Reno was the Divorce Capital of the World in the 1930s and that led an English Lord to fall in love with a local girl and settle in Washoe Valley. A great story.
The recollections of a worker on the wooden “ditches” that transported the Sierra forests to the Virginia City mines. There were up to 24 of these fantastic wooden structures from Gardnerville to Reno. Written in 1896 about his experiences in 1870. An entertaining story.
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.
Escaping the impending Nazi invasion of France, a French perfume making family settles in Washoe Valley and grows fields of lavender for their products.
Mrs Bowers Home Burns– Nevada State Journal, June 14, 1884 For more information of the former owner of Bowers Mansion and her troubles, see this webpage.
On Tuesday last the little home of Mrs. Bowers, the seeress, in Washoe Valley, near Franktown, was burned to the ground with its entire contents. As the home contained all the valuables that this old lady possessed in the world, the presumption is that it was first stripped of its valuables and then set afire by the miserable thieves. Our people should come to the lady’s relief, by raising and tender to her a goodly sum of money.
The following article I found last summer while researching the old local newspapers. I thought it too melancholy to print at Christmas but we saw the graves upat the Gold Hill Cemetery and the unusual contemporary memorial depicted in the photo at right which prompted me to finally present the whole story. The story, corresponding headstone and ongoing memorial remind us of the rich living history we are surrounded with in this area.
From the Nevada State Journal, Dec. 30th, 1871
The Gold Hill News of Wednesday last has the following:
We grieve to record the sad fact that two little sons of Robert Jones, the well-known milkman, whose milk ranch is situated at American Flat, were frozen to death on the Ophir Grade during the late heavy snow storm. They were at Mr. Jones ranch in Truckee meadows, and their father sent a letter telling them they mightcome home to Christmas and have a good time. Their names were John, aged ten years, and Henry, aged about thirteen. They left the ranch at the Meadows last Saturday morning, on horseback, driving two cows and two calves before them. It was a very stormy day, but notwithstanding the chilly rain and snow which was falling, the stout-hearted little fellows thought they could make the trip. The streams along the route were swollen, and the road so bad that their progress was slower than they expected, and they only reached Brown’s ranch, in Steamboat Valley, where they staid that night. Next morning (Sunday) they started out again, going by way of Steamboat and around by the Ophir Grade, although it was still storming heavily.
It seems strange that the people at Brown’s station or ranch, should have allowed these two little boys to go forward in such a storm, attempting what most men would have considered too great a hardship to encounter. But the little fellows were thinking of home and the Christmas pleasures promised them. They passed out into the storm and were soon no more alive.
Yesterday the anxious father, fearing that perhaps his dear little sons might have made the attempt to come through the storm, or at any rate, desirous of visiting them, started for the Truckee Meadows by way of Virginia and the Geiger Grade. He heard of the them when he got to Brown’s, and immediately started following up the route they had taken. Hoping to find them at some place of shelter they might have sought, he eagerly inquired, but got no trace of them. More and more eagerly he pressed forward his tired steed through the deep drifts of snow up the Ophir Grade from Washoe Valley, and at length about 7 o’clock this morning saw a horse some distance ahead standing in the road. He recognized the animal at once, and fearing the worst, hastened to him. There, near the faithful animal, close beside the road, lay his two little boys locked fast in each other’s arms.
No trace of the other horse or of the cows and calves they were driving were to be found, and appearances indicated that they must have left those animals behind, and both were riding this horse, which was the strongest of the two, the other one, perhaps having given out entirely. Both boys were well clothed, the oldest having on a long pair of stout winter boots. The youngest wore a pair of gum boots, which he had taken off and lay near by. He had done this, perhaps, to empty the water out of them, with the assistance of the brother, and then both being overpowered by the cold and fatigue, had finally laid down to die.
Great drifts of snow were along the grade, but where they lay was a bleak place, swept clean by the driving winds, and no snow covered them. Their wet clothes were frozen fast to the ground. They have a last reached home, but, alas, not to gladden it with their childish joy. The chill hand of death has silenced forever their bright hopes and joyous anticipations.
Dan DeQuille, of the (Virginia City, Territorial) Enterprise, who is perhaps the best judge of agricultural matters in the State says the snowflake potato raised on Selby Flat, Nevada County, Cal., weighing six pounds, is nothing to brag about, for in Washoe Valley are to be found “spuds” that are suckling half a dozen young ones that weigh more than six pounds each. Just such a “spud” as Dan describes is now on exhibition at Chase & Tayes’ saloon.
Myra Sauer wrote this essay while attending high school in Reno about her beloved Washoe Valley and her family who were pioneers in the valley first arriving in 1857. Her essay won a state competition. She later went on to write two books about Washoe Valley.
Postcard of Washoe Valley circa 1930’s from a vantage point on Lakeview Hill looking North. Note the V&T Railroad tracks on the left.
The Virginia City water system’s reservoir at the “saddle” on Jumbo Grade. Built originally in the 1870’s to supply water from Marlette Lake near Lake Tahoe to satisfy a desperate need for domestic and industrial water in the booming city. The “reverse siphon” was an engineering marvel, crossing two mountain ranges and a valley using only gravity and it is still in use today.
The ghost town of Jumbo sprang up in the Nevada mining boom era of 1907 as prospectors and speculators covered the state, reopening promising prospects from the past trying to duplicate the incredible riches found in the Tonopah and Goldfield districts. Several mines were developed, stores, saloons, a candy shop and the boarding house shown above, opened for business. Even a mill was built for using Jumbo Creek water to process the ore. The town lasted less than 10 years and now all that remains are some vertical shafts, tailings dumps and broken glass and pottery. The original photo above was taken circa 1940 by Gus Bundy and is from the UNR Library.
Come explore Washoe Valley’s newest Ghost Town in this story of dreams, trials and reality in this washoevalley.org article.
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.
How Wrong Can a Modern Air Passenger Be in Making A Guess About What Used To Be in Washoe Valley?
by Peggy Trego, Nevada State Journal, January 10, 1952
55 Years Ago a Historian Looks Back at the “Early Days”
Not long ago, this writer was aboard an airliner bound for Reno from San Francisco, which dipped down from the Sierra over Carson city and flew north through Washoe Valley.
There was an intent couple in the seat just behind me, who remarked the scenic interests of the country below. Just past the north end of Washoe Lake, the woman remarked: “Bet nobody tried to live down there until a few years ago.”
She was so wrong. Long before the first struggling days of the tough town by the Truckee known as Reno, Washoe Valley was a teeming strip of industry and commerce. When the woman made her remark, the airliner’s silver wing had just flicked over the bare patch that marks the site of Galena- a town that once led in the race for permanence and progress. The plane had already droned over four other long-gone towns: Mill City, Franktown, Ophir and Washoe City.
To the east was a desolate ribbon of road that had once swarmed with traffic, and only a faintly visible patch of shallows indicated the expensive and impressive causeway that had funneled that traffic across Washoe Lake. There was no smoke in the valley, which had once had its own industrial smog from the furnaces of eleven big quartz mill, and a dozen more sawmills. It was just a quiet stretch of land dotted with a few farms and bounded by forbidding hills. It had been quiet for a long time.
Even when Reno was a scan decade through its youth, the flush time of Washoe Valley were the stuff oldtimers talked about. Considering Reno’s own youth in 1877-78, the Nevada State Journal’s articles about the “early days” of 1859-60 seem a bit sardonic, but the Journal printed them straight. Reno of 1878 could already look down the valley at a lost era, monumented by the decaying remnants of five villages that had been proud enough to call themselves cities.
Some Grand Procession
“In those days Washoe City, Ophir and Franktown were large and flourishing…Washoe City was the county seat and contained quite a number of large and creditable buildings, both public and private; hundreds of workmen found employment at Ophir, and Franktown was quite a bustling place.” Thus began the Journal’s oldtimer story of 27, 1877.
“The Ophir Grade, leading from the Comstock to the mills and works in Washoe Valley, was the most thronged thoroughfare in the country. The teams passing over the road were so numerous as to form almost a continuous line. A stranger standing in the town of Gold Hill and looking up the Ophir Grade where it wound round the points of the range of high hills lying to the westward, would have supposed that he saw some grand procession moving across the mountains, so numerous, so closely wedged together were the quartz and lumber teams.”
In the 1860’s Washoe Valley to Virginia city was the milling district, and also the supply depot, for the Comstock. The vital artery from the Valley to Virginia City was the Ophir Grade- a splendid road which had partly superseded the earlier Washoe Grade over the same general route- and which had the big causeway at its western terminus.
This was the day of the bullwhacker, and the Journal’s article mentioned George W. Heppardy of Washoe City as the chief of them all. Galena’s ex-citizens might have taken exception to Heppardy; they always claimed that James Mathews could out-bullwhack anybody else. Mathews’s roaring conversations with the Deity when his team stuck in Galena Creek were recounted years later. The whole town turned out to hear him cuss, and he usually mounted a stump to give special dignity to the occasion.
The teamsters’ business was a two-way affair; they brought ore from the Comstock to the mills in the valley, and they returned to Virginia City with timber and wood cut from the Sierra foothills (the Carson Range, mountains to the west of Washoe Valley-ed.)
On the way to and from Virginia City, they passed the toll-house where the Ophir Grade joined the old Washoe Grade- a junction called Jumbo in much later years. This was a center of uproar in the 1860’s, tolls clinking musically into the coffers of the road owner and other cash making rich the proprietor of the good-sized tavern nearby.
Cash and Smog
But in 1877, the Ophir Grade was already a deserted road, “It is one of the most lonely roads in all the country around about the Comstock,” said the Journal. “The ‘solitary horseman’ would create a sensation should he pass that way. The old toll house still stands, and a gray-headed hermit dwells there as Cerberus of the gate, but he may without inconvenience carry all the tolls he collected in a fortnight, whereas in the early days it is said that at the end of a single day a half-bushel measure would be filled and heaped with silver coin, not to speak of the gold taken in.”
From the toll station, the Valley in the 1860’s appeared to be one long strip of industry. The great white-stone Ophir dominated the end of the causeway, and Dall’s Mill at Franktown sent forth columns of smoke from its “Barrel process” roasters.
In and around Washoe City were eight more big quartz mills; the Atchison, the Manhattan, the New York, the North, the Buckeye, the Tomolee, the Napa and the Alfred. Still another, at the south end of the Valley, gave Mill City its name.
The sawmills dotted the slopes on the west side of the Valley. The town swarmed over the flat, each one trying to out-do its neighbors in outward signs of prosperity, population and noise.
Between Washoe City and Ophir was the magnificent Winters property, with it s private racetrack, immense barns and stables, and big frame house made doubly impressive by strange Gothic windows. Between Ophir and Franktown the mansion of Sandy and Eilley Bowers jutted up from its pools and fountains. Theirs came slightly later than the mills, but they were of the same period. It was an era of money and commerce for the Valley, and the merchandisers, the saloon-keepers and heads of hostelries waxed fat on the business that poured into their establishments.
Nothing seemed more promising than Washoe Valley in the 1860’s, but, as the Journal’s story of 1, 1878, put it, “In a few years a gradual and almost mysterious change came over Washoe county.”
First, of all, the Central pacific Railroad was completed to the Truckee Meadows, and the town of Reno set up in 1868, “causing a great deal of business to concentrate at the north end of the county, on the Truckee River.”
“Soon after this the V&T RR was completed from Virginia City to Carson, carrying ores to the Carson River mills and returning with wood, lumber and timbers from the Sierra in the vicinity of Carson.
“These two great monopolies- the Union Mill and Mining Co. And the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company, soon monopolized the leading industries which had hitherto given life and prosperity to Washoe county… The bulk of the trade and traffic which had been fostered and built up by the overshadowing mining interest of the Comstock was shifted into another channel and away from Washoe county.”
In a scant few month, the valuation of taxable property in the Valley fell from $3,000,000 to just about half what it had been. “All of the quartz mills… Were torn down and carried away.” Reno, brash and promising, began to lure the people away from Galena, Washoe City, Ophir, Franktown and Mill city. There was a brief flourishing of the wood and ice-storage business in Washoe Valley when the V&T completed its Reno-Carson line, but even this was insufficient to revive five little cities.
Thus it was that Reno of 1877, having survived the loss of its own big freighting business when the V&T came to town, looked back on the remnants of Washoe Valley with something resembling condescension. “The old settlers,” concluded one of the Journal’s articles of that era, “must heave a sigh of regret when their thoughts go back to the good times that were seen in their valley in the early days.” Bowers Mansion, then owned by M. C. Lake of Reno, and the Winters Mansion were noted with a little pity: “They have become old landmarks.”
In 1952, a scant 90 years after the Valley’s great prosperity, it is these old landmarks that attract the casual eye of tourists who drive all-too-fast between Reno and Carson city, From the air, nothing stands out except the farmlands.
The Grade Remains
Washoe City has only a couple of brick and stone building to mark its original site. Ophir has the crumbling remnants of the big mill. Franktown’s outlines are barely discernable. Galena is a stretch of healthy sagebrush with a few fire blackened bricks at the roots. Mill City has disappeared altogether.
One thing remains almost intact: The Ophir Grade. It doesn’t end in a causeway any more, and the toll station has only the rotting boards of later building to show where it stood, but the old grade climbs and curves its old path over the ridge to Virginia City. The road would have meant less than nothing to that lady in th airliner the other day, but the ghost of a bullwhacker would still recognize it.