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The following history stuff on Washoe Valley I have found from various sources. If you have stories, photos or sources for local history, please let me know so you can share it.

Modern History 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
Sundown Town
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 From 1930
Giant Spuds
A Sad, Sad, Incident- Two Little Boys Found Frozen To Death
Mrs. Bowers Home Burns
Famous Author Marries in Washoe Valley
Authors Like Washoe Valley, Apparently
Royalty Moves To Washoe Valley
Land For Sale Cheap
Wall of Mud Invades Washoe Valley -1983
Slide Mountain Fire Spreading 1924
Death Overtakes A Slide Mt. Miner 1907
Washoe Valley Lavender Farm
Jumbo Grade
The Dude Ranch Years
V&T Railroad
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 below.

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

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.

Sundown Town

Come explore Washoe Valley's newest Ghost Town in this story of dreams, trials and reality in this article.


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 Read the first chapter now.





Washoe Valley, 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.

Washoe Valley V&T Paintings

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.

Old Postcard 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 left.

Prize Winning History Essay From 1930 from the Reno Evening Gazette, May 31, 1930

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.

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 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.

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.

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 . . ."

Royalty Moves 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



Wall 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.

Follow this link to the article that will open a new page

Slide Mountain Fire Spreading (from the Reno Gazette October 21, 1924)

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.

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."!

Washoe Valley Lavender Farm

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 here.

Jumbo Grade
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 (read more 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 read.

Carmazzi's Washoe Bar, Washoe City, circa 1947

V&T 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 here.


This is a Virginia & Truckee train in an area that looks very much like our Pagni (Allen's)  Canyon. Anyway, this is what it would look like there. photo courtesy

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.

Bowers Mansion 1906