Reagan and his family moved out of the old governor's mansion in April 1967 into a rented home. The mansion is now a museum and a California State Historic Park. 
Kendra Dillard, museum curator, said the Reagans moved because the 90-year-old house was not safe to live in. "The house was in bad repair … it was a fire trap," Dillard said. It also wasn't built for the communication and security needs of modern governors, she said.
  
The state built a new $1.3 million mansion, she said, but by the time it was finished, Reagan had left office and his successor, Jerry Brown, refused to live in it. Dillard said the former "Governor Moonbeam" thought the house was too large and extravagant. 
It was sold to a private owner, and every governor since has lived in his own home - Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) happens to be in Southern California which he jets to from Sacramento nearly every night at his own expense..
  
A small group of locals are campaigning for a new governor's mansion, Dillard said, but they haven't been very successful. "With the state facing a $15 billion deficit, [a new mansion] isn't high on the budget," she said.