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. In 1875, he left for England and a classical education at Cambridge University. In 1878, he returned to California to help his mother manage the family business interests, his father having died in 1874. He reorganized the Empire Mine, significantly improving operations at the mine. He opened a bank in Grass Valley and became a director of the San Francisco Gas Company. By 1887 he had sold his mining interests. 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. Bourn reacquired control of the Empire Mine in 1896.[1]:34-35,37-38

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 in 1915,[1]:42-43 which became one of the best-known examples of an American country estate. Bourn suffered a stroke in 1922, which kept him in a wheelchair, and in 1929 his daughter Maud died.[1]:60 By 1929, he had sold the Empire to Newmont Mining Corporation.[1]:61 In 1932 he made a gift of the Irish estate Muckross House, which he purchased in 1910, 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d McQuiston, F.W., 1986, Gold: The Saga of the Empire Mine, 1850-1956, Grass Valley:Empire Mine Park Association, ISBN 9780931892073

Further reading[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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

External links[edit]