The Harris-Lass House Museum is an oasis in Santa Clara, California. Walking onto the grounds of the last farm site in the city is a step back in time. The museum preserves the spirit of the Harris and Lass families who lived on the property for 125 years. The site incorporates the farm house built in 1865, barn, summer kitchen, tank house with windmill, landscaped gardens, and a Heritage orchard. The house is fully furnished, with most of the items belonging to the Lass family.
On a sunny winter day, we had the privilege of receiving a tour from Sue Kozdon and Mary Hanel. Learning about the history of the families, farm, and Santa Clara — and of day-to-day life of the people who lived there — made for an enjoyable visit.
Henry Harris, an immigrant from England, and Mary, an immigrant from Scotland, purchased thirteen acres and built the original house in the Italianate style in 1865. The property included a prune orchard. Henry and Mary lived in the house with their children, Albert and Miriam. After Mary’s death in 1886, Henry and Miriam moved to San Jose.
Albert Harris inherited the house in 1886, the year he married Ada, a native of New York. They had one daughter, Miriam Alice. Albert served as a director for Santa Clara’s public school system, president of the Santa Clara Valley Bank, town treasurer, and as a director of the San Jose Water Company. During the 1890s, the house underwent extensive remodeling, which included adding a sun porch and kitchen. One of the improvements expanded the drawing room space for entertaining. Albert built a second home, a mansion in Santa Clara.
After the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, Albert sold the farm to Captain Christian Lass, a German immigrant and sailor who was full- or part-owner of eighteen merchant ships. Three generations of the Lass family moved into the home, including Captain Lass and his wife, Julia, their three daughters, a son and his wife, and Julia’s unmarried sister and brother, whose recently built home had been destroyed in the earthquake.
Johanna Lass Haynes, Captain Lass’s youngest daughter, was the last surviving member of the Lass family. After her mother died in 1969, Johanna lived at the house until 1985 when she moved to a retirement community. She sold the property at a discount to the City of Santa Clara with the stipulation that the house be maintained as an historical site.