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The Families

The Bourns

William Bowers Bourn II & Agnes Moody Bourn

William Bowers Bourn II was born in San Francisco on May 31, 1857 at his parents' home on Third and Brannan Streets. He grew up in and around San Francisco, attending Bates School and the college of St. Augustine (an Episcopal military academy in Benicia). In 1874, at the age of 61, Bourn Sr. died suddenly from an accidental gunshot wound at the Taylor Street home. William's mother, Sarah, took control of the family investments and in the following year young William went to England to attend Cambridge University and travel throughout Europe.

William Bowers Bourn II in 1881 at the age of 24.William Bowers Bourn II in 1881 at the age of 24.

In 1878 a crisis occurred at the Empire Mine when the mine bottomed out at the 1200-foot level with all visible ore exhausted. Three well-known engineers declared the prospects grim. At age 21, William returned to California to take over the management of the Empire Mine as well as the vineyards at Madroño.

William, with his cousin, George Starr (age 19), a mining engineer, commenced further exploration of the mine. At the 1700-foot level an even richer vein of gold was discovered two years later and Bourn's continuing financial success was assured. Starr has been called a “mining genius.”

Mrs. Agnes Moody Bourn.Mrs. Agnes Moody Bourn.

In 1881 William married Agnes Moody in New York. The Bourn and Moody families were friends.

In 1888-1889 Bourn built the great Greystone Winery in St. Helena, one of the largest stone wineries in the world. In 1890 Bourn became president of the San Francisco Gas Company, and in 1896 he and Agnes built a home at 2550 Webster Street on the hill above the company offices. They also built a summer home, the “Empire Cottage,” at the Empire Mine in Grass Valley. Willis Polk, a longtime friend and hunting companion, was the architect for both houses.

Bourn House on Webster St in San Francisco, CA.Bourn House on Webster St in San Francisco, CA.

In 1908 Bourn purchased the Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied water to the city of San Francisco, and became president of the company. Bourn, like his father, had become a very successful investment banker.