Traces of Washoe City (Part 2)

Our last story followed the life of Lorenzo Smith, whose family settled Pleasant Valley in 1856.

At the time the Smiths arrived, there was no Washoe City yet. But that soon changed. The site had all the important amenities to fuel Virginia City’s thriving mines: abundant water from the nearby lake; convenient road access; and available timber on the hillsides to the west.

Washoe City sprang up around 1860 when mills began to be built — some to mill lumber, others to reduce ore. The townsite was formally platted in 1861. And before long, “bull-whackers” and their wagons were making multiple trips each day from Washoe City to Virginia City and back — carrying timber and supplies on the eastward leg, and ferrying ore back to be milled as they returned.

The interior of the Buckeye Mill at Washoe City.

When the new County of Washoe was created in 1861, Washoe City sashayed right in as its first county seat. Now, herds of lawyers bumped elbows with the teamsters and jostled with saloon owners, storekeeps and liverymen. A newspaper was launched in October, 1862, and a two-story brick courthouse and a jail were soon built.

Before long, Washoe City had a hotel, a school and hospital, stores and fraternal halls, physicians and druggists, a post office, a handful of churches, and all the merriment and mayhem of a typical boomtown. By the time statehood was bestowed upon Nevada in late 1864, Washoe City boasted some 2,500 permanent residents, plus another 4,000 or so “floating” inhabitants.

The Buckeye Mill at Washoe City.

But the angel of progress began to pass by, leaving Washoe City in the dust behind. Timber resources on the hillsides above Washoe Valley began to dwindle. Ore-milling shifted to the mining companies’ own reduction works at Empire, and seeing the writing on the wall, Washoe City mills began moved their equipment there. In 1869, the V&T Railroad had extended its line as far as the Carson River, and by 1872 its rails stretched all the way to Reno. The days of teaming and “bull-whackers” to serve Virginia City were largely over.

In 1871, the upstart young village of Reno snatched away the crown of county seat from Washoe City. Disgruntled Washoe City townsfolk contested that vote all the way to the state Supreme Court, but lost. In a huff, they then petitioned to secede from Washoe County entirely and make Washoe City part of Ormsby County. They failed in that effort, too. The death knell was sounding loud and clear.

The V&T Tracks came through town. But it wasn’t enough to sustain Washoe City for long.

In 1873, Washoe City’s stately two-story brick courthouse was ripped asunder and its bricks carted off for reuse in the Carson City armory. (Rumor has it that some of the brick also went into the Mapes Hotel in Reno.) Then late one evening in 1875, fire swept through what was left of the old town. With no fire engines remaining, residents could only stand around in their nightclothes and watch the flames.

The flames had actually broken out simultaneously in two separate places, a rather suspicious circumstance. Arson seemed a strong possibility. At least, quipped a Virginia City newspaper, “the fire had saved them the trouble of selling out.”

One fire broke out in the basement of a saloon.

One of the twin blazes originated in the basement of a saloon. Upon closer inspection, it was found that all of the kegs of liquor had been conveniently opened to release their contents, and the straw used for packing nearby liquor bottles had evidently been set ablaze. If there was a bit of humor in it all, it was that the saloon owner’s habit of watering-down his inventory came to light. Instead of the alcohol fueling the flames, “owing to the bad quality of the liquors the fire had gone out.”

By 1880, only a store, one saloon, a few homes, and about 200 residents were left in Washoe City. Today, Wikipedia declares it a ghost town. A few traces of the old town still remain, however, if you know where to look. The first, of course, is the town’s amazing graveyard. (One bit of happy news there: volunteers are prepping the paperwork asking to add the cemetery to the National Register of Historic Places!) And a second notable remnant of old Washoe City: a stone-and-brick building which once may have been a saloon, on the east side of Old Hwy 395 (today, part of a nursery).

Next time you drive Old Hwy 395, we hope you’ll slow down to remember the town of over 6,000 souls that once stood here.

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Memoirs: Turning Fear Into Fire

Let’s face it: we memoir writers are a sensitive lot. After all, this is our life we’re writing about!

What if no one likes it? What if someone says my writing’s no good? What if I piss off Great-Aunt Martha or that grumpy uncle who shows up at our house at Christmas? Worse yet, what if I can’t think of anything to say after page one? And besides, no one’s going to want to read it when it’s done. Right??!

It’s so easy to let those fears bring us to a screeching halt, right in our memoir-writing tracks.     

So how do you turn fear into fire? They’re so close, after all! “Fear” and “fire” — just one letter different!

Here’s one simple trick:  Look for the story inside the fear. Worried about whether your writing’s any good? Tell the story of that English teacher who used to torment you. Afraid Great-Aunt Martha will hate your family stories? Write about her fabulous Thanksgiving apple pies. (Trust me, she’ll love it!)

And nervous you’ll run out of stories? Use “nervousness” as a prompt. When have you felt nervous or fearful? When did you manage to overcome those fears? What leaps of faith have you taken? Whether you soared to success or fell flat on your face, those are all great stories!  After all, some of the greatest stories of all are about picking ourselves up and finding the courage to continue our journey.

As for family critics? Remember you can’t please everyone. That grumpy uncle — he doesn’t need a copy.

Look for the story inside
 the fear.

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Here’s more help to take your Memoir from STUCK to FINISHED! Check it out at Amazon.com!

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Washoe City: The Cemetery Time Forgot

Tracks through the tall grass say people still visit the old Washoe City Cemetery. But the stories of its dead — and even some of their names — are long-forgotten.

Here’s one little-known tale that’s survived: the life of Lorenzo Smith. His family was part-and-parcel of Washoe County’s early history. And you can still find his headstone here, amid the brush.

Handsome portrait of Lorenzo Smith, circa 1875.

Born in England in 1852, Lorenzo had just reached his first birthday when his family decided to emigrate to the States. Lorenzo’s parents, George and Caroline Smith, were converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His father was a church elder. Other members of the family had trekked to Utah in 1848 as part of the Brigham Young company. And in 1854, George and Caroline decided to leave England and join them.

One-year-old Lorenzo, his eight siblings, and their parents boarded the shipWindermere in on a cold February day in 1854, joining some 470 other Saints who were leaving England. Eight weeks later, the ship docked at New Orleans. From there, the family took passage on a steamboat to St. Louis, took a jog west to Kansas City, and then crossed the plains with a wagon train to reach Salt Lake. 

One daughter, Eliza, died of cholera as the family was crossing the plains, and the family lost many of their possessions on the way. Father George, a mat-weaver by trade, was forced to discard his precious but heavy weaving equipment. Finally, they were able to embrace their relatives in Salt Lake Valley. But  George Smith found it hard to make a living there. The next two years were difficult. Then in 1856, tales of gold farther west convinced George Smith to move his family once again, and they set out to seek their fortunes in a new part of Utah Territory. 

The Smiths became the very first settlers in Pleasant Valley (just north of Washoe City, near Steamboat Springs). Here, George Smith built a cabin for his family, and began planting crops. By the time of his death in 1893, George had become one of the largest and most prominent land-holders and ranchers in the vicinity.

Remnants of old Washoe City, about 1943

Son Lorenzo grew up on his father’s ranch. As a young man, Lorenzo ferried the mail on horseback between Washoe City and Virginia City. For a short time, he tried his hand as a butcher, operating a meat market in Carson City. But he soon returned to farming, and eventually took over management of the family ranch. Over the years, Lorenzo continued to improve the ranch: purchasing new equipment, adding buildings, and planting an orchard.

In 1882, when Lorenzo was 30, he married Sarah Ann Jones, daughter of prominent Carson Valley settler, David R. Jones. They had eight children together; but sadly, Sarah died in childbirth with their last child, Sadie Ann, in 1894. Lorenzo was left alone with eight motherless children. Four years after Sarah’s death, Lorenzo married Florence Connell of Antelope Valley, California. She must have been made of tough stuff indeed; she instantly had her hands full, with Lorenzo’s eight children!

Washoe City itself began as a milling, freighting and supply town for the Comstock mines, thriving from 1860 to about 1870. In 1861, it even became Washoe County’s first official county seat. As a young man, Lorenzo Smith must have visited Washoe City frequently to purchase supplies and attend to business. He was an active member of the Odd Fellows Lodge at Washoe City, and served as a trustee for the local school district. But construction of the V&T Railway in 1869 crushed the demand for teamsters to haul ore. And in 1871, the county seat was moved to Reno. The town’s population quickly dwindled and slowly, the buildings of Washoe City began to fade away. 

As for Lorenzo, he lived to the ripe old age of 89, and was the last surviving child of the large family of George and Caroline Smith. Lorenzo passed away in the hospital at Reno on April 29, 1942, and was buried here at Washoe City Cemetery.

Another remaining grave of an early settler in Washoe City Cemetery, George Haskell.

Lorenzo is buried beside his first wife, Sarah (who died in childbirth almost 50 years before him). And somewhere in the brush nearby, lying in unmarked graves, are Lorenzo’s parents, George and Caroline, and his sister, Sarah.

Concern about the cemetery was being expressed as early as 1892, with many graves said to be “in such form that it is impossible to properly locate them.” A To Whom It May Concern blurb in the Nevada State Journal requested assistance from people who could identify the location of graves of friends or relatives. But the grounds, at least, were still being tended by friends, family, and neighbors. As late as 1962 the cemetery was said to be in relatively “good condition,” at least as far as neatness was concerned, thanks to volunteer efforts.

Today, the cemetery is sadly neglected. Nevada’s Legislative Counsel Bureau estimated costs to restore Nevada’s neglected pioneer cemeteries in its report in 1962. But no money was ever appropriated for the cause.

And time (and humans) have not been kind. When a state investigator visited Washoe City Cemetery in the summer of 1962, he chanced upon a carload of Californians loading one of the historic headstones into their car. Their excuse: “All our friends have one!” (Luckily, he interrupted that plan.)

Turns out there’s a strange reason that Washoe City Cemetery is so sadly overgrown today: nobody actually owns it. Assessor’s maps show it belonging to “Washoe City Cemetery” itself — an organization as long-gone as the folks buried here.

And so, ignored and largely forgotten, Washoe City Cemetery continues to languish in the weeds.

A wooden fence marks the site of one early grave.

Happen to know anyone in the Nevada State Legislature? Historian Sue Silver has kindly suggested that an “Orphaned Cemetery Preservation Act” might be a great way to help neglected pioneer cemeteries like Washoe City Cemetery!

TO BE CONTINUED:  In Part 2 of this story, we’ll share more about the history of Washoe City itself. So stay tuned!


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If you’d like to visit:  The Old Washoe City Cemetery is located on Old Hwy 395, on the west side of the highway. But it’s easy to miss. Turn into the driveway where a sign on the fence says “555” and “CRCS,” a few yards south of the old log cabin. Walk carefully, and watch for snakes in the tall grass. And if you’re tempted to try to remove a few weeds, please remember not to disturb any rocks, wooden remnants, or other artifacts.

Special thanks to our reader Dee for the inspiration for this story! Details about the life of Lorenzo Smith from Find-a-Grave, Memorial #16295343. Thanks also to historian Sue Silver for her extensive research into ownership of the Washoe City Cemetery, and her many contributions of individual histories on Find-a-Grave.com.

A Visit to Lake Shore House

Ahh, Glenbrook.  Capt. Augustus W. Pray arrived here in the spring of 1860 with N.E. Murdock, G.W. Warren, and Rufus Walton, when no tourists had yet discovered its pristine beauty.

Settling in the lush grasslands beside the lake, Pray and his companions built a log cabin, dubbing the site Glenbrook in a nod to the small stream running through their meadow.


Early view of the Glenbrook Bay.

Impressed by the profusion of wild grasses, the settlers hauled a horse-drawn reaper over the mountain from San Francisco to cut the hay and began planting a garden, including wheat and oats. Their first crop produced some 80 bushels of wheat and four tons of hay, with oat stalks standing an impressive 7 feet tall.

The group’s waterfront settlement soon became known as Walton’s Landing. Here, Georgetown pack train travelers would disembark after crossing the lake by boat from McKinney’s, before continuing their journey east.

The following summer (1861) Pray erected a sawmill, known (of course) as Pray’s Mill. Seeing potential in the nearby timber, Pray bought out his partners in 1862 and began buying up timber land to supply his mill, quickly assembling holdings of 700 acres around Glenbrook.

In 1863, Pray sold five acres to entrepreneurs interested in building a hotel. The upscale Glenbrook House (the first commercial hotel in the vicinity) was soon erected a short half-mile away from the shore by G.Goff and George Morrill. This new hotel served well-heeled travelers along the Lake Bigler Toll Road through Kings Canyon willing to shell out $21 a week for food and lodging — an impressive sum, in the days when miners’ wages were $4 a day.

Although some accounts have said Pray built his own Lake Shore House hotel at the foot of the meadow in the fall of 1863, contemporary newspaper accounts confirm it actually was built by W.A. Hawthorne, and construction began in May, 1875.* It thus became the second hotel operating at Glenbrook. A glowing newspaper column the following year dubbed Lake Shore House “one of the neatest and sweetest and pleasantest and cheapest places of resort on the shores of Lake Bigler.” A large sign over the door about this time announced the hotel’s name to visitors in bold, rolling letters.


Lake Shore House circa 1870s, with its distinctive wavy-lettered sign.


More happy tourists at Lake Shore House, probably mid-1870s.

Thanks to the expansion of Comstock mining, lumber became increasingly necessary — and valuable. In 1873, Pray sold his mill and the land that it stood on to entrepreneur D.L. Bliss. Bliss launched a massive lumbering operation throughout Tahoe Basin, assembling mills, railroads, and flumes into a complex network carrying timber over Spooner Summit to serve the mines. By the end of the 1890s some 750 million board-feet of Tahoe Basin lumber had been spirited eastward to support mining operations on the Comstock — leaving 47,000 acres denuded of their timber.

Mining on the Comstock eventually waned — and with it, lumbering, too. And in their wake, recreational activities at Glenbrook blossomed. Even the Bliss family followed suit, ordering the building of a 169-foot steamer in 1896, known as the Queen of the Lake.

Pray’s early Lake Shore House hotel was moved down closer to the Lake in 1906, and tweaked to form the south wing of the new Glenbrook Inn. Another old hotel known as the Jellerson formed a north wing, and an old store was pressed into service as the center portion of the new complex. The early 17-foot painted sign that once welcomed visitors to Lake Shore House was taken down during this 1906 renovation.

As the years rolled by, the hotel’s history continued to capture people’s imagination, and in the 1970s, the hotel was largely restored to its original late-19th century appearance. In 1979, Lake Shore House’s significance was recognized through its listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Benton’s Stage Line ferried tourists to the Lake (with stage driver Hank Monk) in time to connect with the Steamer ‘Niagara.” “Ample time will be allowed Passengers coming from Tahoe City to take luncheon at the Lake Shore House.”  This excursion was evidently very popular; stage trips were made every day during the tourist season, Sundays included.

Today Lake Shore House is a private residence. Over the past year, a loving renovation has preserved the building’s structural stability and historic charm. A 17-foot sign closely resembling the original discovered during the renovation is now proudly on display again, tucked under an eave for protection from the elements.


Lake Shore House today, following meticulous renovation.

Inside, the home keeps its historic charm. It’s unclear whether the sign discovered during remodeling is the same as the original that hung over the entrance, but it follows the same lettering

Not far away lies Capt. Augustus W. Pray himself, sleeping an eternal sleep in the historic Glenbrook cemetery. If only he could see his beautiful Lake Shore House today.


The grave of Capt. Augustus W. Pray at Glenbrook Cemetery. Born in 1820, Pray died in 1892.

*Special thanks to historian Michael Fisher for researching the date of Lake Shore House’s construction and providing great references to its initial construction and various management changes through the years, including: Carson Daily Appeal of March 5, 1874; May 25, 1875; August 16, 1876; and May 8, 1897; Nevada State Journal, April 20, 1877; and Reno Evening Gazette, May 12, 1884. 

Lost in World War I

It was going to be the “War to End All Wars.” But when America entered the dreaded conflict overseas in 1917, local draft boards all across the nation were forced to make awful decisions: choosing which of their community’s young men should be sent off to fight.

Here in Douglas County, Nevada, local County Clerk Hans C. Jepsen became one of the men tasked with service on the Draft Board. They did it the fairest way possible: a lottery was organized, so the men to be drafted would be chosen at random.

Hans C. Jepsen, Douglas County Clerk

Imagine Jepsen’s horror when the name that he picked was that of his own son, Earl.

Two other men were in the room when Earl’s name was drawn. According to family lore, they both urged Hans to simply put his son’s name back and draw again. Perhaps they knew that Earl wasn’t a likely candidate for the military because his eyesight wasn’t good. Or perhaps they sympathized with a father’s guilt in sending his own son off to war.

Whatever their reasoning, the honorable Hans C. Jepsen refused. His son Earl’s name had been chosen, and that was that.

The Army, however, wasn’t so sure. Earl’s poor eyesight was indeed a stumbling block, and they repeatedly refused to induct him. But Earl kept presenting himself. He wanted to serve his country, he said. And eventually, the Army relented.

Earl F. Jepsen in his military uniform, 1918.

Earl enlisted on June 26, 1918 and was assigned to the Infantry, and by August had been sent overseas to the war zone in France. In late September, he was assigned to Company B of the 308th Infantry (part of the 77th Division), just in time to march with them into the Battle of the Argonne Forest. During this lengthy battle, Earl’s company became separated from the rest of the Allied forces and was surrounded by German forces. (The 554 men in these units would later become known as the “Lost Battalion.”)

Earl F. Jepsen’s headstone in San Francisco. (There’s a bit of conflict on his date of death; other sources say he was killed October 5, 1918.)

Earl was assigned as a runner to the battalion’s field headquarters, a job so dangerous it was considered a suicide mission. Earl was killed by sniper fire October 5, 1918, while on patrol. Just five weeks later, on November 11, the Armistice was signed, ending the war.

Earl was 26 years old when he fell on the battlefield. His body was buried initially in France, along with other American casualties. Some three years later, thanks to funds raised here at home, his remains were brought home again to the States. He now rests at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Plaque honoring WWI Veterans at the old Courthouse in Minden, Nevada. The star by Earl F. Jepsen’s name signifies that he died during the war. (Photo courtesy of Harold Jepsen)

At the old Courthouse in Minden is a brass plaque, honoring those from Douglas County who served during World War I. And as you will see if you visit, Earl isn’t the only Jepsen to have served during this “War to End All Wars”: his brother, Hans R., and cousin, Hans  J., also are honored on the plaque. A simple bronze star beside Earl’s name signifies that he gave his life for duty.

This Veteran’s Day, we hope you will remember him — a local boy who did what he felt he must to serve his country.

Markleeville: A Bit of Haunted History

There’s more than one “tale of the unexplained” floating around the old buildings in Markleeville!

Perhaps it just seems like there should be a ghost in places that have seen so much life pass through their rooms. But stories about ghosts at Markleeville’s Cutthroat Saloon (Wolf Creek Restaurant) have been swirling for years:

One waitress will swear to you she felt a distinct tap on her shoulder — and whirled around to find the dining room empty.

An old photograph showing a white horse hangs on the wall near the cellar stairs. (Copyright K.Dustman)

There are reports of a horse’s whinny heard in the stone-lined cellar — a greeting, some say, from the century-old steed whose photo hangs near the stairs.

Yet another great ghostly tale emerged during our recent tour of the 150-year-old building. Reaching the top of the steep, narrow stairs we found five wooden chairs, all neatly arranged in a circle in the middle of the attic — much to the exasperation of our guide.

“I move those chairs up against the wall every single time I’m up here,” he huffed. “And yet every time I come back, they’re right back in a circle in the middle of the floor again. And I’m positive nobody’s been up here.”

Five wooden chairs were arranged in a ghostly circle when we arrived. Our guide quickly moved them back  to their spot against the wall again.

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Enjoy ghost stories? Here are 13 true tales of the unexplained, all in and around Markleeville. Get your copy here!

Tale of the Thran House — and an Old Trunk

“I’m going to build you a grand house in Carson Valley, like we have in Germany!” promised Dietrich Thran.

The beautiful home built by Dietrich Thran.

And a “grand house” Thran built for his wife, indeed! Completed about 1910 to 1911, the house featured stained glass over the front door, stately pillars out front, and a gigantic room upstairs for dancing.

Thran was born in Germany July 15, 1864, and arrived in Carson Valley when he was 17 years old. He applied for naturalization, becoming an American citizen in October, 1886. After working for other ranchers and saving his pennies, at age 30 Thran was ready to find himself a wife. In late 1894, Thran returned to the Old Country and in May, 1895, came back to Carson Valley — bringing with him seven other Germans, one of whom was his new a fiancee!

Marie Dieckhoff, Dietrich’s intended, was all of 16 years old. They wasted no time — just one month after Marie set foot in Carson Valley, she and Dietrich were saying their “I do’s.” They were married on Saturday, June 29, 1895 at the home of Herman Thran, Dietrich’s brother. Dietrich presented her with a beautiful horse and buggy all her own as a wedding gift. (He really knew how to charm a gal!)

Dietrich (known locally as “Dick”) rented the Tucke Ranch that summer, and he and a friend purchased an expensive California thresher together. Just one year later, Dick became a dad for the first time: little Emma Thran joined the family on November 2, 1896. Baby Richard followed a year later, in December, 1897.

The original stained glass is still here over the front door of the Thran House.

Dick continued to do well financially, and by fall, 1897, he had purchased the 160-acre Marsh Ranch for $6,000, at the corner of today’s Highway 88 and Dressler Lane. The Thrans took possession of their new ranch the following spring.

The Thran family — and their four children — originally lived in this small building — today a tractor shed.

Though the acreage was large, their living accommodations were anything but. Dick, Marie, and their growing family moved into a house so small that today it is used as a tractor shed. And “growing” their family was: their third child, Carl, arrived in September 1899, and little Marieken (who would grow up to marry Chris Cordes) followed two years later, in 1901.

The barn — built in 1908, probably by noted barn-building Henry Hanke — before the family residence was constructed!

In 1908, Dick had a large barn constructed on his ranch (by noted barn-builder Henry Hanke, it’s believed), complete with  concrete floor for the milking side. But the Thran family continued to reside in the small shed-like structure. (Ranching priorities, you know!)

Finally, in April, 1910, the Thran family went back to Germany for a four-month visit. Seeing the large and beautiful German homes, Dick promised his wife, Marie, he would build a similar home for her in Carson Valley. And true to his word, he did! Their graceful two-story home on Dressler Lane was constructed about 1911 (possibly also by Hanke).

The Thrans’ dairy operation continued to thrive. Eventually the family was milking some 65 cows. They also raised pigs and chickens, and sold eggs. The shed the family had lived in for over ten years was converted to a house for the separators, and later, a chicken coop.

Dick Thran passed away in 1937 and Marie in 1946, and the family home was passed down to their three boys. Son Carl never married, and continued to live in the house all his life. After Carl’s death in 1980, the property was purchased by Jack and Marie Martin, who still live there today. But oh, the deferred maintenance they discovered when they took over!

“When I first walked through the old house, I cried,” said Maria. “I said, ‘We’re living here?’” The beautiful front columns were rotted and infested with bees. The roof was so decayed blue sky showed through. And inside walls were soot-covered from the coal-burning stove. “One of the workers was out on the balcony and put his foot through the balcony floor,” recalls Maria.

The large upstairs room, once used for dances, was cluttered with — well, stuff. “Over the years, when they had something they didn’t know what to do with, they just put it upstairs,” explains Maria.

But one special treasure was discovered in the original old shed. All dirty and greasy, it was a steamer trunk, filled with old auto parts. Maria rescued it from the trash pile, and made sure it was saved, cleaned and refurbished.

This old trunk has now been lovingly restored. (Photo courtesy Judy Wickwire)

It just might be the same trunk that accompanied 16-year-old Marie Dieckhoff all the way from Germany to her new life in America.

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NEWS:  Check out our latest short video HERE and discover some cool Hidden History in Markleeville!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gMuqHwLDKjI

AND MORE NEWS:  We’re thrilled to let you know our latest book in the Genoa Cemetery series is nearly done!!  Find out why a bucking mule made the Walker family settle in Genoa. Discover why George Herman, his fiancee, and an unrelated shoemaker all share a common plot. Hear what became of the Berning triplets, born in 1903 (can you imagine, triplets in 1903?!) And learn who built the famous Kinsey Mansion and why! (Hint: It’s a name you probably know; and it involves a wedding!!) All these great tales and more are told in Volume 2 of the Genoa Cemetery series!

Like to be the FIRST TO KNOW when the new book is out?  Just drop us an email here!

7 Top Quotes from “Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished!”

A memoir leaves a legacy like nothing else. We’ve helped produce dozens of oral histories. But we wanted a way to help people eager to write their own memoir — or perhaps finish one that’s been languishing in a box or a desk drawer!

And voila, our latest book was born.

Writing a Memoir: From Stuck to Finished!” by Karen Dustman is filled with practical tips, helpful exercises and suggestions, warm encouragement, and most of all, the voice of experience from someone who’s “been there and done that.” The goal is simple: to help you finish that oral history or memoir you’ve been dreaming of!

Here are 7 Top Quotes from the book:

  • “That time, that place, those people all were magical in some way. And sad but true: unless you take steps to preserve the story that’s tugging at your heartstrings, it will be lost. And that’s why recording it is so important.”
  • “Your magnum opus probably won’t come out sounding like Hemingway wrote it. And for some people, that’s a huge discouragement. They want whatever they produce to be “good,” to be “right,” to be “perfect” writing, in some abstract way. “I’m not a writer,” they tell themself. “I’m not a Hemingway.” Actually, I hope whatever you write doesn’t come out sounding like Hemingway! Because it wouldn’t be your voice if it did. And it’s your voice people want to hear.”
  • “Please ditch the notion that you can  ̶  or should   ̶  write an excellent, charming, and thoughtful memoir “quickly.” Thirty days? Nuh-uh. Won’t happen. Sixty? Ditto: please forget it. How about finishing a memoir in 365 days  ̶  a full year? Now we’re getting a little warmer. But why create an artificial deadline only to torture yourself?” 
  • “Stop waiting for perfect. See each of those hurdles (and pretty much any other ones) for just what they really are. Usually, it’s only fear talking.”
  • “Stuck in ‘I can’t think of a thing to say’ writer’s block? Try a work-around instead: find another spot in your story that sparks your excitement and jump in there, even if it isn’t chronological. Let the sticking point continue to percolate in the back of your head and come back to it later.”
  • “The most important ingredient in all of this? You! Only you have lived your special life. Only you can share tell your story the way you want it to be told.”
  • “If your head is filled with your dream – if your gut is aflame with desire – and if you’ve grabbed a healthy dose of patience in both fists, I’m confident you CAN reach the finish line and hold a memoir in your hands! (And oh, that fabulous end result!)”

Coming soon from Amazon.com!

Carson City’s “Palace”

There was a certain “ambivalence” toward prostitution in Carson City’s early days, notes historian Peter Mires. Everyone knew it was happening, but — talking about it? That was a no-no!

And some fascinating history was made by what didn’t quite make it into the record books!

Portion of Carson City’s red-light district in 1885. Business establishments included a cobbler, meat market, and dress maker, plus multiple “Dw’gs” (dwellings).

Practice of the world’s oldest profession in Carson City was hardly a secret. An 1875 ordinance even helpfully set aside a three-block stretch along today’s Curry Street (between Second and Fifth Streets) for “bawdy houses” or “Houses of Ill Fame” — which evidently were thriving there. (The thriving went on for decades . . . several brothels, notes Mires, continued to operate a mere two blocks from the Capitol building until finally closed at last in 1942 by “federal order.”)

Carson City wasn’t alone, of course. When census takers made door-to-door visits through Nevada in June, 1870, one home was found to include 17 women, all tactfully identified by the census-taker as employed “keeping house.” (This particular house also included a single male occupant who, as historian Raymond Smith charmingly expressed it, “must have been happy, indeed.”)

Other census-takers were less discreet, however. Some forthrightly noted the presence of Chinese prostitutes and “hurdy” houses. When those census notes were shipped off to Washington, a delicate dilemma was raised: exactly what category of employment should be used to account for these not-so-domestic women?

According to Smith, the question was gently finessed: “prostitutes, courtesans, harlots, etc.” were simply added to the job classification for ‘cotton and woolen mill operatives.’

Problem solved.

A different euphemism similarly came to the rescue when detailed maps of the streets in Carson City’s red light district were prepared for the Sanborn Fire Insurance Company in 1885. During the mapping, some area brothels were conveniently disguised by the accurate but vague legend: “Dw’g” (dwelling).

At least one larger structure of the day, however, bears the mysterious label: “Palace.”

The “Palace” at the southwest corner of West Fourth and Curry (map rotated to show legend).

Located at the southwest corner of West Fourth and Curry Streets (then Ormsby), this building was owned in 1885 by Mary Ann Phillips, who had purchased it in 1874.  According to Mires, the term Palace “can only mean one thing — a high-end  brothel.” A palace of sorts it must have been indeed to warrant the distinction!

And a fine bit of history to keep in mind the next time you study a Sanborn map.

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Many thanks to historian Peter Mires for the inspiration for this fine story! The tale of the “Palace” (and many other fascinating bits of history) can be found in his new book, “Lost Carson City“! Check it out on Amazon.com here !

Genoa’s Avalanche of 1882

Genoa, Nevada has weathered its share of disasters:  earthquakes, high winds, and of course the Great Fire that nearly wiped out the town in 1910. But did you know Genoa once was struck by an avalanche?

The time was 5:30 a.m. on March 16, 1882. Residents who happened to be awake at that early hour heard a terrible warning rumble, akin to an oncoming freight train.

Main Street in early Genoa, looking north.

It was indeed a train of sorts; an avalanche of terrifying proportions came cascading down Genoa Canyon, sweeping along everything it encountered. Directly in its path was the home of Nimrod Bowers. When the snowslide finally stopped, the bodies of Bowers and his wife were found lifeless amid the snow and debris. With epic bad timing, two relatives from Germany had just arrived to visit them the previous evening. Both relatives luckily managed to escape alive, although one suffered a broken shoulder.

The crushed remains of Bowers’ barn and house came to rest in William Daniel Gray’s kitchen just below, “heaped in a confusing mass,” mixed liberally with hay from Gray’s own mangled barn.

A native of Ohio, William Gray was one of the earliest citizens of Genoa, arriving in 1862, finding work initially as a blacksmith for Henry Van Sickle. Before long, Gray had his own blacksmith shop and was building buggies, spring wagons and heavy wagons across the street from the Genoa courthouse. Gray and his wife, an Irish lass named Anna, had a house on Main Street, right next door to the lovely brick home once owned by Lucky Bill Thorington.

William Daniel Gray’s advertisement for his blacksmith shop, from the Genoa Weekly Courier of 1882.

Gray was an early riser, and on that fateful March morning in 1882 he was already up and shoveling snow away from his back door when he heard the approaching torrent. He yelled to his wife, and they both managed to run toward the front of the house before the mass of snow struck, crushing the kitchen into (as the Genoa Courier put it) “a shapeless mass.”

Miracle of miracles, not only did the Grays survive but their children also were spared. The kids’ bedroom off the kitchen was seriously damaged, with snow coming “within a foot or two of their bed.” As old-timers today tell the tale, the children had gotten cold during the night and moved into the main portion of the house to sleep by a woodstove. Talk about lucky!

Behind the hedge is the Genoa home that once belonged to W.D. Gray and his wife. A corner of Judge Virgin’s brick home (formerly owned by Lucky Bill) is just visible at right.

Old-timers also claim at least one animal miraculously survived the onslaught: when the gigantic pile of snow finally ceased moving, one lucky horse was discovered standing right on top of the heaped-up mound!

Next door to the Grays, Judge Virgin’s sturdy brick home survived the devastation largely intact, although his orchard, barn and  outbuildings were flattened. But the Boerlin home on the other side of the Grays was completely demolished. Mr. Boerlin, one son, and two other occupants came through unscathed. Mrs. Boerlin was also discovered alive, still in bed, some distance away from where her house once stood, although she’d been “nearly suffocated” under broken timbers and debris. Sadly, she was clutching the lifeless body of her little daughter, Paulina, in her arms.

Hardest hit of all was a structure farther south, occupied by several Washoe Indian families. This “Long house” (as the Courier described it) was completely destroyed by the snow slide. At least seven Native Americans tragically lost their lives in the disaster.

Surprisingly, as workers were clearing away debris from one of the homes two weeks later, they discovered a dog beneath the broken timbers and snow. “Although it had lain cramped up for 14 days,” the newspaper happily reported, “the little animal was still alive and is likely to entirely recover.”

A dog somehow managed to survive in the rubble for two weeks!

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Hope you enjoyed this story! And if you’re a fan of Genoa history, you’ll be happy to know our next book about the Genoa Cemetery is nearly done!  (Small pause for happy dance!!) This will be Book #2, filled with more great stories about fascinating people buried at Genoa. We’re hoping to finish it up by December!! Just drop us an email if you’d like to be among the first to know when the new book comes out!
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