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Friday, July 14, 2000

Henry Goosen: The man behind the mansion

Nancy Dingler

If you have ever traversed Empire Street in Fairfield, just one block south of the public library, you could not have escaped seeing the Goosen Mansion in all of it’s restored grandeur. Brick walkways, manicured gardens and a high iron fence with electronic security surround this palatial home today.

Whether the home was owned by a doctor and transformed into a hospital (Dr. Gordon Bunny in 1941 and Dr. Milton Smith in 1947), or became the “Mayor’s house” (Manuel Campos in 1963), then later headquarters of a local bank (Suisun Valley Bank in late 1980’s) and subsequently lovingly restored beginning in 1991 by the present owners (Dr. Mary Mancini and her husband, Dr. Anthony Marino), it is still referred to as the Goosen Mansion.

Who was the man who built the mansion? Who was Henry Goosen? Henry’s parents immigrated from Germany. Fredrick and Christina left for America with their two little girls. During the voyage, these children were taken ill, died and were buried at sea. The saddened parents settled in Cordelia around 1852 and began to dairy farm. America was still a very agrarian society. Industries were flourishing in the large eastern cities and towns were springing up with a mercantile middle-class, still the majority worked the land.

Fredrick and Christina began a new family in 1854 with the birth of Annie Goosen. The family expanded to total seven children by 1867.

The idea of having a “childhood” is a modern day concept, enacted around the 1950s. Prior to this period, it was not unusual that all the children, as soon as they could walk, would be put to work. When Henry (4th child) was 12 years old, he was deemed old enough to be sent to live and work with a Mr. David Hale at the Hale Ranch in Suisun. Henry was a quick learner and a hard worker. By the time he was 16 years old he had mastered the operation of steam driven farm machines. Henry stayed on the Hale Ranch for eight years. He would work for Mr. Hale in the summer, then for the J.L. Heald machine shop in Vallejo during the winter.

It was during this time, in 1878, when Henry’s father, Fredrick (Fred), passed away. A year later, at the age of 19, Henry joined with two of his friends, Christopher Harder and Henry Dittmer to purchase a threshing outfit. After the first harvest season, the two Henrys bought out Christopher’s interest. Dittmer and Goosen ran the threshing business for several years. In 1886, Henry Goosen bought the old mill at Cordelia, converting the building into a blacksmith and repair shop, a general implement factory and a hardware store. Henry ran this business for 21 years with great success.

As Henry’s success as a businessman grew, so did his fortune. He met and courted the lovely Katherine Marie Stark of Napa. The couple were married in 1897. From 1898 through 1902, Henry and Katherine produced three sons, Victor, Howard and Earl. With a growing family and a prosperous business, Henry purchased the Fairfield city water works. The purchase was made right after a fire had burned the plant down. Literally starting from nothing, he built the plant into a very large, modern and efficient operation.

By 1907, he built a new hardware store on the corner of Texas and Webster streets in Fairfield. The family lived above the store. The historic 1909 fire almost wiped everything out. If Henry’s foresight had not installed a high pressure pump, the store might not have been saved. Henry went to work restoring home and business with concrete walls. This is when the mansion concept began to blossom as well. The energetic entrepreneur hired three Scottish builders to construct the 12 room mansion. The construction was completed in December of 1910 and was by far the grandest home in Fairfield.

As fortune and prosperity smiled on Henry Goosen, not so did it favor his family. Victor, their first born, died in 1915 during the flu epidemic of World War I.

Never marrying, Earl died in his middle years. Howard did marry, but had no children. He died the week after his father’s death, leaving Kate a widow and childless.  Henry’s funeral in 1930 was quite a stately affair. His niece, Gwen Swope remembers vividly, how a red carpet swept out from the mansion’s front door, down the walkway to the curb and the waiting hearse.

Kate stayed for some time in the mansion, finally selling to Dr. Gordon Bunny after establishing Child Haven, where she lived until her death in 1949.

Special thanks to Gwen Swope for her gracious hospitality and antidotal history of her uncle Henry Goosen.