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Washoe City Cemetery

I’ve had a request from a local historian to help with restoring the Washoe City Cemetery and honoring our past pioneers. Near as we can tell, a cleanup was last done in the 1962 by a 4H group with the help of the Washoe Valley Homemakers Club. We are currently researching the legal status of the ground, expert advice on how to go about it, and funding for such things as fencing and dumpsters. A local academic at UNR with experience in cemetery restoration has volunteered to help already. Volunteer labor will be needed and we are wondering if there will be interest in a local Washoe Valley/Pleasant Valley historical club to get together for this and other activities. Washoe Valley especially has a very rich and interesting history that should be recognized and nurtured. If you are interested, write me at washoevalley@gmail.com and I’ll start creating a list of folks who might be interested.

The cemetery dates from the time of the Comstock, about 1860, and from when Washoe City was the County Seat and the leading “City” in Washoe Valley and Truckee Meadows. I noticed one marker from as recent as 1974. Members of several families prominent in the area’s settlement and development are buried there. I’ll keep you posted on developments with this project.

A Little Washoe City History

Every so often we like to remind locals of the great western history we have all around us in Washoe Valley. This ranges from the ancient natives that found plentiful water and food here on the edge of the Nevada desert, through Mormon settlement, farming and ranching, quartz milling and logging for the fabulous Comstock Lode to the 1940s when the famous used our dude ranches for their quickie divorces.

This article will remind our readers of the interesting history of Washoe City. Today, it exists as a sleepy  for commercial district on the north side of the valley bisected by old Highway 395. One wonders why there was a town there at all. Probably because it was at a crossroads. Before the railroads but after the silver discovery at Virginia City, many newcomers from Northern California (and there were many, with the Virginia City silver strike first assayed and authenticated in Nevada City, California) came through the Henness Pass north of Truckee and into the Truckee Meadows to this spot. The decision was made to head south to the farms, ranches, and settlements of Washoe and Eagle Valleys to the south or go directly to Virginia City via the new Ophir Road. This road, began as the shortest walking trail between two points, soon was ground into existence by the increasing traffic by foot, beast and wagon.

Habitation soon increased with the industrialization of the Virginia City mines. As silver and gold ore Washoe Citypiled up the need for processing was urgent. Water and wood for fuel were nonexistent in Virginia City and the Comstock. Soon, trains of freight wagons were hauling loads of ore down the Ophir Road to Washoe City where there was abundant wood and water. At one time there were perhaps 10 mills around the City and a total of 18 in Washoe Valley. Vast lumber operations began to denude the western hills of timber for fuel, building and mine timbers.

Shops, liveries and accommodations developed until the town consisted of several substantial buildings including Masonic and Odd Fellows Halls, Methodist Church, schools and “good” hotels. In the brief time of state organization and the coming of the transcontinental railroad in 1865, the town was even the Washoe County Seat complete with a brick courthouse. Permanent population peaked at about 700.

After Reno was established and became a major stop on the railroad, the county seat was moved there. Shortly thereafter in 1870, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was completed from Virginia City to Reno. This allowed the Comstock ore to be economically transported to the Carson River Canyon east of Carson City. Several huge mills were built there along the river and this killed the milling business in Washoe Valley. These two events began the towns decline in population and importance. Rather than a source of labor and materials, the Washoe Valley towns of Mill City, Franktown, Ophir and Washoe City became merely lumber and agricultural loading stations for the railroad.

Washoe City fell into a long decline, shifting to a mostly residential existence. By 1875 the Reno newspaper noted that it was a “deserted village” made up of a post office, store and saloon. By 1892, there were 51 registered voters.

Like some other western settlements,  the town’s monicker could also be the “The Town That Wouldn’t Die” and never became a deserted “ghosttown like its neighbors. Over the years, especially in the Nevada mining excitement of 1901-1910, various small mines and mills operated in the the nearby hills providing employment. Recreation at Washoe Lake provided some income, and the school and saloon remained.

In the 1930’s, the ever innovative Nevada Legislature created the 6 week residency requirement for divorce stimulating the state economy. The hurried, desperate and discrete from all over the country made a beeline for Reno and entertainments arose around the city. Some stayed in hotels in Reno, but others, especially the wealthy, preferred a western adventure thrown in and stayed at one of several dude ranches in Washoe Valley. These came complete with other newly liberated guests, swimming pools, horseback rides and wranglers. Also included were amusing excursions to the watering holes of Washoe City, Carson City and Virginia City. This business lasted into the 1950s as generally more liberal divorce laws became the norm around the country and Las Vegas arose in prominence.

Ironically, one of the more consistent activities in the sleepy town has surrounded the Washoe City Cemetery. As local pioneers have passed on, they have been interred there up to the 1960s. Located just east of the Chocolate Factory and west of the old Cattleman’s Restaurant (now animal rescue), it lies in decay. Other signs of Washoe City’s heyday are the stone building on the east side at the old garden store, The V&T bridge abutements across the highway and Winters Mansion to the west. A bronze plaque noting the history of the town is located at the entrance to the Washoe Estates subdivision.

Digging a Tunnel from Washoe Valley To Tahoe

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?

The Washoe City Cabin

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.img340 (2)
img338 (2)
wv cabin montage croppedPhotos: 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


Flumes of the Comstock

Flumes were water filled wooden troughs that brought wood and lumber down from the mountains to feed the Comstock Lodes insatiable need for lumber and fuel. The mountains from Gardnerville to Reno and around Lake Tahoe were clear-cut for the mines and the flumes played a fascinating role in that exciting time.

I found a magazine article from 1896 written by a man who worked on a flume west of Carson City in 1870. The article, “Down A Mountain Flume” is here.

The mountains west of Washoe Valley had several mountain sawmills and flumes between 1863 and 1880.

down the flume oac

From the Oakland Tribune, 1961

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.

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.