Riordan Mansion: Whispers of history that define Flagstaff.

By: Carlos Dragonné

In the midst of such immediacy, of the whirlwind of social networking, the internet and instant satisfaction watching series non-stop, it is well to pause a moment and remember where we came from, because although it sounds cliché, it is the only way to know where we are going. With that idea in mind, I grabbed way to Northern Arizona University. Not to enroll in any kind -that I was tempted – but because behind the campus is one of the basic, of this city, and a journey through history that cemented the steps of those who today inhabit. Welcome to Flagstaff. We are in the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park.


This trip has been something amazing. 10 days in Arizona has connected me with parts of the history of the united States that he did not know, and has shown this compelling need to keep alive the legacy of those who have left their mark. Built in 1904, this house was the home of two marriages Riordan, a family instrumental in the growth of Flagstaff and that still has active members in the community.

Beyond what is striking architecturally, this State Park catches me right away when we crossed the doors for a personalized tour along with Nikki Lober, the Director of this place, and, without doubt, the voice more authoritative to tell the stories that are hidden to the naked eye in every corner, it is the enormous care to protect and preserve items that belonged to Michael and Timothy Riordan, as well as their wives Caroline and Elizabeth. We are face to face with furniture that are over 100 years old, with spaces that have seen the growth of Flagstaff since it was a kind of town/sawmill up to the monster technology and education that it is today.

So we enter the first part of the route, the east wing of the mansion, where they lived for Michael and Elizabeth, because the other part of this duplex, inhabited at the time by Timothy and Caroline serves as more of a traditional museum, while this is a tour of the house and the rooms with furniture and accessories, to get an idea of what life was like in a mansion that came to mark a trend in a city that just tore it.

Is so I am left amazed with a refrigerator, 1904, preserved in a perfect state, or a stove of the same era that could still be useful and, in fact, continued to be used until well into the 70’s. And is that here is where a large part of the charm of this state park. Until relatively recently, the family Riordan was still living in what is now the museum. In fact, when it opened the park only had tours in one of the wings mentioned, because the other was still inhabited by Blanche Riordan, who donated the property after his death in 1985.

The history of the Riordan is not a typical story of an american family and, at the same time, we could say that has many of the elements of the surname that built empires and built cities. However, in each of the spaces you can see what that distanced himself from his contemporaries, far from the conventionalisms of the time, with strong women who defined and defended your personality and the dreams and plans that were imagining in the rooms of wood, of course, one day they were boys.

Because in these walls are the planned festivities as she rose a city; it was held banquets while he defended and protected the legacy of a native american tribe; here you could hear the screams of children running around while generating the ideas for the first library, or the first electric company. And then one becomes aware that what you are seeing is something more than furniture and magazines or old books. It is the declaration of the steps of the tradition of work, union, community, and heritage that gave identity to Flagstaff since they arrived in 1884.

In a room gorgeous and enveloped by the grandeur of a grand piano is Steinway & Sons that Caroline played almost every afternoon and that involved music the property, more in the figurative sense, in the literal sense due to a construction designed not only for air circulation and heating, but for the music that Riordan considered as fundamental in the life, I understand that these are spaces of conviviality and meeting around a fire that seems to have gone and they refuse to return, driven away by the technology that we insist on calling intelligent while depriving us of the collective intelligence.

That is, of blow, the bigger message which resonates in the walls of this place. Are the echoes of a time that doesn’t seem to have a way of coming back and that we should not, in any way, forget, because the big sites collective does not arise in the microdisplay that we have in our hands, but in the spacious lounges, where the diversity of voices creates, precisely, the sense of community that seems like we are losing.

It is then that I open the doors of the property and I go out to the garden, next to that source in which Michael had his space of privacy, and I begin to imagine what they have been these 130 years of history watching the growth of the city. And I look back and I remember the room where lies great the Steinway & Sons Caroline Riordan used to fill music the property almost every evening and then I understand the importance of this state park.

Are the spaces large who opened the door to the community and families, with music, banquets and meetings, gave form to the dreams that they had to leave meeting to create the successes of an entire people. Is, then, when I define the sounds of the corners of the property and I understand that not only are the whispers of the stories of Riordan, but the shouts of triumph of a community that knows where it comes from and saves the memories of who they were.

For that serves the story. To understand the origin of what we are can never be altered or changed. We can try to ignore it but, in the end, we will always be looking for the way back to what we defined. Then one discovers that there was no better place to build the educational buildings of Northern Arizona University. Because there, in that place, there are those who are deciding on the coordinates that the Mars Rover will reach the red planet. It is good to know that those who reach the future only have to look out the window and see the vestiges of a past that never will be erased.

If you want to read more of the destinations to which we go, come here.