story: Kerri Regan photos: James Mazzotta
THE REGANS’ WEAVERVILLE VICTORIAN HOME
To a visitor, the Regan House in Weaverville offers an architectural glimpse back to the turn of the 20th century. Lofty ceilings are accented with ornate chandeliers, a formal dining area appears fit for a queen’s visit, and the multidimensional exterior has inspired local artists to capture it on canvas.
Yet when Mike Regan walks these halls, he sees his family history. In the library, his father read volumes of Voltaire that still rest on the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. In the side yard, his sister and brother each took their wedding vows. In the backyard, his mother plucked apples and pears from a tree’s heavy branches, turning them into applesauce and pies by day’s end. And upstairs, a young Regan played engineer until his wooden trains wore grooves in the sturdy track.
The Victorian across the street from the Trinity County Courthouse was built in 1899 by Daniel James Hall, then the district attorney. His wife died in childbirth less than 10 years after he had built the home for her, Regan explains, and Hall sold the house to his successor in the DA’s office, Horace Given, in 1908.
Meanwhile, a young Edwin J. Regan became enamored with far Northern California while on a hunting trip with his brother, Harold. Edwin saw a job posting for a part-time district attorney on a bulletin board, so he applied. “Given told him, ‘Get up here and you’ve got a job,’” his son, Mike, says.
He did just that in 1930. When Given died in 1935, Edwin was elected district attorney – and in 1938, Given’s survivors told him and his wife Julia, “For $2,500, the house is yours – with everything in it.”
The stark white home with black composition roofing is encircled by an ivy-cloaked fence. Cone-shaped turrets and a widow’s walk (influenced by the homebuilder’s East Coast ties) help define the roofline.
The home serves as a three-dimensional scrapbook of the life that the late Edwin and Julia Regan and their three children created there. Accounting books from the Depression show Edwin’s invoices for legal services rendered in amounts like $4 and $7. They’re displayed atop Julia’s antique desk. Julia moved to Weaverville in 1933 to start her teaching days at Trinity County High School, which all three of her children attended. Son Mike now sits in the chair that Edwin used during his five terms in the State Senate (he resigned his Trinity County District Attorney post in 1948 to assume that position – marking the first time that the house hadn’t been owned by the Trinity County DA). Edwin then served on the Third Appellate District Court of Appeal from 1965 until his retirement in 1987. He died in 1996.
In the 70-plus years since the home has been in the Regan family, it’s been upgraded to include some modern conveniences – a carriage house gave way to a guest house and garage, and small stoves in every room were replaced with a furnace. Mike’s laptop computer now sits on his mother’s antique desk, and his modern television sits in the frame of the old 1959 Zenith television which was their first set; Mike removed the tube to make room.
Textured wallpaper, paintings of long-gone ancestors, and now-antique furniture and décor maintain the home’s historic feel. The library’s treasures include volumes by Edgar Allan Poe, a series titled “Messages and Papers of the President” and much more – some more than a century old. On the wall is Edwin Regan’s framed invitation to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration. The kitchen still has lined flour and sugar bins and a dinner bell that his mother used to tap with a mallet at suppertime.
Upstairs is a virtual museum of Regan family history. Attic space tucked behind each of three bedrooms holds a train set from the 1940s, clothing dating back to the early 1900s, and shelves full of children’s books. Dozens of hats rest in their original boxes, including a black top hat in a leather case, worn by an ancestor who Mike says was the first Marine aviator killed in World War II. There are hats from I. Magnin and Saks Fifth Avenue, an old flapper hat – even one that’s a dead ringer for a head of lettuce.
The three upstairs bedrooms still maintain some of the character of the children who grew up there. Kathleen’s room includes a dressing table and a hand mirror, where one can picture a young woman making herself up for a night on the town. Mike recently discovered some of his mother’s nude pencil drawings from her college days, which he framed and hung in this room.
Mike’s room looks the most like it did back in the day, with a curio cabinet full of bottles that he collected, race car posters, yearbooks from Trinity High and the University of California at Santa Barbara, his letterman sweater, and Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow uniforms.
Also on the wall? A stuffed woodpecker. Boys will be boys, he says. “When you grow up in Possum Waller, what are you gonna do?”
In the hall sits a phone chair, below a still-operational rotary phone that mystifies school-aged visitors who came of age in the era of cell phones.
The size of the property has also increased since the home was built. In 1967, the Regans purchased the house next door, which “was in bad shape,” Mike says. They tore it down to create a spacious, landscaped side yard, and hosted Mike’s sister Kathleen’s wedding there in 1967. Many years later, her brother Craig was married in the yard.
Despite the magnificence of the home, the yard is where many of Mike Regan’s best memories reside. An enormous walnut tree, more than a century old, shades an outdoor seating area decked with bricks from Weaverville’s historic Union Hotel, which burned down in the 1930s.
A flowering pomegranate, rhododendrons and an English garden provide bursts of color, and if you’re looking to hide away, a pair of chairs is set up in a “cave” created by the merging of two enormous holly bushes.
The area where a school-aged Mike kept his horse and her tack room is now a grassy area perfect for horseshoes or croquet; live bands also set up there when he hosts his annual 4th of July parties (no holiday is more revered in Weaverville than Independence Day).
Mike touches the trunk of an apple tree toward the back of the property, and recalls the applesauce and pies that his mother used to make from their harvest. On the other side of the yard, he gestures to another pair of trees. “She planted those trees the day she died,” he says.
Mike spent much of his adult life in the Sacramento area; he made a career at PG&E after serving as a U. S Coast Guard combat corpsman and medic in the mid-1960s. After working for Shell Oil Co. in New Orleans and PG&E in Northern California, he retired in the early 1990s and was delighted to come back home. “It’s a time warp of days gone by,” he says.
Although Mike and Weaverville have grown up together, he says his hometown still maintains the small-town, friendly flavor that he’s loved for his whole life. Some of his original neighbors still live there. When he walks down the street, he can’t help but bump into someone he knows. He still maintains strong ties to the town as a shareholder and on the Board of Directors of the historic New York Hotel Properties, the home of the New York Saloon and Johnny’s Restaurant. He is a longtime member of the Trinitarianus Chapter of Ancient and Honorable Order of E Clampus Vitus (established in the mining days to “come to the aid and protect wives, widows and orphans”).
“A town like this really doesn’t change that much,” he says. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Editor’s note: Author Kerri Regan is the great-niece of Edwin J. Regan.