Gardnerville’s Jensen Mansion

Tucked away at the tail end of Ezell Street is a gem of a house. Just looking at it, you know it has a story!

When Arendt Jensen first set foot in Gardnerville, Nevada in 1887, there were just two houses in town. Jensen was young — 28 — and full of energy. By the time he died in 1940 at age 81, Arendt had become one of Gardnerville’s most successful and respected businessmen.

Heard of Douglas County Farmer’s Bank? Jensen founded it, and stepped up to serve as president. How about the Midland Garage? He built it. And the classic brick Carson Valley Merc building? Yup, Jensen built it. (It housed his Arendt Co. store.)

Locals well remember the Carson Valley Merc which used to occupy the left-hand brick store and sold — well, EVERYTHING! Arendt built this brick building in the spring of 1896.

Born in Denmark in 1859, John Arendt Jensen came to the States in 1880. He married Lena (Paulina) Norgaard (a fellow Dane) in 1882 when she was just 16. Arendt made his way west and, with a keen eye for the future, spotted opportunity in the fledgling town of Gardnerville. He and Lena moved to the tiny settlement in 1887, opening a small store on Main Street “flanked by sagebrush and barbed wire fences.” Arendt went on to build a thriving mercantile business, eventually acquiring multiple business interests and extensive property.

Jensen’s ad in 1909 for the latest washing machine — he also sold everything from groceries to wagons!

But Arendt’s most outstanding architectural contribution to his new hometown was the Jensen Mansion, a gracious Colonial Revival home that still graces Ezell Street.

Touted as a “palatial residence” when construction began in 1910, the Jensen home was to be “modern in every respect.” Floors would be hardwood, and the house would be “steam heated throughout.” Arendt himself invented a special galvanized form that would make the home’s poured-concrete foundation resemble more-attractive cement brick construction.

Arendt died in 1940, and Lena passed away in 1948. Later decades saw the beautiful old Jensen mansion become a boarding house, a vacant eyesore, a bed-and-breakfast, and eventually a much-loved private home again. An architectural survey in 1981 by the Douglas County Planning Department dubbed it as one of Gardnerville’s “most outstanding buildings.” It received the recognition of a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

Best of all, the Jensen Mansion is reputed have a resident ghost — as all great old houses should! Former owners reported the strong odor of lavender wafting through the great room from time to time.

How lovely to imagine it’s Lena Jensen, still keeping an eye on the goings-on in her magnificent home.

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Gardnerville’s Old Jail

 

If it isn’t the ugliest jail structure west of the Mississippi, it probably ranks among the top ten. Its walls are poured concrete; its lower door is metal; and its boxy shape is (as one writer politely put it) “devoid of architectural detail or ornamentation.” Inside, the jail saved space by giving prisoners the penitential equivalent of Murphy beds: fold-down bed frames made of steel.

Douglas County shelled out just $25 for Louis Springmeyer to draw up the plans in 1910 (and some might  argue that was too generous.) But believe it or not, the Gardnerville Branch Jail holds a coveted position on the National Register of Historic Places. And there’s a perfectly fabulous story filled with politics, positioning and power behind how this tiny small-town jail came to be built!

Segue back in time to the year 1910, when Genoa was the official county seat and boasted the only county jail. Roads were primitive and automobiles were few, but crime was an equal opportunity occupation. So although Gardnerville had its own share of criminals, it had no convenient hoosegow in which to house them.

East Fork Justice of the Peace L.S. Ezell (his middle name was “Socrates,” a great name for a judge!)

L.S. Ezell, East Fork Justice Court judge since 1884, had come up with a makeshift solution: he allowed constables to use his Gardnerville granary building to lock up offenders when needed. This may have been convenient but it wasn’t such a grand idea from the prisoners’ point of view; the local newspaper called the granary a “vile hole” and “no fit place for a human being.”

Opportunity for a better solution knocked when Judge Ezell finally retired in 1909 after some 25 years on the bench, and thoughtfully donated the granary property to the county. Local citizens petitioned the commissioners to build a new and improved branch jail in its stead. It seemed like a grand plan. But politics is a tricky thing.

Eager for the new town of Minden not to be left in the dust, H.F. Dangberg, Jr. launched a counter-petition to protest against building the jail in its competitor, Gardnerville. And when the County commissioners formally took up the issue in April, 1910, local heavyweights William Dressler and H. Park joined Dangberg in the protest.

As government officials so often do, the beleaguered commissioners listened politely — and went right ahead with their original plans. Approval was given to build a one-story jail. And as government officials also frequently do, they quickly expanded the project to make it two stories, adding a courtroom on the top floor.

Now that there was to be a new branch jail, an official branch jailer would also be required. Albert Daudel was hired for the post, at $2 per day — upped to $4 on more arduous days when he’d oversee a chain gang fixing county roads.

Although Genoa wasn’t eager to relinquish its time-honored post as the County seat, Fate had other ideas. On June 28, 1910, much of that town was destroyed by fire — a loss that included the County’s main jail and courthouse. Luckily only one prisoner was being housed in Genoa’s jail at the time. It is said he was “chained to a post” until he could be moved to the still-under-construction branch jail in Gardnerville.

The Gardnerville Branch Jail is listed on both the National and Nevada State Registers of Historic Places.

Within just a few more years, Minden succeeded in wresting away the crown of County seat. And by 1916, a brand new County courthouse was erected there which included jail cells in the basement. Officially, all county prisoners were now supposed to be incarcerated at Minden and, officially, the Gardnerville branch jail was discontinued. But for reasons of economy, convenience, habit, or perhaps lingering tensions between the two towns, Gardnerville’s old branch jail continued to be used for prisoners well into the 1950s.

As the National Register listing description put it in 2003, the old Gardnerville jail remains “an excellent example of turn-of-the-century jail architecture,” with its steel cages, large hasps and padlocks, bull pen and woodstove still intact.

Those poured-concrete, steel-reinforced walls may be plenty ugly. But they certainly were practical; they successfully kept Gardnerville’s prisoners “from digging through the barriers as they had in Genoa’s brick jail.”

 It’s not a museum — yet. But you can check out the exterior of the Gardnerville Branch Jail at 1440 Courthouse Street, Gardnerville, Nevada.

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It Wasn’t Always Called Jubilee Ranch

The iconic old barn on Foothill Road has “Jubilee Ranch” emblazoned on the side. If you’re like me, you’ve driven by it hundreds of times. And if you’re also like me, every time you’ve gone by, you wished you knew its tale! So, who built this great old barn, and when? And what’s the backstory to the name “Jubilee”? We did a bit of digging — here’s the story!

Peter & Lillies Van Sickle

Yes, it turns out, it’s an old-old ranch — one of the very first ranch claims in Carson Valley. Some sources suggest this ranch was originally owned by settler John Cary in the early 1850s. Sometime after Cary, the property was acquired by soon-to-be Senator J.W. Haines and was known as the “Old Haines Ranch.” And around 1857 (even before the Comstock Lode boomed), Haines sold the ranch to Peter Van Sickle.

Peter’s older (and better-known) brother, Henry Van Sickle.

Born in New Jersey, Peter was the younger brother of Henry Van Sickle. And Henry, as you’ll recall, was the early pioneer who ran the famous “Van Sickle Station” hotel and stage stop just up the road.

Peter, like his brother, was considered a “thrifty Dutchman” and he, like Henry, was skilled as a blacksmith. In addition to this prosperous hay and dairy ranch (620 acres of it, by 1881!), Peter also operated a blacksmith shop in Genoa at the northwest corner of Main and Nixon Street. Peter and his wife, Lillies, lived in a small house near the church just up the street from his blacksmith shop.

By 1892, Peter had leased his Genoa blacksmith shop to W.J. Armstrong.

Peter eventually grew tired the blacksmith trade; in 1888 he placed an ad in the paper, trying to sell his shop and other holdings. It seems he wasn’t successful at finding a buyer, however; in 1892, his Genoa blacksmith shop had been leased out to W.J. Armstrong, another blacksmith.

This was Henry’s barn, which boasted windows.

As for the giant barn at his ranch south of town, Peter is said to have built the current structure about 1900. It’s a giant indeed: some 65 x 100 feet in size. Built using a  “peg-and-groove” technique, Peter’s barn resembles that of his brother Henry Van Sickle’s barn up the street. Unlike Henry’s barn, however, Peter’s lacks windows.

Henry’s red barn, slightly farther north, is tucked into the hillside.

The lower floor of the Jubilee barn was once used for dairy cows, and loose hay was stored in its 13,000-sq.ft. second-floor loft. Although today the Jubilee Ranch barn is all on a single level, some say it originally was built into the hillside (a style called “bank-a-hill”), so hay could be loaded into the hayloft without requiring a hoist. (To us it seems more likely that this actually describes Henry Van Sickle’s red barn slightly farther to the north, however, which clearly follows the descending contour of the hillside).

In addition to his dairy ranch, Peter Van Sickle also engaged in the meat business, and by 1883 was running two meat wagons to supply local demand. Not all Peter Van Sickle’s customers were happy ones, however. Alpine mining mogul Lewis Chalmers wrote him a snippy letter in 1879, complaining: “The beef you are now sending me is not of the same quality as you sent me at first, and not such as I intend to pay for.”

Leander Hawkins, too, had unhappy memories of working for Van Sickle as his first job at the tender age of 10. When Leander finally requested the heifer that had been promised to him after a full year’s work, Van Sickle reportedly refused to pay him.

Still, Van Sickle evidently had a generous side as well. In 1895, Peter and his wife adopted a little two-year-old boy whose mother had died. They renamed him Oscar Van Sickle and Oscar became part of the family, along with the other four Van Sickle children.

Peter Van Sickle and his family are buried in the Mottsville Cemetery

Peter Van Sickle died in 1908, at the age of 77. He and Lillies had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary the previous year. Adopted son Oscar continued to run the Peter Van Sickle Ranch until 1927, when it was sold to Thomas Summers, becoming known as the “Summers Ranch.”

In 1951,  young entrepreneur named Ted Bacon bought the ranch. At the time, Summers was using the ranch to raise pigs. Rather than rename it after himself as the “Bacon Ranch” (a humorous name for a hog farm), Ted decided to name it after a memory from a recent trip he had taken to England, when a “jubilee” had been held to celebrate the crowning of the queen. Bacon decided to rename his property the “Jubilee Ranch.” It was, he said, a “happy name.”

And there you have it — the fascinating story of this historic ranch, and the way it got its “Jubilee” name!

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Murder — Or Was It?

One lonely tombstone at Gardnerville’s Garden Cemetery begs silently for justice. “Murdered” it proclaims, as if visitors might help solve the terrible mystery.

Moore’s headstone proclaims the belief he was murdered around Christmas, 1900.

The victim, William Moore, met his awful fate sometime between the 9th and 14th of December, 1900. But the story behind Moore’s demise is a tangled one indeed. Did he even really die?

Moore, 67, was evidently something of a hermit. A poor man and in poor health, he’d lived alone for twenty years in a small cabin on his ranch near the east fork of the Carson River above Horseshoe Bend. Here he raised horses, ran a few head of cattle, and perhaps panned for flour gold in the nearby river.

A few days before Christmas, 1900, local Indians alerted authorities that Moore’s tiny cabin had burned to the ground. Sheriff Brockliss and Judge Dake promptly rode out to investigate. Not finding Moore, they searched the remnants of the charred cabin, but didn’t locate any trace of a body. A day or so later other local citizens, too, showed up to paw through the debris, and they, too, came up empty-handed. Possibly complicating matters was the fact that a rainstorm had gone through sometime after the fire.

Horseshoe Bend is on the east side of Carson Valley, not far from Mud Lake.

Christmas came and went, and a few determined searchers decided to try again. On December 26 they returned, “sifted the ashes” — and came up with a few small pieces of charred something that might have been bone. These were carted off to Dr. Gerdes of Gardnerville, who pronounced them shards of a human skull. And when he examined one fragment more closely, “three small shot” were found embedded in the bone.

The local newspaper promptly dubbed this as “almost positive evidence that William Moore was murdered, and his cabin burned over his body.” Dr. Gerdes opined that the position of the bone might explain why the fragment was charred but the shot hadn’t melted. A Coroner’s Jury was convened, which agreeably confirmed the general belief that Moore had beens murdered. Community suspicion instantly focused on “a certain Indian” named Mike Holbrook, a “half-breed Washoe” said to have threatened Moore in the past.

In January, the Board of Commissioners for Douglas County put out a $250 reward “for the arrest and conviction of the person or persons who murdered William Moore.” That was more than enough encouragement for three enthusiastic Genoa citizens. Having heard further rumors, young William Gray, accompanied by his brother-in-law Frank Walker and their friend Edgar Seamon drove a wagon out to Mountain House in March, where they made a citizens’ arrest of “Indian Mike.” The local paper assured readers that this private party arrest was a “perfectly proper and legitimate proceeding,” adding uncharitably that if the prisoner should later establish his innocence “he will have no one to blame but himself.”

Advertisement for candles from the same paper that carried news of Moore’s “murder.” Could the fire have been purely accidental?

By now a new sheriff had been sworn into office and was eager to show the public his chops. The local paper expressed confidence that now-Sheriff McCormack would not only do his best to suppress crime, but “criminals have good cause to fear him.”

The murder case against Indian Mike was now the talk of the town. The Genoa courthouse was “packed” during the two-day preliminary hearing, and “nothing was talked of on the streets but the Moore tragedy.”

Several other Indians now came forward, claiming that Mike Holbrook had an alibi: he had been with them on a rabbit drive when the killing occurred. The evidence against Mike Holbrook appeared decidedly thin — except for one thing. Charlie George, also an Indian, swore he had personally witnessed Holbrook shooting Moore.

Charlie’s credibility as a witness left something to be desired, however. Among other things, Charlie had been arrested the same evening as Mike on an outstanding warrant for larceny. Charlie and Mike also were said to be enemies; as the newspaper put it, “it is stated that Mike is very friendly with George’s mahala.”

Nevertheless, Mike was bound over for trial. The case languished for another month until April, when a new Grand Jury could be convened to issue the indictment. Friends urged Mike to take a plea bargain and admit to manslaughter in order to “save his neck.” He refused.

Moore’s lonely headstone in the Garden Cemetery, Gardnerville, NV. Buried here presumably are the few bits of charred “bone” found at his cabin. But were they really Moore’s, or perhaps not even bone at all?

On April 24, 1901, a jury pool of 40 local citizens was pulled, and by 3 p.m. the jury was in place. Trial began the following day, and the evidence was over by 5 p.m.. Charlie George “proved a strong witness,” the paper pronounced. Other “sensational” details of the case now came to light, including a “wild story” that Moore had always kept a skull in his cabin, “the victim of his rifle in former years.” The newspaper hinted darkly that Brockliss, the former sheriff, had done a lousy job of investigation, sniffing that “no steps officially were taken to investigate the matter until McCormack, the present Sheriff, took office.”

About dinnertime the jurors retired to deliberate, and by midnight they had their verdict: Not guilty. “And so another chapter is added to the criminal records of this county, which is not without blemish now,” the newspaper concluded.

As for the County Commissioners, they rescinded their earlier offer of a $250 reward for Mike’s capture. Opined the local paper: “they have learned that a mercenary incentive for the capture of criminals does not work satisfactorily in this county.”

 

There Really Was a “Claire” behind Clairitage

Claire Marie Christy Dale adored historic buildings. Well, one historic building in particular: the old brick railroad station in New London, Connecticut.

Our growing-up memories include ever-changing stacks of reports, letters, and newspapers spread out on the dining room table — all of which had to be moved before any meal could hope to be eaten. The railroad drama was a saga of local politics, and a roller-coaster between gloom-and-doom (“they’re tearing it down!”) and the occasional glimmer hope (“they might reconsider!”). Five or six years into this long-running melodrama, even a whisper of those dreaded words “railroad station” was guaranteed to elicit a collective groan from the rest of the family.

The classic brick railroad station in New London, Connecticut, built in 1887 and designed by Henry Hobson Richardson, a predecessor to Frank Lloyd Wright.

Hope, hard work and history prevailed in the end. New London’s magnificent brick railroad station was eventually saved from the wrecker’s ball by — well, by lots of folks. But Claire’s single-minded tenacity was definitely at the core.

Claire passed away in 2002, long before Clairitage Press was even a glimmer. But it would have made her happy, I think, just to know that so many folks treasure history, and get so excited about uncovering and preserving these wonderful stories.

Claire’s bright smile burst into the world exactly 90 years ago today. Just thought you might like to know  about the real “Claire” behind Clairitage!

(Happy birthday, Mom!)

Genoa’s Hanging Tree

You may have heard the tale about Adam Uber’s famous curse — uttered just before an angry Genoa mob hung him. But did you know the hanging tree is still there?

It sits on the south side of Genoa Lane, just east of Genoa (and a convenient distance from the old-time jail!)

The hanging tree is still there, on Genoa Lane. Some say the actual limb where Uber met his end was later cut off by remorseful townsfolk. (Photo courtesy Judy Wickwire)

The year was 1897, and the crime began with Uber swilling Red Eye — and ended with a gunshot. Hans Anderson was dead. And Uber didn’t even remember what happened when he finally sobered up in the Genoa Jail.

Anderson had been well-liked; Uber was not. And a group of locals decided swift justice was the finest flavor. They rushed the jail, demanded the jailer’s key, and whisked Uber off for a hasty meeting with the hangman’s rope.

But Uber got off a few choice last words before dropping into the Great Hereafter: he cursed those who did the foul deed “unto seven generations.”

And, according to local legend, Uber’s curse ultimately came true. Some of mob died sudden, violent deaths; some committed suicide; but all of them met an unhappy end. Family members, too, reportedly suffered.

Adam Uber met his end here — some say his restless ghost is still around.

They’re all gone now, of course; 1897 was a long time ago. But locals say Uber’s ghost can still be seen “hanging around” from time to time — either here at the tree, or at the old brick Courthouse which once held his cell.

If you decide to pay a visit to the scene of this long-ago murder, consider making a stop at the old Genoa Cemetery as well. Uber is buried there somewhere, in an unmarked grave.

Just west of the Hanging Tree stands a cottonwood with an amazing burl. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)