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A dam at the north end of the valley, at the head of Pagni Canyon, rising 50 feet and 248 feet long would create a “Lake Washoe” filling Washoe Valley with water from a massive pipe tunneled through the Carson Range into Lake Tahoe. The outlet would be at Franktown Creek and the fall of water would power a large Hydropower plant. Excess water would be transported to the Carson River Canyon east of Carson City via a canal for storage and irrigation behind a new dam there.
All this was seriously considered in 1953 by state and federal engineers to solve Western Nevada’s water and power crisis. Writer Basil Woon of the Nevada State Journal chronicled the promise and controversy of the project in a series of articles for the paper.
The tunnel was part of a massive regional project to also tame the tempermental Truckee by channelizing the river between it’s outlet at Tahoe City and Donner Lake. Prosser Dam would also be raised and other improvements would be made east of Sparks along with a power plant there.
The fear in 1953, with a Reno population at 32,000, was that western Nevada’s growth would soon be stalled by a lack of critical resources. It was predicted that by the year 2000 the Reno population would be 70,000 and that current water resources would be woefully inadequate requiring severe rationing. A lack of electrical power would prohibit industrial and commercial development. As it turned out, the population was 226,000 in 2010 and growing. The Reno/Sparks Metro area was 425,000 in 2010. They grossly overestimated the need and underestimated the growth! Apparently the water engineers in the interim have done a great job providing us with adequate water supplies.
This was a time of great infrastructure development in the American West. The Bureau of Reclamation became a huge bureaucracy bestowing upon western towns and rural residents the promise of prosperity with the development of water projects for irrigation and electric power. Hundreds of dams, canals and power plants were built throughout the west. Nearly every area was examined for it’s development potential.
Back in Washoe Valley, Woon chronicled the local reaction to the plan and the potential changes to the lush valley of pastoral ranches. Locals were terrified that their lifestyles and livelihoods would be destroyed and our historical legacy lost. Residents quickly organized and met with the engineers.
As usual in our society, there were nearly as many for the proposal as those against. The threat to Bower’s Mansion came up, now a popular park. The engineer for the Bureau of Reclamation office in Carson City, H. A. Hunt, assured the residents the resource would be spared, presumably by a dike. The Winters Mansion on the north end, some saying it was an even more important landmark, pre-dating Bowers, was another matter. The engineer thought the waters would be “mighty close”. Washoe City would be abandoned and inundated. This fate engulfed several towns and historic sites larger in the west.
Local residents, artists, ranchers, dude ranch owners, gentleman ranchers and families with many generations of history stood to lose everything. Dr. T. S. Clarke, prominent Reno eye doctor and vigorous opponent, stated, “It would ruin our place and nullify all the work and expense we have gone to; the fields and farm would go and we would be left with nothing but a house on a lake.” Even in 1953 a working farm was considered by practical minds more attractive than a lake house, apparently. Proponents envisioned public beaches and a resort hotel in addition to plentiful power. In the end, the tunnel project was shelved. Maybe it was the public resistance, the historical significance or there were plenty of other potential projects to pursue.
Nearly all the other proposals also fell by the wayside except the channeling of the Truckee through Reno and Sparks and the building of Stampede Reservoir. This, added with Prosser and Boca were to supply a power plant in Verdi which was never built.
Now, with our massive population and the recruitment of major industry along with having squeezed nearly every drop out of every other water resource, will the Tahoe Tunnel and Lake Washoe proposal return to wet the imagination of planners?
This is an update of an article originally published on this site in 2012.
I have been asked several times about the history of the dilapidated log cabin on hwy 395 in Washoe City. This is the one on the north side of the highway in the old Cattlemen’s Restaurant parking lot. Word of mouth was that it was built as a movie set in the old days and is not an authentic original home.
I did some light research in the old papers and only found one circuitous reference so far but it backs up the story. In November 1959 a letter to the editor was published in the form of a eulogy to a Joe Farnsworth. Joe was apparently a long time resident and ex Virginia City cop and had quite a knowledge of the local surroundings and goings-on. The letter writer related the story of the cabin as he heard it from Joe. “Son, that cabin was put up by a movie company in the war years. Why they even installed electric lights so they could take night pictures. I watched them several times and they even invited me to be an extra with good pay, because I looked more western than any of those who were taking a part in the picture. Anyhow, I refused because I was never cut out to be an actor.”
Last week I was contacted by Rhonda G. Wait who has some family photos of the cabin. These photos taken circa 1944-45 seem to show that someone actually lived in the cabin at some point. There is an addition built on, a different overhang on the porch, curtains and a driveway gate. Rhonda’s photos are of her grandparents, Fern and George Hillyard and her aunt, Barbara Hillyard.
Photos: Top: The cabin from Hwy 395 looking North.
Middle: Looking Northwest.
Bottom: Left: A “Now and Then”. Middle: Barbara with what appears to be Hwy 395 and west Washoe Valley in the background, looking south. Right: George and Barbara at an unknown location. It’s pretty high- Geiger Grade?
Photo credit: Fern I. (Hall) Hillyard
Two websites have come on the scene recently that have promise to help build community here in Washoe Valley. Nextdoor is a San Francisco based startup that is identifying neighborhoods around the country and inviting the residents to join in a private site where neighbors can ask questions, give comments or information. The New Washoe City site, for the community on the east side of the valley, is called Eastlake and already has 119 members. Recent topics have been such topics as: the Mexican Food Truck, over-the-air TV reception, barking dogs and trash collection among others. I’m a member and am impressed with the helpful, respectful comments and topics so far. You can check it out at: https://nextdoor.com/invite/dvgxysvtvhrmuqpsfvtt
Another site is AlertID.com . This site has access to police reports and you can create a page with your address anywhere in the country and it will create a map with the police reports surrounding that address. You can zoom in and out to see more. You can also create multiple alert pages for multiple addresses. Some things don’t show up and others are outdated but it is still interesting.
So far both these sites are free. We are all used to free sites becoming pay sites when they get popular but so far these are free so check them out.
The goal of washoevalley.org is to build community but I think residents being able to directly communicate in a closed environment might be the best way. So I hope it is successful and that our neighborhood makes good use of it.
Some of the items for sale:
· Vintage highway signs
· Tractor parts
· Antiques including:
o Oak wall phone
o Oak ice box
o Vintage dolls
o Disney collectibles
o Noritake china set
o 1947 wedding dress
o Vintage buttons
o Bakelite utensils
o Books on antiques and collectibles
o Bread box, antique bread boards
o Telephone test set
o Carnival glass
o 1947 glassware
o Turn table
o Iron ice tongs
o Small Oriental rug
o Folk art
· Yard art and yard art raw materials – lots!
· Steam power washer on wheels
· Metal tool box fits full size pick up
· Car tires and wheels
· Tractor and machinery tires and wheels
· Military jerry cans – vintage
· Auxiliary gas tank for big truck
· Kirby vacuum, all attachments
· Free car tires
· Shop light