The Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer House (also known as the Boyer House, after it's last owner Mary Hunt Boyer) is located at 604 2nd Street next to the Varsity Theatre. The house or 'mansion', together with its important auxilary features (tank house, cistern, century old orange trees, gardens) was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a Historical Building in 1976 (Building #76000540). One of the oldest surviving buildings in Davis, the house is also a Davis city 'Landmark' on the city list of designated historic resources (1984)
The 12 room, 3500 square foot main house and 340 square foot tank house (water tower) were built between 1871 and 1875 by William Frederick Dresbach, a Prussian immigrant and Davisville's first postmaster. Mr. Dresbach is credited with naming the town after rancher Jerome C. Davis. The land on which the mansion sits is likely some of the first residential land purchased (1870 & 1871) in Davisville. (The house itself sits on Lots 9 & 10 of Block 1, Range D of the original Davisville plat; Dresbach later acquired the adjacent lot to the south, Lot 11; the final piece of the quarter block property, Lot 12 was added in 1884 by the Enos family.)
The mansion is said to have been built by carpenters Patricio Vaca and Cirilo Zuniga, relations of the pioneer Vaca (Baca) and Pena families. According to an early Davisville resident, Elijah William Brown, who had been Dresbach's book-keeper, and owned a hardware store at the time the house was probably built, the original cost of the house was some $12-14,000.
Mr. Dresbach, one of Davisville's wealthiest citizens, also owned a livery stable, general store, hotel and saloon, and a grain warehouse. Dresbach, who married a local dentist's daughter, Isabell Pearce in May 1870, moved to San Francisco around 1878, where he continued his business as a grain merchant, trading on the San Francisco Exchange and becoming a major player in a number of speculative attempts to "corner" the grain markets, resulting in a number of bankruptcies. In the first of these in 1879, a Sacramento bank foreclosed on the Mansion property. (He lost the rest of his Davisville properties as well.) His speculative ups and downs continued until his death at home in San Francisco in 1901.
Dreisbach Family Website
The bank sold the property in 1880 for $5,000 to Sessions M. Enos (1823-1884), a Davisville dairy farmer and his son William, who had married Cornelia Ellen Russell, daughter of the prominent local Russell family Avenue of Trees, Russell Boulevard. S.M. Enos died in 1884; his widow apparently continued to live in the Davis area until her death, although not in the mansion. The younger Enos family left Davisville in 1888 for Inyo County, after selling the property in late 1887 to Henry Stelling, a German born farmer from the Solano County side of Putah Creek (Tremont township) with a large family.
By the time he bought the property for $2,000, Henry Stelling had become a grain merchant like Dresbach. He purchased the huge Granger's grain warehouse and scales in town in 1891, and maintained an office on Main Street (Olive St., now G St.). He was also apparently engaged in the insurance business, one of four agents who certified the earliest Sanborn fire insurance map of Davisville in 1888.
His much younger third wife, also German born, not only looked after the younger children still at home, but reportedly kept the books and operated the scales at the grain warehouse. Stelling's older son by his first marriage, Henry Jr. became a well known area marksman whose shooting exploits were noted in the local press, starting with a bag of "three dozen robins" and moving up to trap and duck shooting competitions. (In the early 1900's he became active in shooting clubs in the Bay Area after moving to San Francisco.)
A spectacular family dispute in late 1896 involving the young third wife Bertha, the adult children, and most of the neighbors (meaning most of the then still compact town) may have precipitated the family's decision to leave Davisville. At any rate, like Dresbach, Stelling moved to San Francisco around 1896 to pursue his grain merchant business, but continued to own the Davisville properties. In 1899, he advertised a desire "to leave town" entirely and offered his properties, at "50 cents on the dollar," stating that the house had originally cost $10,000 dollars. Among the features of the house noted in the ad were "large outbuildings, a windmill" and "water pipes throughout the house and grounds". In March Frank Hunt, the brother of John Hunt, bought the house for $2250.
A native of County Mayo, Ireland who immigrated to America as a young boy, John Hunt had previously farmed near Davis in the 1870's with a brother and sister, but had moved back to his original home in Wisconsin in the 1880's, where he still owned property. A widower with four grown children, he returned to Davisville about 1900, having bought the property from his brother Frank in mid-1899.
John Hunt lived there with his three eldest children, Thomas, Mary and Josephine until his death in August 1919. Thomas, the only son, who would have inherited all the Hunt farming properties, suddenly died of influenza at age 35, shortly after his father's death. The two eldest daughters inherited the mansion, appraised at $3,500, from their father's estate, which was reported as one of the largest ever probated in Yolo county. The oldest Hunt daughter Mary wed a Sacramento physician, J.B. Boyer in 1920. Widowed in 1937, Mary Hunt Boyer resided in the mansion with her unmarried sister Josephine (died 1950) until 1973 when the property passed to her nephew, John Lillard, son of the youngest Hunt daughter, Irene, wife of L. C. Lillard, a Davisville grain farmer.
In 1976 the essentially intact house and gardens, valued at $160,000, were threatened with demolition for commercial development. Both a private fund raising attempt to raise the purchase price, and a city bond issue ballot measure failed. The bond measure was opposed by the chamber of commerce and other opinion makers because in addition to the $300,000 needed to buy and restore the property (for use as a museum primarily), the bond issue included a deal breaking $600,000 more to build city offices on the south part of the grounds, and reliance on income from sale of the city owned "Mayfair" lot (now the south end of Central Park) to retire part of the bond issue.
In 1978 an option to buy the property was obtained by UCD professor Lawrence and Nancy Shepherd, who hoped to use it for a residence, originally intending restore it after moving it to a new location on 8th Street to allow development of the whole lot. When City permission to move it was denied on grounds of impact to nationally listed landmark (loss of original context and site), economics eventually led to the decision to find separate commercial uses for the tank house and mansion, while the back (south) half of the Mansion grounds were developed as the Mansion Square retail/commercial building.
The mansion interior underwent some alteration (walls removed primarily), restoration of woodwork and plaster, updated plumbing and electrical systems, and new interior decoration. Damaged exterior features were expertly restored. The Tank House was moved north to it's recently vacated location on the east side of the mansion, among 10 of the original 35 orange trees, where it was 'adapted' for a variety of enterprises - with mixed success - including a cafe and a small office in an added 2nd floor. (Shepherd laid the brick patio area that used to surround the tank house using a cache of old bricks found on the grounds near the Tank House.) The tank house was recently moved to the west side (E St.), to allow for development of the new Mishka's building on the east side plot. The orange trees were removed, and the bricks moved (to the 2nd and E St. corner perhaps? Anyone?).
The sign listing the occupants as of January 2006 Since 1978 the Mansion has been leased to various business operations, including the Golden One Credit Union and the UC Davis Development Office. The City of Davis finally bought the Mansion, tank house and remaining gardens in 1994 for $250,000, and the mansion itself is now used as part of the Parks & Community Services offices for the City of Davis. The mansion also contains the Yolo County Visitors Bureau.
For more about the Mansion's gardens and state-of-the-art water supply system, see Dresbach-Hunt-Boyer Mansion Tank House. More information about the Stelling family, tank houses in Davis and other topics in Davis history can be found at Website of the Davis Historical Society
To learn more about Davis history, please visit our pages of Historic Places, Town History and Davis Timeline.
Mansion Exterior Views
The Tank House - Upper Decorations & cornice under the tank deck. See also the Tank House
Mansion Interior Views
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2005-12-25 15:20:01 My references show that Cafe Cinema used to operate from this address. Did a restaurant operate from the front of the house? —SteveDavison
2005-12-27 14:29:29 No— the house itself has either housed City or UCD offices, or been otherwise vacant. Cafe Cinema's operations would have been in the Tank House, currently vacant. —CentralDavisite
2006-05-18 11:57:56 Thanks for posting the awesome photos! —ArlenAbraham
2007-09-02 15:53:01 Bill Dresbach here, great grand son of Fredrick William. Fredrick had 4 daughters and one son named William born in San Francisco, He had one son also named William Jr. born in Petaluma, Ca. He had 2 sons. William 111 and Walter Woodly. Walter had one son David. and William had 2 sons Timothy Scott and Bryan William. Timothy had 2 children Allison and Timothy. That is the update on Fredrick William Dresbach Family —williamdresbach
2008-02-08 15:15:57 Jennie Alice Lillard— just commenting to say how great it is that a piece of my family history didn't get demolished! I'm the grand daughter of John Lillard (deceased). Grandma Mary Jane Lillard is still is 81 living in Sacramento. My father Joseph Lillard tells me stories of staying in the creepy mansion with Aunt Mary when he was a child. The Lillards had three children, Kathleen, Joseph and Charlie. Great pictures, thanks so much. —jenniealice
2011-05-20 00:15:07 Thank you for the pics. I have always wondered what the inside looks like —Dozer
2014-08-20 17:42:39 I am Rhonda (Smith) McCormick, Great-Granddaughter of William Frederick (incorrectly spelled Fredrich in this article) Dresbach. William was born in the town of Halver, Westphalia, Germany (formerly Prussia), about May 5, 1834. Florence Estelle Dresbach (Smith), one of William's daughters (and my Grandmother), was born in this house on December 27, 1876. As mentioned in this article, William later moved his family to San Francisco, and was one of the first President's of the Produce Exchange, and tried to corner the wheat market, which unfortunately failed. William passed away in San Francisco on June 27, 1901, at the age of 67. I took my father, Woodley B. Smith, Jr. and my daughter to visit the house in the 1980's, and we were very pleased at how it had been restored and kept up for everyone to enjoy. I have been working on my family genealogy. Please let me know if you have any information about William's family in Germany that I can add. Thank you. —RhondaMcCormick
Welcome to the Wiki, Rhonda! This and all other pages are maintained and owned by the community of Davis. If you know more about our history, please feel free to click "Edit" and add what you know. I corrected the spelling of your Great-Grandfather, and would be happy to assist you in any way. Thank you for helping add to this record and resource for the community! —Evan 'JabberWokky' Edwards, (814) 889-8845