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Thomas Kearns Mansion and Carriage House

Published / by Brooklyn Lancaster / 4 Comments on Thomas Kearns Mansion and Carriage House

Write up by: Brooklyn Lancaster

Marker placed by: The National Registry of Historic Places

Coordinates: 40.7698° N, 111.8741° W
603 E. South Temple St., Salt Lake City, Utah, 84102

Marker Transcript:
Utah Historic Site
Thomas Kearns Mansion and Carriage House
Built 1900-1902 of Sanpete Limestone.
Architect Carl M. Neuhausen.
Governor’s Mansion 1937-1957.
Division of State History N-1

National Register Plaque

Extended Research:
Thomas Kearns was born in Canada in l862. His family then moved to a farm in Nebraska in 1870. Thomas didn’t grow up with a lot of money. When he was 17 years old, he left his family’s farm to look for a job. He ended up working different mines in South Dakota as well as Arizona. He then heard about Park City while riding on a train. He decided to head to Park City in 1883 hoping to make it big.

While mining in Park City Thomas discovered that there was an untapped silver vein in a mine called the Mayflower. He decided to lease the Mayflower with the help of two of his friends, David Keith and John Judge. On April 15, l889, they struck “gold,” or in this case silver. Over the next few years, Thomas and his partners bought several nearby mines, including the Silver King. The Silver King was one of the greatest silver mines in the world. It soon made Thomas and his partners very wealthy.

Once the railroad made its way to Utah in 1869, people from all over the world came to Utah hoping to make it rich in Utah’s mines. While this worked for some, others made money off of supplying goods for the miners. The people who struck it rich started to build impressive homes on the most desirable street in Salt Lake City at the time–South Temple. Even Brigham Young, an important local church leader, had several homes on the street. Other important pioneer leaders also built houses on the street.

By 1899, Thomas Kearns’s partners had both built mansions on South Temple which led Thomas to follow their example and buy some land to build his own mansion. After buying land Thomas hired architect Carl Neuhausen to design his home for him. The building of the mansion took from 1900 to 1902.

Thomas wanted his home to be the most modern and up to date, including the latest technology. He had electric lights, steam-heated radiators, a call board, and dumb waiters all installed in his home. Thomas even had one of the first indoor showers in Utah. The mansion also had a bowling alley, though all the pins had to be placed by hand. Jennie Kearns, Thomas’ wife, went all the way to Europe with their children to find art and furniture to decorate the mansion. They wanted the best of the best when it came to their home.

The Front of the Kearns Mansion

Architect Carl Neuhausen wanted the Kearns Mansion to look like a French castle. Each side of the mansion is designed differently. The mansion also has turrets on three of the four corners. The walls are made of limestone and have carvings around the windows and doors. Besides the mansion, the Kearns family also had a carriage house. Thomas was a great horse lover and had eight carriages. Once cars became more popular, the Kearns family stored their cars in the carriage house instead. Thomas Kearns was one of the first people to buy a car in Utah. However, he never actually learned to drive it.

The Carriage House

In 1938 the Kearns Mansion was renovated to become the Utah’s Governor’s Mansion. Governor Henry Blood and his family were the first governor’s family to live in the Kearns Mansion. It was then used as the home of the governor until 1959 when George D. Clyde became governor. He refused to live in the mansion. Subsequently, a new home was then built for the then governor. Besides Governor Clyde, Governor Calvin Rampton, was the only other governor to not live in the Kearns Mansion after it became the official residence of the governor. [1]

With the Governor moving out, the Utah State Historical Society decided to move in. Sadly, they didn’t have the funds to truly keep the mansion in good shape. The mansion became more and more run down over the subsequent years. It wasn’t until 1976, when Governor Scott Matheson was elected, that the mansion was given an update and repaired. The Governor then decided to move his family into the mansion in 1980. 

The mansion was used as the Governor of Utah’s residence all the way up to December of 1993. That was when Governor Mike Leavitt’s family Christmas tree caught fire in the Grand Hall.[2] The fire spread quickly. Luckily everyone was able to get out of the building without injury but much of the house was destroyed. Priceless woodwork, hand-carved and painted decorations, art, fabric, and furniture were charred and gone. During the restoration of the Kearns Mansion officials decided to return the home to its 1900s roots. While still updating the electrical wiring, plumbing, and heating they tried to make it look like it did when the Kearns family lived in the home. 

During the life of the Kearns Mansion it has been a family home, a Governor’s residence, as well as an office for the Utah State Historical Society. It has been nearly burned to the ground and then fully restored. It is still standing after over a hundred years, sharing the history of the Kearns family, Salt Lake City, and Utah with everyone who visits. In 2020, it is still in use as the governor’s mansion for Utah governor Gary Herbert.

[1] The Governor’s decision to vacate the Kearns’ Mansion was a controversial one because of the fact that the Kearns’ family had donated the mansion for that use.

[2] While the Governor was not at home at the time of the fire his family was.  

For Further Reference:

Primary Sources:
“Fire, Smoke and Repairs.” Governor Seal. Accessed January 30, 2020.

“Historic Utah Governor’s Mansion Reopens”, press release and program. Accessed January 30, 2020.

Secondary Sources:
“Fire, Smoke and Repairs.” Governor Seal. Accessed January 30, 2020.

Kued. “The Governor’s Mansion – PBS Utah Productions.”, February 1, 2019.

“KEARNS, THOMAS.” Utah History Encyclopedia. Accessed March 18, 2020.

Wilson, Martin and Susan Holt, Rob Pett, Ellie Sonntag, “The Governor’s Mansion: Ready for Utah’s Second Century,” Utah Preservation, Vol. 1, 1997: 10-19. Issuu. Accessed March 18, 2020.

Utah State History. “Utah Preservation Restoration, Volume 2, 1980.” Issuu. Accessed March 20, 2020.