Located on Magnolia Avenue in Riverside, California, is a 19th-century structure called the Heritage House. The flamboyant mansion was built in 1892 by Mrs. Catharine Bettner, widow of James Bettner, an eminent personage of the city. During its heyday, the Heritage House was considered to be one of the most elegant houses of the city. The mansion is currently maintained by the Riverside Municipal Museum.
The Bettners originally lived in New York. James Bettner, a lawyer and civil engineer, suffered from a kidney ailment and moved to southern California, owing to its healthy climate. The Bettners built a good reputation in their new home town. James was one of the founding members of the Casa Blanca Tennis Club, the city’s first private recreational facility. Oranges grown by the Bettners won awards at an exposition in New Orleans.
The couple’s happy life was short-lived. James died at the age of 45, in 1888. Later, in 1891, the younger son of the couple died of tuberculosis. Catharine named the family home after her son and began the construction of a new house. It is believed that she built the new house to forget the sorrows related with the old home.
The new house was fashioned in the classic Queen Anne Victorian style. It was built at Magnolia Avenue, which was then Riverside’s most scenic and affluent neighborhood. The house was designed by John A. Wall of the famous Morgan and Wall firm of Los Angeles. The grandeur of the mansion can be guessed at by the report published in the Riverside Daily Press, which predicted it would become one of the city’s most elegant houses.
Currently, the Heritage House serves as a example of the wealthy homes of the 19th century. The Riverside Municipal Museum has meticulously restored the house to its past grandeur. The surrounding orchards recreate the environment that was prevalent during the times of the Bettners.
Volunteers dressed as Victorian soldiers present parades on the premises. Special house tours are arranged, during which actors dressed in 19th-century costumes reenact the day-to-day life of that bygone era.
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