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Washoe Valley Alliance

Established in 2013 by local citizens, WVA is a member supported organization working with other organizations and individuals to educate and preserve the unique qualities of Washoe Valley. Join us in keeping Washoe Valley a haven in an urbanized northern Nevada. Memberships are only $20 a year.

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Welcome to Washoe Valley!

We hope you enjoy this site that celebrates all things Washoe Valley- a great community. The layout is blog-style so feel free to scroll down the page to discover recent and old posts. If you are looking for a particular topic, click on a Category or a tag under Popular Topics found in the right column. Older, archived articles are in the Archives. Sections are separate pages for special topics like our Events List. We welcome your input on in the comments for each article and your articles, questions and concerns. Let us know about community events! Happy browsing!

Billboard and Lighted Sign Threat

Editor’s Note: We got this too late for the stated meeting but we want residents to be aware of this issue and let your supervisor’s know this is not acceptable for Washoe Valley.

County Shifts Position; Adds Potential for New billboards

What: Open house to review county’s new draft sign code
Where: Washoe County Complex, 1001 East Ninth Street, Reno
When: Thursday, November 6; 5 to 7 p.m.

Scenic Nevada is opposing the draft sign code being previewed by the public Thursday.

The draft would allow new billboards and digital billboards within the unincorporated county areas, which Scenic Nevada strongly opposes, including a special digital sign for one local business.

The changes are a monumental shift from the current code, which prohibits all new billboards including digitals. The draft was developed by county staff, with direction from county commissioners and feedback from a stakeholders’ group that included Scenic Nevada. Throughout the sessions, begun a year ago, we consistently objected to proposed regulations, allowing new billboards.

The public is invited to the open house and staff will be on hand to answer questions. Comment cards also will be available or email Trevor Lloyd at tlloyd@washoecounty.us

Billboards will have a new name
If approved, the county will call all signs on polls “freestanding” signs, even billboards. Anyone who gets a permit for one can choose to advertise their own business on the sign or sell advertising space, just like a billboard. Business owners could lease space to a billboard company on their property to erect a sign and run changeable ads.

The changes were driven largely by staff’s desire to simplify the sign code and create a “content neutral” approach, requested by county counsel to avoid court challenges by those claiming free speech violations. Billboards most often advertise the goods or services not sold on the property, while on-premise signs advertise the business on the property. Staff won’t be looking at the sign content to determine if it’s a billboard or a business sign.

Under the draft, only one freestanding sign is allowed for each parcel, and this, plus the smaller size could limit their use as billboards.

But, adding digital signs to the mix, which could electronically flash rotating ads every 20 seconds, increases the possibility that business signs could be used as digital billboards.

Also the regulations for freestanding signs are more relaxed than billboard regulations. For instance, freestanding signs can be spaced 75 feet apart under the draft rules. Billboards must be spaced 1,000 feet apart under the current code.

Big Signs for Big Business
At first staff said the signs would range in size from a mere four square feet in residential areas to 200 square feet for larger recreational, industrial and commercial businesses. Digital signs would be allowed but could only be half the size of what is permitted at the business and no bigger than 120 square feet. Digitals also require a public hearing and approval of a special use permit. Digital signs on parcels that have residential and agricultural uses are prohibited. Originally, the larger, conventionally-sized billboards, ranging from 300 to 672 square feet, also were prohibited.
That changed when staff eliminated billboard regulations in July and then in August when County Commissioners Vaughn Hartung and Kitty Jung asked for larger signs for “regional” types of land uses. Staff added new regulations, allowing signs of unlimited size for regional recreation, travel and tourism venues, with a special use permit from the county.
The commission’s new direction for bigger signs would allow local businessman Norm Dianda to erect a conventionally-sized digital billboard. Before the commission’s request, the draft code could have permitted a digital billboard for Mr. Dianda, but it would have been limited in size and had to be located at the venue.

Now, the draft code says applicants who want a sign over 300 square feet and who operate a big recreational or tourist venue can apply to the county commission. Mr. Dianda owns the Wild West Motorsports Park in the county’s East Truckee Canyon area, which qualifies him to apply.
The Wild West venue is blocked by hillsides and can’t be seen by motorists on Interstate 80. Incredibly, staff added a regulation that a larger sign could be permitted either on the “regional” property or one adjacent, if it is next to a highway, and zoned industrial or commercial. Mr. Dianda also owns the industrial property adjacent to the Wild West venue and next to I80. Under the draft code, Mr Dianda could win approvals for the first conventionally-sized digital billboard in the unincorporated County area.
Impacts on McCarran Ranch Project
The Wild West Motorsports Park is located on the north side of I80 across from the restored McCarran Ranch Project. The Nature Conservancy spent $25 million to restore the natural meanders to the Truckee River, removing noxious weeds and planting native vegetation, “revitalizing a broken river for people and nature.” It includes a nine-mile public bike path and a bird and wildlife sanctuary. Mr. Dianda’s sign could operate, 24/7, flashing bright ads in the dark night sky, depended on by nearby wildlife and migrating birds.
Possible Court Challenges

Scenic Nevada believes the code changes will open the door to court challenges, ironically, something county counsel wanted to avoid. The county risks jeopardizing the sign code, if a new digital billboard is permitted for one applicant who fits the “regional” use type and rejected for another who does not. Anyone refused a permit for a billboard under the draft regulations likely will sue the county alleging first amendment, due process and equal protection violations.

It’s unlikely the litigious billboard industry will stand for being shut out of the most lucrative advertising locations in the county; I80 and the newly constructed I580. The industry was knocking at the door at the beginning of the process almost a year ago, when the county agreed to update the sign code. But, county commissioners said then they didn’t want new billboards, new locations or digital billboards. Commissioners had said the bright flashing signs would dim the dark night sky, were unsightly and a distraction to drivers.

Scenic Nevada’s Requests

Scenic Nevada this week asked the county for the following:

To reinstate both sections of the code providing needed regulations for billboards and on-premise business signs, which were tossed in favor of the new draft, Article 505.
Add reasonable changes developed over the past year and included in a chart to regulate business digital and non-digital signs.
Eliminate all the special interest regulations regarding “regional” uses.
Prohibit new billboards, relocations and digital billboards.
Staff said changes likely will be made to the draft as it continues through the public process. The county will hold another stakeholders meeting and a second open house; then get county planning commission recommendations before the draft heads to the county commissioners for final approval.

Cell Tower Update

The Verizon Cell Tower presentation is  not on the upcoming CAB agenda for Thursday, November 13, 2014. The agenda has been posted and distributed. It is available online at:  http://www.washoecounty.us/repository/files/1/STMWV11132014agenda.pdf .

At this time it is also not scheduled for the Board of County Commissioners on December .

Washoe County Planner, Grace Sannazzaro, explained that  Verizon salesman was asked to give the exact same presentation to the CAB and  to the Board of County Commissioners.

The salesman responded that more time is needed for preparation. Washoe County Planning will let us know when  Verizon requests to be rescheduled.

The Dude Ranch Years

The Dude Ranch Years, 1931-1960.
William McGee was a wrangler at the Flying ME dude ranch in Franktown for several years from 1947 on. His book, The Divorce Seekers, written in 2004 gives a fun account of ranch life, the divorcees, Washoe Valley, Virginia City and Lake Tahoe in the post-war 1940′s.  Along with the divorcees were wealthy socialites and others such as Eleanor Roosevelt and Clark Gable who found the valley, its ranches and inhabitants endearing. Famous (at the time) Washoe Valley residents were Gus Bundy, artist and photographer, and Will James “cowboy artist” and writer. The book has many photos of life around the area in the 1940′s and is available at local bookstores.

In 1931, Nevada reduced the residency requirement for divorces to 6 weeks and the grounds to “mental cruelty” which covered everything. This made Nevada the “Go To” place for divorce. A woman who wished to avoid the embarrassment of getting a divorce in her home town could be fairly incognito in sparsely populated Nevada. Thus, this route was popular with many women from prominent families. Many made the choice to stay in Reno for their 6 weeks at hotel/casinos like the Mapes and tough it out in the distractions of Reno nightlife. Others, who could take a lemon and make lemonade, stayed outside of town in a dude ranch and made a vacation out of it. This provided quite a business for many years and there were dude ranches throughout the area, mainly in Verdi, Pyramid Lake and especially south Reno and Washoe Valley. McGee recalls entertaining the guests with trail rides around Washoe Lake, to Virginia City via Jumbo Grade and up through Little Valley to Marlette Lake. A favorite outing involved taking a pickup full of women in the back to the present location of New Washoe City and racing through the sagebrush while the ladies took potshots at jackrabbits with a .22 rifle. He relates that the hares were never in much danger. Other outings involved bar hopping in either Virginia City or Carson City. These outings were accomplished in the ranch’s 1948 Chrysler convertible- the model that was covered with real wood trim on the body.  Other activities involved lounging at the pool, photography and making new friends. The book covers alot of the goings on around the area and is a fun read.

Carmazzi’s Washoe Bar, Washoe City, circa 1947

News From 139 Years Ago

Washoe Valley News from 131 years ago:

From the Weekly Nevada State Journal
August 7, 1875

(from the Enterprise)

Washoe Valley Items
Hay, Grain, etc.- Wood, Lumber, etc.
-A “Ragged Edge” Affair in Franktown, and a
Man Who Could Not Spell “Tansy”

The haying season in Washoe Valley is about half over. The hay crop is more than an average one. There will also be an unusually large yield of wheat, oats and other cereals.
Frank Ardery, chief telegraph operator at Carson, went down to Huffaker’s day before yesterday for the purpose of establishing a telegraph station at that place.
American boys and Washoe Indians are making a lively raid on blackbirds with bows and arrows.
Six freight trains, averaging about twenty cars each, are run daily between Carson and Reno.
William Price has erected a sawmill in the vicinity of the great landslide, of the Sierra Nevada, west of Franktown. The mill has already started up and is engaged in sawing lumber for Mr. Price’s flume, in the same locality. The work of surveying the route for the same had already been completed by Mr. Fillebrown. Thirty two hundred cords of wood were shipped to Carson and Virginia from Franktown station last month. About twenty thousand cords more will be shipped from the same point during the present season. Two hundred wood choppers are at work in the mountains between Price’s and Marlette’s.
All of the dwelling houses in Washoe City are deserted, with the exception of twelve. The only excitement which disturbs the repose of the slumbering inhabitants is the fast-going passenger and express train of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company as it nightly thunders along the valley.

An Episode

Somewhat of the Beecher and Tilton color has lately created great excitement in Franktown. On Friday last the brother-in-law of the lady (who is shortly to become a mother though unmarried) met her alleged seducer in front of John Duvall’s hotel, and made a demonstration as if about to chastise him with a blacksnake. No. 2 retaliated by drawing a revolver, which proceeding caused the spectators to scatter in all directions. As often as the party of the first part advanced on his adversary with the blacksnake, the latter would raise his revolver and waive him back. Just as the prospect of bloodshed became imminent, Maurice May, Constable and Deputy Sheriff of Washoe County, rushed forward at the peril of his own life snatched the pistol from the hands of No. 2, causing an cessation of hostilities. the young lady who is the cause of the quarrel is a Scandinavian, and is about thirty years of age. It is thought that the difficulty will be settled by litigation.

Spelling Match in Franktown

The only remaining item of interest to record is a spirited orthographical contest, indulged in by the citizens of Franktown on Saturday evening last. The spelling match was held at the Mormon Church, and was attended by a motley gathering of woodchoppers, railroad men, ranchers, schoolmasters, together with a plentiful sprinkling of the fair sex. A fierce onset was made upon Webster, which lasted for an hour or more. Prof. Frank Fry, a representative Virginian, who took an active part in the contest, expressed himself equal to the task of collaring and throwing any word in the English language, but had to take a seat on “tansy”. Two “spelldowns” were indulged in, Mrs. Nat Holmes proving victorious in one and her daughter, Miss Lizzie Holmes, in the other.

The Lavender Side of Washoe Valley

Washoe Valley lavender

This series of three articles appeared in RGJ.com and was researched and written by Karl Breckinridge in September, 2006. Some editing has been done to make the story more concise for this page. Karl and your editor both encourage anyone who has additional information, photos, etc. to contact us about this story or any Washoe Valley history. Thanks to Mr. Breckinridge and RGJ.com for making this series available to washoevalley.org.

Going a long way back in time, it’s apparent from an 1874 Nevada State Journal story that the Washoe Valley south of Reno was touted as an ideal spot for growing anything that blooms, likening our valley’s climate to that of the Valensole plateau near Provence, France, a hilly region known for its lavender.

Two names also came up in some old notes, names that might bear upon fields of lavender — one was Sutherland’s Gladiolus Farms, mentioned in a 1950 Nevada Highways magazine as a commercial operation in Washoe Valley, raising glads and “several strains of herbs.”

Those herbs, I surmise, might include lavender. But I can learn little more of Sutherland’s operation. A 1936 tax roll shows a couple of Sutherland parcels south of Reno but in the Anderson tax district, which were well north of Washoe or Pleasant Valley. Nor do the tax rolls offer any help as to the parcels’ use.

It is, however, revealing to find out how much was going on in Washoe Valley in the first half of the 20th century — with livestock production, some mining, dude ranches, crops, transportation by rail and highway, tourism — one busy little valley.

Another name may be known by a reader who knew the Washoe Valley 60 years ago. The December 1947 Nevada Magazine pays minor homage to the San Antonio Rancho, a fortresslike home built by a wealthy but unnamed Easterner who came to our Silver State fearing abduction and thus built an abduction-proof hacienda for himself.

Reading between the lines San Antonio might just have been Tony from Brooklyn with Guido hot on his trail. He wouldn’t have been the first to come to our state for refuge. A Web site of GPS locations of historical sites places the rancho near or at an existing structure on the west side of U.S. 395 on the V&T railroad line entering Pleasant Valley.

That said, we know from a February 1956 Nevada State Journal story that the rancho was acquired by a family named Famel, but not necessarily contemporaneously with that 1956 Journal. (Research is a fun activity; one finds a lot of “throw-Mama-from-the-train-a-kiss” writing.)

The accuracy of all this admittedly should be taken with a grain of salt; some years-old notes I kept memorialize a chat with a schoolteacher-column reader who taught at the old Brown School just north of the lavender fields in the 1940s, that school very near the South Virginia-Geiger Grade intersection.

Her distant recollection was that the Famel fields, whose fragrance was in range just south of the school, were extensive and that the major buyers of the crops were foreign perfume factories.

Famel doesn’t show up in any tax records that I could find “” maybe they were tenant farmers on someone else’s land. Suffice it to say, some fields of lavender in Washoe or Pleasant Valley definitely existed, yet pinning them down remains a work in progress supported by some old press clippings but with many questions to be answered: When were they created, how long did they last, and where, exactly, were the fields?

I admitted that I’d tried in the late 1990s to write of some wartime lavender fields in Washoe Valley that I’d been told of, but had totally struck out in any research. Scholarly research gave way to unabashed public begging two weeks ago, and yikes, did it work.

Much information came from friends with ties to the ranch — Muffy Greil Vhay’s dad, Jim Greil, was an accomplished artist and a state highway department photographer who lived in Washoe Valley, where Muffy attended Franktown School and held vivid childhood recollections about the Famel family. With husband David (“Tink”) Vhay, she provided photos of the ranch taken by her father. And, from Joyce Thornton McCarty and her brother Bill Thornton (yup, the Cal-Neva guy), whose grandparents William and Myrtle Stevenson ran the ranch, household and staff for the Famels, came a trove of family history that had been assembled by their mother Jeanne Stevenson Thornton. This information offered some new keywords to search at the Nevada Historical Society and made the two columns possible.

On Aug. 12, I speculated that the Famels were the only tenants of the San Antonio Ranch. I’ve learned that the Famels were far from tenants; in fact Dr. and Mme. Sylvan Famel were extremely wealthy international perfume and pharmaceutical manufacturers in the French perfume capital of Grasse,

11 miles north of Cannes. They fled to America with their two grandchildren just before the 1938 Nazi invasion of France, taking with them a fortune in cash, which didn’t exactly tickle the French or the Germans.

They purchased the secluded 2,500-acre ranch, and they, not its original owner, named it the San Antonio Ranch, that appellation’s inspiration unchronicled. In 1939 they planted it extensively with fruit trees and built a still — which attracted the attention of the law — for the purpose of extracting oil from sage for use in perfume, soap and candles. I am unable to determine what school they still occupied — the Franktown School was then in use. The ranch did succeed in raising pharmaceutical herbs, which were in short supply during WWII. Their perfume products were meeting with some success and were given a localized name, as witnessed in a photograph of the Famel’s “Bonanza Perfume” float in the 1949 Nevada Day parade. And how cool is this?: Muffy Vhay loaned me a picture that her father took dated 1947, of a man and a youth standing in a field next to a 1939-ish Ford pickup lettered “San Antonio Ranch.” I showed the photo to Joyce McCarty, who with a slight shriek audible throughout the Gold ‘n Silver, identified the man as her grandfather. And the same pickup shows up pulling the float in the 1949 parade newspaper shot.

Mme. Famel enlisted the favor of Governor Vail Pittman, and through his influence lavender seeds were made available to the Nevada State Prison to be planted for a prison industry. Between 50 and a hundred people were needed for the annual harvests in Washoe Valley, and it’s speculative that some labor was provided by the prison. Muffy recalls that at least some of the harvested lavender was being sent — after the war — back to France. Labor was an ongoing problem for the Famels, who eventually made a transition from lavender growing and processing to running a substantial herd of Hereford cattle.

The Famel family started spending more and more time away from Nevada. Following the end of WWII they were able to abandon a life of de facto exile and they bought a little spread outside West Palm Beach, Florida, if that’s what they call them in West Palm Beach, and spent half the year growing lavender there. They acquired an apartment in New York City in the early 1950s, virtually forsaking Nevada residence, and eventually returned to live permanently in Europe.

Thanks to the Vhays, Bill Thornton, Joyce McCarty, Larry Garside, Jerry Vanlaningham, Patty Cafferata and a few with names withheld for the help. Their photos and knowledge and the resulting work product will go eventually to the NHS for all to enjoy. Next week we’ll mop up the Donner Ridge fire with abundant reader recollections, then the San Antonio Ranch saga will continue — of the years preceding and following the lavender fields. We’ll read of the ranch’s original oil-heir owner and the then-biggest child custody battle in the state ongoing in Washoe Valley, and of gambler James McKay’s 1951 entrée into the San Antonio’s ownership.

A few weeks ago I asked a friend who knows Northern Nevada like the back of his hand: How I possibly could drive a school bus through Franktown Road for three years during my college days, yet not know where the San Antonio Ranch is?

For Pete’s sake, its entrance is flanked by massive rock portals with a prominent “San Antonio Ranch” sign.

He allayed my fear of the onset of senility by telling me that neither the sign nor the portals were there in the early 1960s — the place was pretty well hidden for reasons that will become obvious in the next few paragraphs.

This whole trilogy of columns was triggered by Lavender Ridge, west of Reno on old Highway 40, leading to a search for a lavender field south of town which, in turn, produced a fleeting reference in an old Nevada Highways magazine to a San Antonio Ranch.

The Nevada Historical Society was bereft of any scent of lavender or the ranch. Reader Larry Garside helped me with its location. Thanks to readers Joyce McCarty and Muffy Greil Vhay, both with roots in Washoe Valley, you read here a few weeks ago of the Famel lavender fields, which did indeed exist in the 1940s.

Other information that Joyce and Muffy supplied opened some keywords for further research (Joyce’s grandparents were the major domos, if that’s the term, of the ranch, and she visited it frequently as a youth.)

The spread was initially 2,500 acres, give or take, located near the south end of Washoe Valley. The ranch was later subdivided into the present smaller residential parcels. It adjoins the former lavender field and is easily visible looking eastward from the 6400 block of Franktown Road.

While San Antonio Ranch Road appears on a standard-appearing green county sign, the road is in fact private, and its inclusion in this column shouldn’t encourage an uninvited tour.

History of the ranch

This prime acreage in Washoe Valley was acquired in 1932 by Ralph Elsman, a wealthy New Jersey businessman who later became the president and principal owner of the San Jose Water Company.

He came to Nevada to seek a divorce and just stayed on, pardner, motivated by Nevada’s tax structure. Local and Bay Area newspaper clips are unanimous that the huge home he built on the ranch resembled a fortress, owing to a fear of abduction of his children. That fear was spawned by the Lindbergh kidnapping a year earlier and heightened because his estranged wife, Beatrice, had shown a predilection to spirit off the couple’s two children.

At this point in our yarn, the casual reader might wonder how an entry-level columnist, who six short weeks ago was unable to determine even as much as where the ranch was in Washoe Valley, now can write on good authority that one of the children whose custody was challenged in that 1931 divorce, Ralph Jr., died in Korea in 1952 when his B-29 was shot down by a MIG.

Or can now write that Elsman’s second wife, Florence, died in Palo Alto in 1964, and reading between the lines in her obituary we surmise that Ralph and Florence Elsman had moved to Los Gatos, Calif., after they sold the ranch to Dr. and Mme. Sylvan Famel in 1939 (Elsman Sr. passed away in July of 1970.) The Famels named the ranch the San Antonio and cultivated the lavender fields.

And, if I couldn’t determine six weeks ago even who owned the acreage at the south end of the Franktown Road before Elsman (and still can’t), how could I come along today and write that the Famels, upon their 1950 relocation to West Palm Beach, then to New York City, and finally to their native France, sold the ranch in 1951 to the storied Reno gambler James McKay?

The answer to the casual reader’s question is simply that I had a heck of a lot of invaluable reader help in putting this series of columns together.

A private enclave

If you haven’t heard by now of James McKay and Bill Graham vis-a-vis Reno’s early 20th century history, get yourself Dwayne Kling’s Rise and Fall of the Biggest Little City. It’s mandatory reading.

McKay had been released from a 10-year prison sentence for some dark deed. He was married to a Hollywood starlet; they had one child and were expecting another. They wanted privacy, and the San Antonio offered it. It didn’t have a sign on the gate then and had never had a sign before. Three owners — first Ralph Elsman, then the Famels with their shadowy emigration from WWII-bound France, then finally McKay — no owner really wanting the profane world to know who was behind the gate, ever put up a sign on Franktown Road.

It’s no wonder I never saw the ranch driving by in my bus twice daily in 1960.

When We Had Winter

Death Overtakes a Slide Mountain Miner (from the Reno Gazette, Sept. 3 1907)

Victoria Mancasolia’s Remains Found Under Melting Snow Bank Near Cabin A tragedy of the mountains, the likes of which comes all too often into the lonely lives of prospectors, came to light and received official attention yesterday, when acting coroner Bell held an inquest on the remains of Victoria Mancasolia, at Franktown. The body of the dead miner was found in the bottom of a lonely gulch, a short distance from his cabin at the base of old Slide Mountain, down whose seared sides have thundered so may avalanches, carrying death and destruction to everything in their path, one of which had evidently caught him while he was engaged in splitting the wood for his solitary evening meal. The ax with which he had been at work was found beside the small pile of split sticks of stove-wood, sticking in a chopping block, and the general appearance of things about indicated that the man was taken completely by surprise by the rushing wall of pitiless snow, and the life crushed from his body, almost before he knew what had happened. The dead man was working in a tunnel for Sam Longabaugh, which the latter was having run into the mountain, near the scene of the slide, and although he has not been seen for many months, and it may have been surmised that something of the sort had happened to him, there was no way of ascertaining the fact, till what has occurred dispelled the doubts of his friends. The warm rays of the summer sun have at last melted the snow, and the gruesome find tells the story of the dead man’s fate. The verdict of the coroner’s jury is to the effect that death was caused by a slide.

ed. note: It is interesting that “avalanches” on Slide Mt. seemed to be not out of the ordinary and that as late as September there was still melting snow “a short distance from his cabin at the base of old Slide Mt.”!

Famous Author Weds in Washoe Valley

Famous Author Marries in Washoe Valley from Time Magazine, 1968

Married. Erle Stanley Gardner, 79, master of the mysteries (more than 150 million Perry Mason and other books printed to date); and Agnes Jean Bethell, sixtyish, his secretary for 40 years; both for the second time; in Washoe Valley, Nev.

Pioneer Wins Essay Contest in 1930

Washoe Valley

by Myra Sauer

This essay won the State Federation of Women’s Clubs historic essay competition in 1930 when Myra was a high school student in Reno. The Sauer’s were a Washoe Valley ranching family from the 1850′s. The essay was reprinted in the Reno Evening Gazette on May 31, 1930. Myra Sauer Ratay went on to graduate from UNR and dedicated her life to social work passing away in 1999 at age 87. She also wrote two books on Washoe Valley, “Pioneers of the Ponderosa: How Washoe Valley Rescued the Comstock” and “Boom Times in Old Washoe City, Nevada”.

Perhaps the richest heritage that has come to us from that period of Western expansion is the wealth in stories of pioneering life. Each family has its cherished tales; but, unfortunately, has done little to preserve them.

To me there is no more entrancing history than that of my own home, Washoe Valley, which is nestled among the Sierra Nevada mountains. Of this little truly authoritative history has been written.

No more beautiful little valley can be pictured. On the west it is sheltered by high mountain tops that are verdantly covered with evergreen trees and underbrush. Gradually it slopes toward the east where the waters of its lakes lap at the sands that give rise to gray sagebrush blanketed hills.

Think back to the time when this valley, was a wilderness; when its only inhabitants were the forest creatures and the hardy Indian. Then the hills were not shorn of their abundant and luxuriant growth of trees.

The beauty and resources of Washoe Valley were known to the earliest emigrants who passed through to California prior and subsequent to the gold rush. No settlement was made until 1852 when a man named Clark built a tiny log hut in a lovely spot near what is now Franktown.

The following year a man known as “Old Man Rose” left his abode in Eagle Valley and settled on a ranch at the very northwest edge of Washoe Valley. When Clark left that same year only about four men remained, including G. W. Dodge and John Campbell who owned the present Bowers Mansion, and Christopher West who settled on the present Winters Ranch.

Elder Orson Hyde, accompanied by Mormon settlers came the following year and built homes. Mr. Cowan and wife, later Mrs. Sandy Bowers, bought the ranch from Dodge and Campbell and lived in a small three room house situated halfway between the mansion and my home. Many others arrived and also took up homesteads. Hyde was pleased with the country and built a saw mill. From that time on frame houses took the place of the former log huts.

In 1856 the population of Washoe Valley was greatly increased by a party of Mormons about thirty families in all, who settled at Franktown, the most important center at that time.

During this period all the settlers were obliged to obtain their provisions from Sacramento. They were brought over on pack mules via Placerville and the Kingsbury grade. Charley Shedd and Andrew Sauer owned a pack of mules with which they transported the provisions over the mountains to the families.

Prices for necessities were exorbitant, flour costing fifty dollars a hundred pounds; potatoes, ten to fifteen cents a pound, and hay a hundred and fifty dollars a ton.

Cattle were brought into the valley but the industry did not become profitable because of the hard winters which were common then.

In 1857 when Brigham Young recalled all the Mormons to Salt Lake City only a few people remained in Franktown, among them being Mrs. John Hawkins and Mrs. Cowan. Those who returned were forced to exchange their possessions, at a great loss for horses and mules. Later a few apostates returned and also many other settlers. Andrew Sauer brought his young wife over the mountains and she told how he proudly stretched forth his hand and showed her her future home which she, too, loved. They lived in a small house in the Bowers Mansion field.

One of the most important geological events of the time happened in 1861 after an unusually wet winter. The eastern slope of “Slide Mountain” gave way and rumbled into a canyon forming Price’s Lake. My grandmother said that she could hear the terrible noise while at work. The mountain thus received its name.

The Indians in the valley were not warlike but they were disagreeable to the settlers, causing them much worry and stealing their possessions. Because of Mr. Sauer’s great stature and strength most of them feared him although he carried only a shovel for protection.

This was the condition of Washoe Valley at the time of the great Mount Davidson discovery. The lack of both wood and water there compelled the mines to depend entirely on the nearby country for the supply of these articles. From then on the western mountains of Washoe Valley yielded their dense growth of pines and firs to build Virginia City and timber the mines.

Great saw mills were built in the mountains and the town of Ophir and Washoe grew to be of great importance for several years. About 1861 there were, in addition to Washoe City’s six or seven thousand, three thousand wood cutters in the mountains.

On Comanche Flat west of the present Winters ranch was located the large Comanche saw mill. McFarland’s mill was situated several miles above the present Sauer’s ranch while at Brown’s Creek there were two others. The Hobart estate owned several mills, there being one at Stoney Lake, above Ophir and two above Price’s Lake. Farther south in the valley there were other mills, on at Franktown near the creek, one at the present site of the Cliff Ranch. The barn there now was part of this mill.

The trees for these latter mills were obtained from “Little Valley” and mountains above the “Incline” at Lake Tahoe. A flume to Franktown carried the lumber down the mountain where it was loaded by the teamsters and hauled to Virginia City.

“Mills Station,” near the Lewers Ranch, boasted of a wood flume and the lumber was likewise hauled from there to Virginia City.

The flume at Washoe was the largest of all and came from Mount Rose directly into the city. The wood from the Tahoe Meadows, Slide Mountain and Tamarack districts was floated down this flume. Many teamsters, with their ox and mule teams, carried great quantities of wood and lumber to the Comstock returning with ore for the stamp mills.

In the valley there were three roads which joined the two main roads to Virginia City. One ran directly from Washoe to the lake where a bridge was built across the narrow neck of water between the tow lakes. A plank bridge was laid across the swampy Tule land at Ophir and joined the other roads. Riding on horse back over the land now one may still see traces of these roads.

The most important stamp mills in the valley were the Dahl Mill at Franktown, tailings from which were later hauled to the canyon below Washoe were they were worked. The stone ruins of the Ophir mill are still to be seen. This mill employed four hundred men.

There were also six quartz mills at Washoe, namely the New York, situated at the foot of the hills near the end of Little Washoe Lake and the Back Action Mill located behind the present school house.

Washoe City boasted of two churches, the Methodist and the Roman Catholic. The Methodist church was on a small hill where now stands the old rectory. The church was used as a school building also and the very earliest teachers were young men.

The city limits of Washoe City extended from the shores of Little Washoe Lake where there was a hotel to the present cemetery and thence to the pine tree near the railroad in Mr. Sauer’s field.

The business district was located about the brick buildings which are yet standing. The I. S. Bostwick, general merchandise buildings were where the dance hall is now. In Washoe there were also six saloons, many livery stables, stores, a brewery and a newspaper, called the “Eastern Slope”.

When Nevada was made a territory and Washoe county was formed Washoe City was the county seat. At the time of the state’s admission to the union there was an unsuccessful attempt to have it enter as Washoe instead of Nevada.

Ophir at this time had a population of about six hundred people with stores and other public buildings. The present Ophir house was the mill superintendent’s home and the building near it was the assay office. The well known educator, Orvis Ring, taught school in Ophir from 1862 to 1868 when he moved to Washoe City.

Franktown was never a large town, there being only a few hundred people there. The only old relic of this town still stands.

Up until the seventies the wood and lumber business in the valley was of a most extensive character. The millions of feet of lumber being cut monthly were conveyed to Virginia and Gold Hill by numerous freight wagons, the owners of which put bells on the leader and exhibited great pride as these bells announced their arrival.

After the mills along the Carson River and Gold Hill and Seven Mil Canyon were erected the dependence of the Comstock on the mills of Washoe Valley decreased rapidly. When the railroad from Virginia City to Carson was completed in 1869 ore could be carried cheaper than it could be hauled. The consequence was the dying out of the teaming and milling business of this section. Some old timers to their last day hated bitterly the railroads. Mills were torn down and people moved away often taking with them their homes, some of which can still be seen in many different parts of the state. Then came the new town of Reno, which, in 1870, was given the county seat in a bitterly contested election.

Life for the ranchers in the valley went on amid the great change. Each family prepared for the winter as usual, for it would often begin to snow in October and from then until early March the snow was drifted as high as the fence posts making freighting or transportation impossible. Huge stores of food, clothing and sacks of tobacco, tons of flour, pounds of coffee were brought in. Should anyone run out of provisions one of the men would saddle a horse and plough through the drifts to a neighbor, sure of assistance.

Two important events happened in the early eighties. These were the Franktown and Ophir floods. The dam in Little Valley broke and the waters rushed madly through the canyon carrying with them boulders, sand and trees. The dance hall below the Dahl Ranch was filled with bailed hay and was carried with other ranch buildings and home down to Big Washoe Lake. Fence posts could hardly be seen above the sand.

At Ophir the Price’s lake dam gave way and the waters filled the Ophir district with great quantities of debris, but no damage of any consequence was done.

Washoe Valley can boast of many romantic and widely known landmarks. After Theodore Winters had, by a chance of fortune, received all his money in Gold Hill claims he built a beautiful home. The furniture and furnishings were freighted from Sacramento. The grounds always kept in beautiful condition by Mrs. Winters who was a great lover of flowers. Her conservatory was perfectly cared for and the path leading to her orchard was bordered by rows of rose bushes. On this place now there are still some rare imported trees and shrubs. The Winters race horses and racing stables are known all over the country as the record set by one of his horses, EL Rio Ray, has never yet been broken.

another interesting place is the old Dahl home, near the tailings mill. This house had a fireplace in each room-seven in all-and a beautiful conservatory and orchards.

The most widely known of the settlers of the valley were Sandy Bowers and his wife. Mrs. Cowan refused to return to Salt Lake when the Mormons were recalled and moved to Gold Canyon where she had a boarding house and there meeting and marrying Mr. Bowers who later gained a fortune from his mines at Gold Hill. Many anecdotes are told about Mr. Bowers and often their veracity is questionable. However, in 1862 work was begun on the mansion which was completed in 1864. Mrs. Bowers, like her husband, was very ignorant but no kinder hearted and sincere people ever lived. Because of his ignorance and dealing in stocks the Bowers lost all their money. The foundations of the barns of the ranch and the buildings are still a curiosity to travelers. After Mr. Henry Riter took over the place it became the most attractive picnic grounds for people from all over Western Nevada. Mrs. Bowers’ ashes were brought home and placed beside the graves of her husband and adopted daughter on the steep hill behind her old home.

Washoe Valley like many other places has seen many thrilling and romantic days. It has watched its cities rise and fall and seen civilization slowly, amid hardships, overcome the wilderness and now it rests peacefully and quietly as a farming community, cherished memories of which are held by a very few pioneers yet living, their children and grandchildren.

Fire Dept Concerns

A reminder from a reader:

“There is also the very important fire consolidation issues. We fought for years to separate from Reno Fire and now there is a proposed bill to consolidate back with Reno. We (unincorporated area residents) will once again be subsidizing Reno with our dedicated fire tax dollars to provide fire protection to the city while unincorporated areas will suffer reduction in services. If Reno needs more funding then raise their taxes like the county did to Truckee Meadows residents. Please do not support consolidation as any governing board will be heavily weighted with Reno influence and we will be back where we were 4 years ago! Please keep this on the radar of WV Alliance.”

Photo: 2008 Skinner fire in Washoe Valley by washoevalley.org

Cider Press Event

Hi folks -

Big weekend of Cider pressing coming up,  Families and friends welcome to attend and participate.  See details below.

CIDER PRESS – Saturday and Sunday, October 11 & 12, 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Hi friends and neighbors,

We are on target to make cider again this coming weekend (October 11th and 12th.  If you have contacted me with a specific date you plan to attend we will hope to see you. If you plan to attend one or both dates and have not contacted me with a date, please do so by this Wednesday Oct. 8th, so we know approximately how many to expect.

We will again be renting the grinder and cider press this year and will accept donations toward the rental fee. We have information on how to pasteurize your fresh cider.  Know that 20 pounds of fruit will produce ~  approximately one gallon of cider. If you want enough to have some through the holidays, please plan to bring fruit.  We have not heard from anyone indicating a need for container(s). If you expect to need a container at this point, the Just Brew It shop in Carson City has a pretty good inventory.

This is a very fun activity for children of all ages since the flavors of the cider are MUCH more complex and satisfying than apple juice. The varieties of apples we have picked from the McCleary and Belli Ranches and local sites are from a wide variety of trees which should yield some wonderful and complex flavors.

Feel free to bring snacks and some to share.  Bottles of water would be a good idea.  Bring a knife to help with cutting up the apples.  If you have a canopy you’d be willing to bring, that would assist the volunteers with shade.  Let us know if you’re able to bring one.  Extra folding chairs would also be welcome.

Preparing apples, pressing and bottling
Location: 3220 Churchill Dr. Washoe Valley

Dates & Times
Saturday Oct. 11th (1:00 – 5:00 PM)
Sunday Oct. 12th (1:00 – 4:00 PM

If you plan to participate and have not yet contacted us, please call our house at 345-1515 or reply to this message by Wednesday (10/ 8). We look forward to having you join us.