washoevalley.org Rotating Header Image


Last Train To Carson

The V&T passes through verdant Washoe Valley on its journey to Carson City

You could take a train from New York City to Carson City up until May 30, 1950 (service all the way to Virginia City ended in 1938). Then it was gone forever. It’s surprising it lasted as long as it did as Virginia City was in decline since well before the turn of the century. It wasn’t until 1921 that a surfaced road was built between Reno and Carson City so the railroad provided an important transportation link between Reno and Minden.

On May 30th the celebrated line passed quietly into the local lore of the Comstock and not many noticed. The Reno Gazette reported that Train No. 1 pulled out of the Southern Pacific depot at 7:30 am with only 40 of it’s available 60 seats filled. “Engine No. 27  and three cars and a caboose headed towards Carson to wind up a faithful career of 81 years. The only formal farewells will be provided by the children of the Brown-Washoe schools at Steamboat Springs as the the train stops at the station at 5;30 on it’s last return trip to Reno. It’s fitting as Steamboat is the only remaining stop on the Reno-Carson run. Huffaker’s, Brown, Washoe City, Franktown, Mill Station and Lakeview have all closed previously.”

The paper reported that several “old-timer” employees, current and retired,  manned the Carson Station and the train for the last day. The event also marked the last mail delivered by a short-line railway in the western states.

It was reported that the railroad has received many letters postmarked from all over the United States and around the world since the closing was announced. In the recent years not a small amount of the passenger traffic has been by railroad tourists from around the country.

It was just a couple years ago that we lost some of the last remnants of the line in the fire that destroyed the trestles in Washoe Canyon, north of Highway 395 at the north end of the valley. It’s great that we can still experience the V&T with the rebuilding of the line from Mound House to Virginia City.

The V&T pauses at the location of the Franktown Depot where only the water tower remained. In the background is the Flying ME Dude Ranch popular with divorees in the 1930s and 40s.
Photos above by Al Rose

“Then and Now” of a Virginia and Truckee train passing through Washoe Canyon in North Washoe Valley in the 1880s.
The Now photo was taken in 2009 before the trestles were destroyed by fire.

The folks at http://www.virginiatruckee.com assisted me in correcting some inaccurate information in this article and I appreciate it!

Flood Destroys Franktown in 1881

Franktown’s 1881 Flood

Local historian Patty Cafferata wrote this article for the Carson Times on the devastating flood in 1881 that wiped out the town of Franktown on the west side of the valley along with a mile of V&T track. The flood was caused by the failure of a private earthen dam up in Little Valley. In those small government days help was denied by the state and most everyone (about 200) moved on and the town was not rebuilt.

Washoe Valley’s Franktown destroyed in 1881 spring flood

Posted: 2/22/2008

Some women and children stayed at the Bowers Mansion when they were flooded out of their homes in Franktown in February 1881.

Spring floods are nothing new. In February 1881, widespread flooding occurred in Nevada, California and Oregon. The hamlet of Franktown in was among the hardest hit in Washoe County. The town was west of Washoe Lake and south of Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley.

The community was settled by Mormons, laid out by Elder Orson Hyde and named after Frank Poirer in 1856.

The settlement flourished because of a diverse economy made up of farms, lumber mills, a quartz mill, and later, a V&T railroad station. The town was also the terminus of the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company’s wood flume.

To improve irrigation, the local farmers and ranchers decided to build a dam across the bottom of a narrow gorge in the mountains west of town. In 1879, the Little Valley dam was constructed of boulders filled in with sand, gravel, stone and mud, but no masonry was used. The dam was situated about 1,186 feet above the V&T train tracks and at the same level as the corner of Taylor and C Streets in Virginia City across Washoe Valley.

Local rancher and former State Sen. William Thompson (1873-1875), Jane Lake’s son-in-law, built the dam. Thompson completed the work for $8,500, but $600 was outstanding when the dam burst.

Before the flood, about 200 people lived in the area, including Chinese men who loaded wood for the lumber mills or worked as cooks, wash men or household servants. Canadians made up another group of immigrants working mostly as laborers and boarding at fellow Canadian John Duvall’s hotel.

One of the more famous town residents was Eilley Bowers. After she had lost the fortune that she and Sandy Bowers had amassed, she no longer owned their Mansion north of Franktown. Living in a wooden house west of town, she took in a lodger to make ends meet.

On Feb. 1, 1881, a severe rainstorm filled the Little Valley reservoir to capacity. A Reno Evening Gazette article reported that the reservoir contained as much water as Washoe Lake. Twelve men struggled to release the water, but the sluice-way could not handle the overflow. The dam gave way in one gigantic wave. The next day, most of the town was virtually destroyed when the Little Valley dam burst.

The residents began fleeing Franktown before the waters washed away the community. Many of the women and children temporarily stayed at Bowers Mansion. No lives were lost.

The water swept through town leaving sand and mud everywhere. Only five or six buildings were left standing. The damage to the town was estimated to be between $15,000 and $50,000. Comstock milk dealer Guido Correcco’s recently purchased house, barn and cattle sheds were demolished under two to three feet of debris.

E. B. Tolles’ store and house were carried across the street, but deposited right side up with the store’s stock undisturbed. Captain J. H. Dall’s ranch was ruined. The front of Bowers’ house was torn out, the side frames gave way and the roof collapsed. Cyrus Lee’s grocery store and buildings, Beecroft’s dance hall and 40 tons of hay, the Mormon Church, and George Murray’s new house all were destroyed.

The water was 20 feet deep when it crossed the V & T line and tore out a mile of track. The damage was estimated to be between $5,000 and $10,000. The citizens quickly approached the Nevada Legislature and requested $5,000 to help them restore their town. The residents found the Legislature unconcerned about their plight. A subcommittee of Sen. L. T. Fox, Assemblymen Ross Lewers and J. J. Corbett visited the town. Lewers strenuously objected to helping in any way. He said they could put their homes back themselves. With no outside help and the local businesses destroyed, the town never recovered from the flood.

Patty Cafferata is an author of Nevada history books and articles. She can be reached at pdcafferata@sbcglobal.net.

San Antonio Ranch on Youtube

Mark Elsman, descendant of the Elsman family that owned the San Antonio Ranch in the south end of west Washoe Valley between 1927 and 1939 has posted a 10 minute compilation of home movies on Youtube. It starts out with a great scene of a wrangler astride a bucking horse under the great Ponderosa Pines with Washoe Valley in the background. The ranch house is magnificent and it is fun to see the Elsmans motor off in their Packard convertible coupe. This is a neat period in Washoe Valley where several of the wealthy who came to Reno for a quickie divorce (“the cure”), found they liked Washoe Valley and bought homes here. Much of this time is documented in William McGee’s memoir “The Divorce Seekers” that recalls his time as a dude ranch wrangler in Washoe Valley and it is a fun read. Mark has been kind enough to share his family’s history with us and it is a great addition to the documentation of Washoe Valley history. Check back to see more!

Passion For Politics

franktown-mapReno Evening Gazette, October 30, 1880

A Grand Illumination.

Franktown was blazing last night. A procession with torches, banners and transparencies marched up and down. There were many ladies in the procession. Huge bonfires blazed at every corner. A unique feature was vast illumination on the mountainside west of town. A fire had been raging there for a week and it had left dots of flame scattered about all up and down the vast wall for some distance. The evening was dark and the grand illumination showed up splendidly and roused a great deal of admiration. It seemed as if the very mountains were endorsing Garfield and Arthur.

(editors note: James Garfield won the presidency in November and Chester Arthur was vice president. In July 1881, Garfield was assasinated and Arthur took over as president until 1885.)