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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Riordan Mansion
Q: How do you pronounce “Riordan”?
Q: Why do we have to stay on the red carpet?
A: The red carpet is designed to keep you off the antique carpets and away from the items on display. It also guides you through the house. It also picks up the dust and dirt off your shoes.
Q: Can we take photos?
A: Yes, you can. However, please be respectful to other guests and the tour guide by staying with the group and on the red carpet. If you are looking for photos of empty rooms check the gift shop for postcards and publications with photos.
Q: What was the extent of the 54 acres? Did they give their land to NAU?
A: The Riordans’ estate was roughly rectangular, extending from Milton Road on the west to a northern line on the north side of the Cline Library, to an eastern line running where today’s Knoles Drive is located. The southern boundary line probably ran near where the Denny’s restaurant is located today. NAU’s property was to the east of the Riordan rectangle, and in 1904 would have encompassed just the area known today as the Old Main Quad.
Q: What kind of power did they have? Where was power generated?
A: The Flagstaff Electric Light Co. generating plant was located on the mill property in 1904. It had been acquired by the Riordans and moved to the mill property from its’ original site near the Blome Building on NAU’s campus several years earlier when the Light Company had been having financial troubles. It did not become part of the city until 1914 when the generating plant was moved back toward town at that time. The power was probably Alternating Current (AC), though we don’t know what voltage was in use at that time.
Q: How many servants did they have? What nationality?
A: We do not know. There is no one from the early years around to ask. The grandchildren don’t remember anyone living in the house. Servant usage began to decline around 1900 as the economy grew, the middle class grew and human labor became more expensive. From what we can tell, the family always had people they hired to clean and cook, oftentimes a gatekeeper, a fix-it-guy, and a chauffer—but these people lived in town. There is no evidence that they ever had any live-in male servants or nannies for their children.
Q: Why are there separate bedrooms for the husband and wife?
A: During this time period, houses built for wealthy families tended to feature separate bedrooms for the husband and wife. Women, in particular, would use their bedroom as a refuge during the day from the rigidly required clothing, including a corset, to relax. In contrast, a man tended to use his room only for sleeping and changing clothes, so having separate rooms was a nice luxury for those who could afford it.
Q: Why are the walls cracked?
The house has settled over the years, and this has created some cracks in the plaster. The cracks are merely cosmetic, and are commonly found in plaster walls of any great age.
Q: What kind of wood(s) are found in the house?
A: With one exception, virtually all the wood used in the construction of the house is Ponderosa pine milled at the Arizona Lumber and Timber Co. This includes the moldings, cabinetry, box beam ceilings, doors, and wainscoting. The pine (normally a light color and sometimes called yellow pine) has in many instances been stained the dark color we see today. The exception mentioned above is the maple flooring found throughout much of the home.
Q: Where did the coal for the furnace and stoves come from?
A: We do not have a certain answer to this question, but the railroad would have been a great consumer of coal in the early days, requiring local sources of available coal to burn. Coal is found in great abundance in the Four Corners region and most recently has been mined on a large scale to supply coal-powered electricity to the Southwest. The Hopi people have used coal historically to heat the rooms of their pueblos. The closest, most readily available coal to both Flagstaff and the line of the Santa Fe is believed to be in the Gallup, New Mexico area.
Q: Are there any ghosts?
A: The simple, one-word answer is NO. Old homes seem to engender ghost stories, and the family liked to tell a few of their own, some of which are incorporated into our Halloween program. But the reality is that no supernatural experiences have ever been recorded by any of the staff since the Mansion became a State Park. In general, ghost stories are just that, stories made up to entertain and stir the imagination.
Q: What are the copper discs so visible on the ceilings of the East House?
A: The circular, copper discs on the ceilings are used to hide sprinkler heads which would otherwise be clearly visible. The caps are soldered on and designed to fall away upon exposure to sufficient heat. The entire mansion is protected by a “dry pipe” type of sprinkler system. This means that the pipes of the system are filled with pressurized air, not water. Loss of air pressure triggers a water valve to open, filling the system with water. While the systems were designed and installed to be as inconspicuous as possible, sprinkler heads and associated piping are clearly visible throughout the house.
Q: When did they sell the mill? Is there still lumbering in Flagstaff?
A: By 1933, during the Great Depression, the mill had been closed down for much of the previous several years. When the mill was opened and run for specific projects, it barely covered expenses. The owner of a box company in the Phoenix area, Joe Dolan, had a contract for boxes, and so Tim Riordan sold him operating a control in the company. This allowed the mill to be reopened immediately, providing 150 jobs—making the front page of the Coconino Sun. In his 70’s by this time, Tim commented that a younger man was really needed to take on the problems of the economic situation. Tim also mentioned he was looking forward to having more time to play golf and collect rocks. Later, the mill passed into the control of the Saginaw Manistee Lumber Co. out of Williams, Arizona, which was ultimately purchased by the Southwest Lumber Co. The last mill in Flagstaff closed in 1993. The forest here in the Flagstaff area has been mostly harvested, and the trees today are young and undersized due to drought and overcrowding.