The following history stuff on Washoe Valley I have found
from various sources. If you have stories, photos or sources for local
please let me know so you can share it.
washoevalley.org began publishing in December, 2005.
Check our archive links at the bottom of the home page for all articles
published since then.
Flood Destroys Franktown in 1881
How Wrong Can a Modern Air Passenger Be in Making A Guess About What Used To
Be in Washoe Valley?
Washoe Valley, Then & Now
Washoe Valley V&T Paintings
Old Postcard From Lakeview Hill
Prize Winning History Essay
A Sad, Sad, Incident- Two Little Boys Found
Frozen To Death
Mrs. Bowers Home Burns
Famous Author Marries in
Authors Like Washoe
Royalty Moves To Washoe Valley
Land For Sale Cheap
Wall of Mud Invades
Washoe Valley -1983
Slide Mountain Fire Spreading
Death Overtakes A
Slide Mt. Miner 1907
Washoe Valley Lavender Farm
The Dude Ranch Years
Washoe Valley News 1875
Bowers Mansion Ad 1906
After centuries of relatively peaceful habitation by indigenous
tribes including the Washo, Washoe Valley has had a very busy and varied
history. Mormon settlers are the first pioneers to settle in the valley by
way of ranching and farming. With the discovery of silver in the Comstock,
the valley became a center of industry and commercial activity. As the
silver boom waned, agriculture again returned as the primary activity. A
colorful period of "dude ranch" operation existed between 1930 and the
1960's. Today, residential habitation with a rural, agricultural leaning is
the primary focus. The natural aspects of the valley have gone through
dramatic changes as well due to human and natural activities. Amazingly,
most signs of the past have disappeared but there are hints if one knows
where to look. As I gather information I will post historical sketches
Reminiscences Circa 1960
Growing up in Washoe City in the early 1960's, Pat Russell, currently of
Oregon, writes in with his early experiences in Washoe Valley in this great
letter to washoevalley.org.
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.
Come explore Washoe Valley's newest Ghost Town in this story of dreams,
trials and reality in this washoevalley.org
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"
A great article now
serialized on washoevalley.org.
Read the first chapter
Then & Now
|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 and 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.
Gardnerville artist Wayne Scarpaci has immortalized Washoe
Valley in a couple of paintings
depicting the historic Virginia and Truckee Railroad. See more of Wayne's
work at his website.
Click on the thumbnail for a larger image.
The V&T motor 20 is a McKeen car from 1908 that was used
until 1945. The 22 still exists and is currently under restoration the the
Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.
V&T No. 5 a 2-8-0 that was the last regularly operating
locomotive on the V&T. The train is shown emerging from the south end of
Washoe Canyon (Pagni Canyon, I think-ed). The bridge and the trees in the
painting are still in place located about 100 ft to the west of the "Nugget
Casino' billboard on the north side of 395 at the Washoe Valley's north end.
From Lakeview Hill
Postcard of Washoe Valley circa 1930's from a vantage
point on Lakeview Hill looking North. Note the V&T Railroad tracks on the
Prize Winning History
Essay From 1930 from the Reno Evening Gazette, May
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
Giant Spuds from the
Nevada State Journal, 1881
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.
A Sad, Sad, Incident- Two Little
Boys Found Frozen To Death
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.
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
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.
Author Marries in Washoe Valley from Time
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
Authors Like Washoe Valley, Apparently from
Time Magazine, 1958
Working on a new novel called Lord Timothy Dexter Revisited, a guest
known as Mr. Maynard kept his identity mostly secret on a ranch in Nevada's
Washoe Valley. This week, his residence requirements satisfied, Mr. Maynard
will have to make himself known in order to seek a divorce (after a second
marriage that has lasted 21 years) as John Phillips Marquand. Meanwhile, the
65-year-old Maynard has found another love: Nevada. It "is the last frontier
of the fiction writer. This is the place for a young writer to come. What
this place needs is a mute and glorious Milton. If Mark Twain and Bret Harte
were alive today, they could do it all over again. If I were 30 years
younger . . ."
To Washoe Valley from Time Magazine 1933
Christian Arthur Wellesley, 4th Earl Cowley, a great-great-grandnephew of
the Duke of Wellington, who last June married a hat-checker in a Reno. Nev.
night club, announced that he had bought a ranch in Washoe Valley, Nev. and
planned to renounce his seat in the House of Lords, become a U. S. citizen.
Explained he: "My wife and the life of the West mean more to me than titles.
We shall be immensely happy on our little ranch. We shall have sufficient
pasture for my horses, raise a little hay, and settle down to being happy."
Land For Sale Cheap
from the 1962 Reno Evening Gazette
of Mud Invades Washoe Valley -1983
(from the Gazette Journal, May 30, 2003)
In 1983 Slide Mountain did what it does periodically and sent a wall of
mud down to the valley through the Ophir Creek drainage near Davis Creek
Park in the northwest valley, killing one person, destroying houses and
blocking Highway 395.
link to the article that will open a new page
Fire Spreading (from the Reno Gazette October 21,
Despite the efforts of between fifteen and twenty men, ten of whom were
sent to the scene yesterday by the sheriff, the forest fire on Slide
Mountain, threatening ranches in that section, came down the hill this
morning and at noon today was reported with in a quarter of a mile of the
Reno-Carson highway. The Winters home ranch and the Frank Sauer ranch still
are said to be in danger, but indications were that property on those
ranches would be saved if the blaze spread even further down the hill side.
During the night the fire crept up toward the upper slopes of the mountain
but a wind from the south this morning swept the flames downward toward the
valley. Between three and four sections of land have been burned over, it is
estimated. A considerable quantity of timber has been destroyed by the fire
the largest losers being the Sauer and Winters Ranches, the Southern Pacific
and the federal government.
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."!
Karl Breckinridge wrote a series of articles on Washoe Valley history in
September, 2006 that includes the mysterious lavender farm here circa WWII,
the San Antonio Ranch and various early residents of the valley. Very
interesting stuff and if you find you have something to add to the Washoe
Valley saga, let us know. The story is
In 1859 with the discovery of silver in the area soon to become
Virginia City, came the need to use industrial processes to extract the
silver (and gold) from the native rock that was extracted from the mines.
This process required large amounts of water, something the Virginia City
area had an extreme lack of. Washoe Valley, just over the Virginia Range to
the west had an abundance of water. The Carson River was an option to the
east but I think Washoe Valley was chosen as it was closer to Reno and the
Central Pacific Railroad for hauling the processed silver and gold for
shipment out. Also, the mountains to the west of Washoe Valley had timber
for building materials, heat and shoring up the mines. The freight wagons
could haul full loads both ways. As the ore piled up in the new Virginia
City "diggins" a toll road was built from Virginia City to Washoe Valley
along much the same route as the current "Jumbo Grade" road. This road was
called the Washoe and Virginia Road and connected to the Ophir Road at the
summit where a toll station and presumably a residence was located. Pieces
of glass, china and square nails can still be found at this intersection.
typical freight wagon, UC Davis Library
Several ore processing mills were built to take advantage of the flow from
the main creek cascading down from Little Valley starting in 1861. Logging
operations began and sawmills built. The town of Ophir sprang up here and a
small pile of building stones can still be seen along the east side of
Highway 395 near the north end of the straight stretch. Washoe Lake and the
wetlands to its north created the need for a large detour and soon a
mile-long, wooden causeway was built straight across the marshes to Ophir.
This became such an important thoroughfare that plans were even made to
build a railroad over the route. The Virginia and Truckee Railroad was built
first in 1869 and eliminated the need to haul ore to Ophir. The V&T provided
ore hauling to the Carson River where the next generation of mills were
built. Wood was picked up on its route in Carson City and Washoe. Processed
ore and freight was moved back and forth to Reno. Thus, only three years
after the V&T was built Ophir was virtually abandoned and presumably the
booming toll road business was defunct also.
It wasn't until 1907 nearly 40 years later that activity revived on the
road. Nevada became gripped in a general mining fever with the discovery of
huge gold and silver mines in Tonopah and Goldfield in the south-center of
the state. There was suddenly the notion again that riches could be found in
Nevada and new and intensive prospecting resumed. Good prospects were found
along the toll road a mile east of the valley. By this time the word "Jumbo"
had entered the common language as in 1882 P.T. Barnum brought Jumbo the
huge elephant over from England for his circus. Jumbo became synonymous with
anything big and exciting. Since making money in new mines was usually about
convincing others they could make money, new strikes were heavily promoted
and an exciting or memorable name was important. Anyway, that's my theory on
how Jumbo got its name. Soon, the new town had a mill, saloons, hotels, an
assay office and a grocery store. By 1921 it was over. Now, all that remains
are various side roads, tailings heaps, broken china, glass, rusted tin and
a few square nails. Buildings remained into the 1960's but are gone now.
Another remnant are several open mineshafts that are extremely dangerous and
should be given a wide berth especially when visiting with children.
Today, the road is known as Jumbo Grade and still connects with Virginia
City. It is passable with a high clearance, 4 wheel drive vehicle, atv,
horse or mountain bike. On the other side of the summit, as you approach
Virginia City you can look down at American Flat and see the progress of the
reconstruction of the new V&T Railroad.
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
about Will James). 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
Carmazzi's Washoe Bar, Washoe City, circa 1947
Railroad in Washoe Valley
Richard Moreno has an article in the
Nevada Appeal about the route of the V&T through Pagni Canyon in
extreme north Washoe Valley. The railroad took advantage of the slope of
this mini canyon to lower the tracks into Pleasant Valley. Some trestle
timbers still remain. Another website has a nice article by Rich Moreno and
some good photos of the trestle in its current state
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
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.
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.