California family restoring former Bowers Mansion in Mannington
Feb. 7—MANNINGTON — Iconic architecture around Marion County often falls into disrepair, but the Juarez family is making sure the historic Bowers Mansion in Mannington doesn't succumb to the same fate.
Rebecca and Jesse Juarez are a couple from California who own and operate several event venues on the West Coast, but when COVID-19 struck, it forced them to rethink their business model.
Rebecca always wanted a historic venue to host events and weddings, but the relatively recent development of the West Coast doesn't lend itself to that type of aesthetic.
So, she and her husband set their eyes east in search of something that fit their parameters. Eventually they stumbled upon 315 High St, Mannington — the former Bowers Mansion.
"We have family in Virginia so we made a trip to the East Coast and just fell in love. It's beautiful out here," Rebecca said. "We started looking at the real estate market and found this house and everything started falling into place."
Jesse flew out to see the house in person, but the property was in a worse shape than the online listing let on. The property has been through a history of neglect and broken promises.
The Queen Anne Victorian home was built in 1870 and was purchased by George Walter Bowers in the early 1900s. George Bowers was a state senator from 1921 to 1924, and he also served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. He ran many companies in the area such as Mannington Glass, Bowers Pottery, Warwick China Co. and he founded what is known today as First Exchange Bank, his only venture still in operation today.
The mansion on 315 High St. was passed down to his daughter Frances Bowers. When she died in 2000, it was passed to her goddaughter, Suzanne Byerly. The house sat vacant until 2003 when it was purchased by two men, Ken Hightower and Hugh Macbeth, who promised to restore the property to its original grandeur.
Despite their plans, in 2009 the property was listed as "endangered" by the Preservation Alliance of West Virginia. Macbeth and Hightower struggled with funding for their vision and Macbeth passed away in 2014, leaving the property to Hightower, who allegedly abandoned the project.
The property changed hands again before it was finally purchased by the Juarezes in 2021 and they had a lot of work ahead of them. When they first viewed the property prior to the purchase, the state of the home was awful.
"I was surprised people were living here," Jesse said. "It was in really rough shape. We actually pulled out of our first deal and negotiated a new deal eventually."
Even though there were holes in the walls and scars from unfinished projects, Rebecca could still see the final product underneath all the hard work and she knew the history the house carries would be worth saving the structure.
In just over a year, Rebecca and Jesse have invested nearly $250,000 into the restoration project. The goal is for everything in the house to be fully-restored to look like the era in which the house was originally built.
The 7,000 square-foot house has been broken up into sections and the majority of the renovations that will be required to operate the space as an event venue have been completed.
There's a music room, a family room, a tea and dining room, library, smoking room and living room. The second floor of the house will be where the Rebecca, Jesse and their two kids Ethan and Ellie will be living.
While the nature of the project began as business-related, in the process of renovating and restoring Rebecca has discovered just how deeply rooted the history of the Bowers Mansion is in the community and the county.
Due to the turbulent past of the property in recent years, Mannington residents were skeptical of a family of Californians moving in to restore such an important piece of history.
But over the past year, Rebecca and Jesse have proven their commitment to the project.
Everything down to the light switches is period accurate.
"We wanted to do this right," Rebecca said. "Everyone in town seems to have a story about this house or about the Bowers."
She's taking each story to heart. In the library, for example, she's already begun to collect artifacts from the Bowers family and their companies and hopes to have a miniature museum.
As their goal of a May 13 grand opening creeps closer, Rebecca and Jesse hope their work fosters a new family of stories about the Bowers Mansion in the community.
In addition to the parcel at 315 High St., they also own the neighboring carriage house and the plot of land across the street. Although they will open their doors in May, the full scale of the project likely won't be finished until 2024, according to Jesse.
Finishing touches are still coming together and once warmer weather arrives, the outside of the house will be redone and repainted.
"I want the house to look how it's supposed to look and how it might have looked," Rebecca said. "I've done a lot of research — looked at old photos of the inside and the outside and really trying to replicate that as much as possible.
"I look at myself as the keeper of this home and it's my job to keep it as beautiful and as preserved as I can for future generations to come."
For more information about event reservations and packages, visit www.senatorsmansionwv.com.
The family is also looking for original items from the mansion that were sold in a recent estate auction, anyone with items of interest or general questions about the project should email MansionWeddingsWV@yahoo.com or call 304-396-6411.
Reach this article's author at 304-367-2522 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.