William Bowers Bourn II

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William Bowers Bourn II during the construction of Filoli in 1917

William Bowers Bourn II (31 May 1857 – 5 July 1936) was an American entrepreneur and builder of Filoli the country estate in San Mateo County, California.


Bourn was born in San Francisco, California, the second child of mining entrepreneur William Bowers Bourn I and Sarah Esther Chase. His classical education at Cambridge University was interrupted by his taking over the family businesses upon his father's accidental death by firearm discharge in July 1874, whereupon he was given charge of the Empire Mine, other mining interests, and significant real estate holdings. He significantly improved operations at the mine and used the resulting cashflow to initiate or expand other ventures.

In 1888 he partnered with E. Everett Wise and other investors to build the mammoth Greystone Cellars in Napa Valley. Bourn bought Wise out, but sold it entirely in 1894 in the midst of the phylloxera scourge at a terrific loss.

In the 1890s he spearheaded the merger of electricity and gas companies in San Francisco, which would later become the Pacific Gas and Electric Company, and in 1890 began significant investments in the Spring Valley Water Company, which would be bought by the city government of San Francisco in February 1929 and, with the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir expansion which Bourn had opposed, become its water supplier. Bourn was regularly pilloried by the San Francisco Chronicle as a thief and scoundrel for water rates, but Bourn replied that the company needed to earn a reasonable return on its investments and was also making provision for future population growth.

Bourn and his wife, Agnes Moody, built their country estate Filoli beginning in 1915, which became one of the best-known examples of an American country estate, and in 1932 he made a gift of the Irish estate Muckross House to the government of Ireland in memory of his late daughter, Maud. It was to become Ireland's largest national park.

William Bowers Bourn II died at Filoli and was buried with his wife and daughter on the property.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Egan, Ferol (1998). Last Bonanza Kings: The Bourns of San Francisco. Reno & Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press. 

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