The intrigue and deception that is part of the McHenry family story was apparently not known by outsiders, and may not have been known by family members. The secret about Robert's true identity may have been held by the brothers alone. As a result, Robert McHenry had a sterling reputation in Modesto, where he moved and built his majestic home. Constructed in 1882-83, this Italianate Victorian house, shown above, left, in the earliest photograph of the house, was the family's downtown residence. The McHenry home was one of many stately Victorians built in Modesto as the city grew. A later photograph appears below, left, witth the home surrounded by a family orchard.
Most residences in Modesto were built on lots that cost between $20 and $40 each, located within three blocks of the train depot. An average house occupied two 25-foot lots. In the 1880's, many beautiful residences were built east of downtown on lots that cost between $75 and $100 each. The McHenry Mansion is the only one of these residences that remains.
The McHenry ranch was located a substantial distance from the city. The Bald Eagle Ranch had a less ornate home, still carrying the unique features of a typical Victorian. The dirt road from the in-town home to the ranch would later become McHenry Avenue, Modesto's "main" thoroughfare and part of the state highway system (Highway 108). The Bald Eagle Ranch House was built by Robert's son, Oramil.
Shortly after building the Mansion, McHenry founded the First National Bank of Modesto. He also was named first board president of the Modesto Irrigation District. From 1884 to 1887, the home at 15th and I Streets was opened to the community on New Year's Day, a practice that many of the wealthier homeowners also took part in.
Oramil McHenry, Robert's son, inherited the McHenry Mansion upon his father's death. In 1903, he owned, according to the Stanislaus County Weekly News, about 8,000 acres in the two irrigation districts. "Of this, fully 5,000 acres are being subdivided into small areas and put on the market under terms and conditions which make them accessible to settlers with moderate means."
Being altruistic, upon his death in 1906, Oramil bequeathed three lots on 10th Street and $20,000 for the building of a public library. When the estate was finally settled, 10th Street had become a mercantile center, so the lots were sold for $10,000 and property at 14th and I Streets was purchased for $5,800. A San Francisco architect and contractor were hired to build the new library at a cost of $22,500 plus another $3,000 for furnishings. Construction of the neo-classical style building started on Oct. 11, 1911. The building was dedicated on April 29, 1912.
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Link: McHenry Mansion.org
This family portrait from 1894 shows Oramil; wife, Louise; daughter Ora Louise; and sons, Albert and Robert. On March 29, 1901, a divorce announcement appeared in local newspapers. A few months later Ora Louise died from burns suffered in an alcohol lamp accident. Oramil died in 1906.
The McHenry Library, as it looked in 1912, shortly after completion. The land on 10th Street bequeathed by Oramil was sold and the library was built at I and 14th Sts. An annex was later added. When the new Modesto-Stanislaus Library was built in the 1970s, the library became the McHenry Museum.
What is now McHenry Avenue and State Highway 108 once was a dirt road between the McHenry Mansion and the Bald Eagle Ranch. This is the Victorian house on the ranch, built by Oramil McHenry. It was often the scene of parties. Out buildings included a raisin dry-house and a two-story packhouse.