There’s More to the Lillian Virgin Finnegan Story!

Sure, you’ve probably heard of Lillian Virgin Finnegan — one of the founders of the famous Genoa Candy Dance! But here are a few things you probably haven’t heard about this hometown Genoa gal.

Lillian was born in Genoa on October 6, 1878, to parents Daniel W. Virgin and the former Mary Raycraft. Older brother William had arrived in 1871, and sister Ellen in 1873. So when Lillian put in an appearance five years later, she was the “baby” of the Virgin family.

Wedding photo of Judge Virgin and his wife, Mary. (Picture of the original framed photo, at Mormon Station State Park.)

Lillian’s father was known to just about everyone as “Judge” Virgin. But here’s a tidbit of history I didn’t know: the good Judge wasn’t actually a judge for most of his long legal career! Sure, he served as the first elected judge in Douglas County, from 1865-66. But the vast majority of his career was actually spent as District Attorney. Virgin served in that capacity in Nevada’s Territorial days (from June 2, 1863 until Statehood arrived in 1864); and went on to serve an amazing eleven non-continuous two-year terms as D.A. beginning in 1874 and ending in 1910. (And by the way, Judge Virgin was no quitter; he actually sought re-election to the post of D.A. four more times after 1910, losing each time to F.E. Brockliss.)

As an attorney, Virgin had a hand in some of the most prominent legal battles of his day. Remember the famous 1870s water-rights case in which Henry Van Sickle sued J.W. Haines over the water rights to Daggett Creek? Representing Haines in that epic battle was none other than Daniel Virgin, whose vigorous defense propelled Haines to victory in 1872 before the Nevada Supreme Court, based on the doctrine of riparian rights. (It would be a short-lived precedent, however, quickly reversed in favor of the “doctrine of prior appropriation.”)

Advertisement for Virgin’s law practice in Carson Valley News, May 15, 1875.

Lillian grew up in Genoa’s Pink House, purchased by her father from merchant J.R. Johnson in April, 1884, when Lillian was about five years old. Johnson himself hadn’t built the Pink House (at least most of it); the central two-story portion is thought to have been built back in 1855 by Martin Gaige for John Reese, near Reese’s grist mill on Mill Street. (Judge Hyde himself is said to have met assembled Genoans in this same house when he arrived to organize the first local government!)

In 1870, Johnson purchased the former Reese house and had it moved to its current location on Genoa Lane. And Johnson, it’s said, was also the one who first had the house adorned with its signature “pink” paint. And finally, in 1884, Judge Virgin bought the Pink House from Johnson.

Judge Virgin’s purchase of the Pink House was noted in the paper in 1884. (Genoa Weekly Courier, April 4, 1884).
The Pink House, purchased by the Virgins in 1884. (Dustman photo).

Prior to acquiring the Pink House, Judge Virgin and his family had been living in a sturdy brick house on Main Street that Virgin had owned since March, 1869 (the very same brick house, by the way, that had formerly been owned by the ultra-unlucky Lucky Bill Thorington). We don’t know exactly why the Virgins decided to move in 1884. But we can hazard a good guess! One gigantic hint: the Avalanche in the winter of 1882 had swept away two houses located just above the Virgins’ brick home, depositing a pile of rubble and debris in their back yard. That likely unnerved Mary Virgin just a tad, and might have helped prompt the family’s search for new quarters.

According to local legend, Lillian and her aunt, Jane Raycraft Campbell, were the original brain-storming pair who came up with the concept for the fundraising Candy Dance in 1919. But it turns out the truth may be a bit more nuanced.

Some say Genoa already enjoyed a traditional fall Harvest Dance every year — locally known as a “Thrashers Ball.” At least one local claimed the initial idea for a fundraising dance was the brainchild of the “Hot Stove League,” a group of local men who passed the time at the General Store. Still others say that Lillian herself had the idea, inspired by a dance she attended on a cruise ship, where silver trays of candy were passed around among the dancers.

However the idea for the dance originated, locally-made candy was indeed a treat at Lillian and Jane’s initial fundraising dance in 1919 — though it was not the advertised focus of the event. But after Lillian and Jane began treating guests to tasty treats crafted by the local ladies of the town, it didn’t take long for the name “Candy Dance” to emerge. Genoa historian Billie Rightmire believes the name was officially bestowed sometime about 1923.

Nobody ever talks much about Lillian’s husband, Louis Serratt Finnegan. They were married in 1907, when Lillian was 28 years old and Louis Finnegan a good twenty years older. Finnegan is sometimes described as a wealthy miner from Goldfield and Tonopah. But as his obituary put it, he actually “made and lost several fortunes” over his lifetime. Louis and his bride settled down in Genoa for a few years, then made their home in Southern Nevada for a few years more, before eventually returning home to Lillian’s beloved Genoa. In later life Louis gravitated to Texas, where he was said to be “engaged in the contracting business” as a mining middleman.

Lillian’s mother, Mary Virgin, passed away in 1918. Judge Virgin was getting on in years, and Lillian returned to live at the Pink House to care for him. Then in 1926, Lillian’s husband Louis died suddenly in Texas. Her father, Judge Virgin, passed away two years later, in 1928, at the age of 93. Lillian herself lived another decade. Too ill to attend one last Candy Dance in 1937, she passed away in February, 1938 at just 59 years of age. Lillian, her parents, and her husband all are buried in the Virgin family plot at the Genoa Cemetery.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of that first special Candy Dance in 1919. And oh, Lillian would have loved the Centennial attention for the event she helped to start so many years ago! 

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DON’T MISS THIS FUN NEW BOOK!
     Genoa Historian Billie Rightmire has just written “Genoa Candy Dance: The First 100 Years (1919-2019).” You can find the book at Candy Dance this year (Sept 28 and 29, 2019), or look for the book at local merchants in Genoa!

The Amazing Tale of Agnes Train

        She was a woman very much ahead of her time. A talented artist, author, botanist, and fossil collector, Agnes Train served as the first curator of the Nevada State Museum in 1941. And oh yes, from 1939 to 1956, she was also the owner of Genoa’s Pink House (with husband Percy), and was instrumental in preserving this landmark’s history and contents.
Despite all that, few folks have ever heard of Agnes Train. This wonderful guest blog about Agnes is written for you by Gail Allen, curator at Douglas County Historical Society and Museum. We’re so excited to share this exciting story about such an amazing and little-known woman. Hope you’ll stop in at the Museum soon to learn even more!

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Agnes Hume Scott was born in Seattle on March 24, 1905, to Margaret Hume and Walter John Scott. The family later moved to Chicago, where Agnes attended school. Her high school yearbook from 1924 shows her with a nickname of “Scotty.” Her interests at the time included art-related activities, with plans to become an “Artist Extraordinary.”

After high school, Agnes began working as a librarian in the Chicago Public Library. It was a fortuitous post, giving her skills and training she would use throughout her future life.

Agnes Train. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum)

Using her earnings to buy two train tickets, Agnes traveled in 1926 with her mother to Seattle, to tour the area of her birth. And here fate intervened. She chanced to meet Percy Train aboard the train — a renowned fossil hunter, archeologist, mining engineer, and field representative of the Smithsonian Institute. After this chance encounter, the pair kept up a long-distance correspondence for over a year. Much to the amusement of Agnes’ co-workers Percy mailed her oddities from his travels, including a sheep fleece rolled up in a gunnysack and a dead black tarantula.

On June 7, 1928, Agnes and Percy hiked up Lone Mountain near Lovelock, where they were married at sunrise. She was 23; he was 52. They would spend much of the next eleven years together collecting fossils, minerals and plants together in the remote reaches of Nevada. Agnes used her artistic talent to sketch the specimens, and they were sent to museums across the country.

Agnes and Percy, roughly a year and a half after their marriage. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In 1937, the Trains joined a statewide project to identify and collect Nevada native plants. As part of this project, the couple interviewed of tribal members about the medicinal and other traditional uses of native plants. The results of their research were published in 1941 in a major work titled “Medicinal Uses of Plants by Indian Tribes of Nevada,” by Percy Train, et al. This groundbreaking study unexpectedly led to a breakthrough discovery in 1942 by the University of Minnesota’s pharmacological research team that helped preserve food rations in the Pacific during World War II.

Agnes on horseback on one of the couple’s specimen-collecting trips. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In April 1939, the Trains purchased the “Pink House” in Genoa with all of the Virgin/Finnegan family possessions. They lovingly preserved the furniture, clothing, housewares, trunks, saddle, papers, books, portraits and records, and also restored the house to its original pink color.

In 1941, Agnes began volunteering at the not-yet-opened Nevada State Museum. The Chairman of the Museum Board, Judge Clark J. Guild, tasked her with unpacking “pioneer treasured items brought to the Museum on loan from Carson Valley ranches.” These had been left stacked in the basement in unopened boxes since the Museum office staff thought they were too “folksy.” Six weeks later, Agnes was offered the position of Museum Curator.

This achievement was marred by the sudden death of her husband, Percy, less than two months later. But Agnes continued her work. She became a tireless promoter of the museum, writing articles and speaking to community organizations about Nevada history, museum collections and the Trains’ work. Her librarian skills proved invaluable for cataloging Nevada fossil, plant specimens, and managing the Museum’s collections.

Agnes Train with her beloved Percy. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

Agnes left Nevada in June 1944 after marrying John Janssen. The Janssens were dairy farmers, land developers, and cattle ranchers in California. The couple eventually retired to Salem, Oregon, where Agnes resumed her career as a librarian. Agnes continued to own the Pink House until 1956, where her parents lived and acted as caretakers of the residence and its contents. She sold the home after her widowed mother moved to Oregon.

In 1951, Agnes began to take actions to preserve both the Percy Train collections of fossils, minerals and flowers and the Pink House artifacts. Collections of historical items were donated to Mormon Station State Park, the Nevada State Historical Society, and Carson Valley Historical Society, now Douglas County Historical Society. In a letter to the Nevada State Historical Society, Agnes explained she wanted to “place various collections where the public will have access to them for research and reference.”

In 1977, Agnes published a book of recollections, “Nevada through Rose Colored Glasses.” This is a story of her Nevada life with Percy Train.

Agnes spent the last two years of her life in Carson City. She died on July 17, 1991 at age 86, and was buried next to her beloved Percy in Genoa Cemetery. His headstone reads: “Geologist . . . Botanist,” and hers: “Librarian . . . Curator.”

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Written by Gail Allen, Curator of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum. Based on the story and background research was provided by Debbe Nye. Many thanks to both Gail and Debbe for sharing this wonderful information about the amazing Agnes Train! Featured photo (at top), showing the Trains all packed up for a collecting trip (with dog and chicken!) is courtesy of the wonderful Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

The East Fork School in early Nevada

As early as 1876, a small schoolhouse was serving pupils in the East Fork School District, south of Gardnerville, Nevada. Parents were so unhappy with the school’s location, however, that a vote was held that year to compel its removal to “a more central” spot.

Notice of a proposal to move the early East Fork School building “to a more central point in the district,” Carson Valley News, October 6, 1876.

Back then, folks thought nothing of dismantling an entire building and  hammering back together again somewhere else. Soon, the early East Fork school had been spirited off to a new and improved location.

Now sitting just north of Wheeler’s Twelve Mile House (today’s Smoke Shop) and three miles south of Gardnerville, the reconstructed school was perched on the east side of the river, across from the Wilslef home. No bridges crossed the river there, however. And that meant that “in the spring when the water was high, there wasn’t much school,” as Peter Wilslef chuckled in an interview with the Record-Courier in 1958.

But just moving the old building to this new, more-felicitous location wasn’t enough for the ambitious East Fork school district. By July 1880, bids were being solicited to construct a spanking new school building. Miss Emma Jennison, the East Fork teacher in those days, must have been heartily pleased with her fresh classroom. As for the old, original school building? It wasn’t forgotten as a potential revenue source; the empty shell was auctioned off to the highest bidder in December, 1880. Waste not, want not.

Local parents aspired to make the East Fork School the “best schoolhouse in the county, outside of Genoa.” So after the new building was up, additional improvements quickly followed. New desks were purchased for the pupils in 1882, and a “fine Chapel organ” was acquired in 1884. Somewhere along the line, the school acquired a warm and welcoming school bell, too.

The school’s new organ, manufactured by Chappell & Co., may have looked something like this.

The school building served as a meeting place for the whole East Fork community. Sunday services were held inside its walls for decades. And when voting time rolled around, the schoolhouse was turned into a polling place. On Christmas Eve in 1884, the entire East Fork community gathered there around a communal Christmas tree at the little school to exchange presents and greet Henry Beste, all dressed up as Santa.

Enterprising teachers pulled together “programmes” for the enjoyment of the community, with students as the entertainment. Fidgeting youngsters would recite carefully-memorized pieces and sing off-key but chipper songs. Much to the delight of parents and grandparents from the “Old Country,” sometimes those memorized tunes were even sung in German. Fees for admission to these gala events (50 cents a head) went toward purchasing new books for the school’s library.

Teachers were a precious commodity, and not just for the book-learning they dispensed. Marriage-age female teachers, often from other towns, could be important additions to the local gene pool. One teacher followed the other at the East Fork School in rapid succession, typically leaving when either a husband or a better position was found. Following Miss Emma Jennison behind the teacher’s desk in the classroom were Julia McCord, Ida Pettegrew, Kate Nevin, and May Tierney. Miss Hattie Cushing, one of the longest-lasting East Fork schoolmarms, taught there from September 1893 through 1902 before moving on to teach at Mono Lake.

Competition among districts to snag the best teachers could be intense. Miss Eugenia Arnot, daughter of Alpine County judge N.D. Arnot, was lured away from her post at the Gardnerville School in July, 1902 with a can’t-refuse offer of $70 per month to teach at East Fork — a twenty-five percent increase over what she previously had been making.

Inside of the East Fork schoolroom about 1898. Gathered atop the teacher’s raised platform are teacher Harriet Cushing (top right) with students (from upper left): Emma Hussman (who later married Wm Nelson); Jennie Jacobsen (Mrs. George Fay); center: Sue Rodenbah (Mrs. Bert Selkirk). At bottom are Minnie Jacobsen (Smith) and Bertha Dangberg (who married Joe Cardinal). (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society.)
Mary Eugenia Arnot in her graduation picture from UNR, 1900. (Courtesy of descendant M. Shively).

In its hey-day, East Fork School attendance ranged from roughly twenty to forty students. A list of those who learned their ‘Three R’s’ within its walls reads a bit like a “Who’s Who” of old Carson Valley: Allerman, Bartels, Berning, Frantzen, Hussman, Dangberg, Jacobsen, Robishaw, Rodenbah, Settelmeyer, Springmeyer, Syll. Kids arrived in carts and aboard wagons, on horseback, and by foot. But by 1915, the East Fork School had outlived its usefulness. Its twin doors (one for boys, one for girls) were closed for good.

Such a sturdy wooden building couldn’t be allowed to go to waste, however. Henry Elges bought the structure and moved it near the “S” bend in Gardnerville, to become Elges’ “green goods and vegetable store.” Elges was followed by John and Norma Ellis, who briefly operated their own grocery store there. By the mid-1930s the former school building had become the Gardnerville Laundry, operated by George Oka before being acquired in August, 1940 by the Nishikida family. And they continued to own the establishment for over 25 years.

Portions of the original horizontal siding are beginning to peek out from beneath the later-added vertical layer. Look carefully at the windows flanking the front door and you can still see the outlines of the original pair of doors.

Today, almost no one gives this humble wooden building a second glance. But next time you drive by, we hope you’ll remember its past. Not so very long ago, it was the pride of East Fork parents, the cheerful roof under which a community once gathered. Listen carefully and maybe, just maybe, you’ll catch the faint echo of a welcoming school bell.

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Check out our latest book, packed with 33 stories of the “old days” and forgotten tales of early Carson Valley, Nevada! Available in both paperback and Kindle on Amazon.com.

 

Battle of the Titans

Dangberg vs. Lucky Bill: One of them won the first round. The other got the last laugh.

1856 Was a Tough Year . . . . 

Where’s that “Wayback” machine when you need it?! It’s difficult to be rock-solid certain you’ve separated fact from fiction after more than 160 years have passed. But if there was one person in the world who had good reason to hate Lucky Bill Thorington, it was probably Heinrich Friedrich (“Fred”) Dangberg. And some would hint that he eventually got his revenge.

Dangberg was born September 16, 1830 in Halle, a province of Westphalia. Although today we know it as Germany, it was officially the Kingdom of Prussia at the time. Fred’s father was a farmer and stage operator. But Fred, the oldest of four sons, didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, at least immediately. Instead, he was apprenticed to an uncle to learn the trade of operating a flour mill.

In 1845, when Fred Dangberg was just 15, his father passed away. His mother would remarry two years later, in 1847. All together this added up to a rough period in the young lad’s life. His relationship with his step-father was not a happy one and, with war looming in Europe, he faced the very real possibility of being conscripted.

Young and ambitious, Fred Dangberg was in no mood to wait for Fate to overtake him. In 1848, at the age of 18, he sailed from Germany to New Orleans. Lying ahead were not only fresh opportunities but a life on his own.

In America, Dangberg initially took a job rafting logs down the Mississippi. The following year, Dangberg and a friend, Benjamin Mast, followed the river upstream to St. Louis, where they secured work in a flour mill. And in 1850, the pair hired out as farmhands at a ranch in Illinois.

Nattily-dressed rancher H.F. Dangberg, circa 1875-1880. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park).

In the meantime, of course, the Gold Rush had begun. The lure of riches and land proved too compelling for ambitious young men like Dangberg and Mast to ignore. In the spring of 1853, the pair left St. Louis and headed west, driving 200 head of cows and oxen with them. They reached Gold Canyon on October 11, 1853, and promptly set to work panning gold.

For the next two-and-a-half years they would split their time between mining and trading, running their sluice box in the months when water was available, and trading goods to emigrants when water was scarce. They purchased wares in Placerville and Sacramento, and sold everything from flour, coffee and similar staples to simple comforts like tobacco and alcohol.

By early 1856 Dangberg had branched out into the dairy business, too, and began selling butter – more than 450 pounds of it that year alone, factoring in the weight of the small wooden barrels (firkins) that held it. Things were going so well, in fact, that he decided to abandon gold mining entirely and turn his energies to ranching instead.

Sometime that same year (1856), Dangberg settled on 320 acres of rich bottomland beside the East Fork of the Carson River, land that would later be known as the Klauber Ranch. He began building a log cabin, and set his cattle to grazing nearby. But as far as we can tell from recorded documents, Dangberg never bothered to file a formal land claim. Maybe he was working on it. Maybe he intended to hire a surveyor later, and just wanted to get his cabin up first.

Local trader and land baron, William “Lucky Bill” Thorington. (K. Dustman illustration)

But Dangberg wasn’t the only one with an eye on that same stretch of land. Returning home from a supply trip over the mountains, Dangberg found local trader and land baron Lucky Bill Thorington occupying his partly-finished cabin – armed with a gun and a group of supporters. Some say Lucky Bill taunted Dangberg, boldly declaring that he’d jumped Dangberg’s land claim and demanding “What are you going to do now, Dutchman?”

Although this may well have been Dangberg’s take on the situation, the vague descriptions and primitive title system of early land claims made it a far more nuanced matter. The intervening 160-plus years makes it doubly difficult to tell for sure, of course. But here’s one fascinating tidbit that might help explain the confrontation: these 320 acres could be the same property claimed and surveyed by Fred Heath and F.D. Clift on August 9, 1856.

Assuming it’s the same land, the big question, of course: did that Heath/Clift survey happen before or after Dangberg settled on the property? Did Dangberg perhaps even buy out Heath and Clift’s interest in an unrecorded transaction? Or did he commence building his cabin, unaware of their claim? On the other hand, could Lucky Bill have bought the Heath/Clift land claim? Or might Lucky Bill just have been friendly with Heath and Clift, and tried to help pitch out a person they felt was an intruder? We may simply never learn the truth. But it’s possible that Lucky Bill – a resident of Carson Valley since 1853 – honestly believed he or his friends had a valid right to the land.

By the time Dangberg arrived, would-be settlers were swarming into Carson Valley and land disputes with those who’d settled earlier were common. Newcomers frequently had difficulty finding unoccupied land and many bitterly resented those who’d arrived before them, believing it unfair that early settlers had tied up such huge swaths of land.

It would seem out-of-character for Lucky Bill to have taken advantage of a newcomer, especially by force. He seemed to be well-liked by at least some (though not all) in the community, with contemporaries describing him as a “merry citizen.” Tales are still told of his kindness toward unfortunate travelers. Lucky Bill certainly had no need to steal land, having already amassed a home in Genoa, an extensive ranch in Eagle Valley, and another ranch at Fredericksburg. On the other hand, Lucky Bill probably wouldn’t take it lightly if he felt that someone was trying to take advantage. So perhaps the dispute was simply an unfortunate collision between two determined individuals, both convinced they were right.

The confrontation was certainly an unequal one. Fred Dangberg was a strapping young man, and hard work had made him strong. But Lucky Bill, topping six feet, was even larger. Worse yet for Dangberg, Lucky Bill had friends standing by his side as the pair faced off at the cabin site.

Finding himself outnumbered – and perhaps aware that his own unperfected land claim might be somewhat shaky – Dangberg abandoned his partly-finished cabin and sought out other land to claim. He moved south about a mile, crossing the river and heading upstream. There, in 1857, Dangberg and partners Ben Mast and C.E. Holbrook took up 640 acres of land in the middle of the fertile Carson Valley – land that ultimately would form the nucleus of the Dangberg Home Ranch.

From a water-rights perspective, it was a canny move. Here where the East Fork and the Middle Fork separated, Dangberg had first access to the water that flowed on to downstream ranchers – including Lucky Bill. And this time, the partners made sure they did things right: they hired a surveyor and set out corner markers for their property.

The Dangberg Home Ranch — H.F. Dangberg’s second choice. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park).

But that early, ugly confrontation with Lucky Bill Thorington was one that Fred Dangberg never forgot – and probably never forgave. When Thorington was hauled up on trial in June, 1858 for his alleged complicity with murderer William Edwards, eighteen jurors were plucked from the community to hear the charge. Old-timers including Thomas Knott and Harry Hawkins would later hint that Fred Dangberg was a member of that jury. Others, however, dismiss the allegation as pure rumor.

Rumor or not, perhaps no one was happier than Fred Dangberg when Lucky Bill was dispatched into eternity on June 19, 1858 by a hangman’s noose. Some two years after the unfortunate confrontation at the cabin, Dangberg may well have felt Lucky Bill had gotten his come-uppance.

And oh yes. There was one final joyful celebration ahead for Fred Dangberg:  he finally, finally managed to purchase the Klauber Ranch in 1902.

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Unsolved murders. Brazen stage robberies. Tales of buried treasure. They’re all here in our new book, “Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley“! Get your copy at local merchants or find it on Amazon.com!

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The Story of Kermit Neddenriep

Put July 26th on your calendar. Three-quarters of a century ago on that same date, our community lost a local son.

The year was 1944. The place: somewhere near San Romano, Italy. Europe was convulsing in the final, ugly months of World War II.

Kermit Neddenriep had been cooped up in a foxhole for several days with his unit, the 88th Division of the 351st Infantry. And while there, he’d been thinking of the folks back home. “You seem to get used to the big guns going off and all the excitement,” he wrote his parents on July 20th from his uncomfortable quarters in the trench. He tried to add a reassuring touch:  “There are planes zooming back and forth over our heads all the time, but mostly all ours.”

Kermit had just celebrated his 34th birthday three months earlier. Born April 5, 1910 in Diamond Valley, (Alpine County), he was the second son of Henry Dolf Neddenriep, Jr. and Eugenia (“Gene”) Harvey. His siblings included an older brother, Virgil (Ripp), and two younger sisters, Louise and Gloria. Louise, too, had enlisted when the War broke out, joining the WACs.

Claus and Anna E. Neddenriep, probably taken in Germany.

The Neddenriep family’s roots ran deep in Carson Valley. Kermit’s father, Henry (Jr.), was one of the ten children of Henry Neddenriep (Sr.). His father, the senior Henry, had made his way here in 1869 with a cousin, by stowing away aboard ship. And Henry Sr.’s parents, Claus and Anna Neddenriep, soon followed their son across the ocean, arriving in 1872. The land that Claus and Anna purchased would eventually form the nucleus of the 900-acre Neddenriep Home Ranch in Carson Valley.

Although officially an Alpiner by birth, Kermit moved with his family to Carson Valley when he was three years old. About 1929 the family moved again, this time to Smith Valley, and Kermit graduated from Smith Valley High. After graduation he joined his father in working the family ranch and also was employed by L.L. Wedertz of Wellington.

And then World War II broke out. For a time, ranchers were exempted from military service, their work considered critical to the home front. But as the war ground on, that changed. In November, 1942, Kermit Neddenriep received his draft notice greeting from Uncle Sam. He enlisted in the Army on November 30, 1942, and was assigned to the Fifth Army, 351st Infantry, 88th Division, under the command of General Clark. And a year and a half later, he found himself in that foxhole in Italy.

Kermit’s last letter to his parents, six days before he died.

On July 26, 1944, Kermit’s unit staged an attack on the town of San Romano. “Fighting in the streets was exceedingly fierce,” the Army chaplain would later write to Kermit’s parents. “During the advance he was struck by enemy sniper fire.” Kermit died there on the streets of a town more than 5,800 miles from home. The letter he’d written his parents from a trench just six days earlier, assuring them “I am O.K.,” arrived the same day as the telegram announcing his death.

Kermit’s grave at Fredericksburg Cemetery has always had a special place in my heart, even before I learned his story. Tucked into a quiet, shady corner beneath an overhanging tree, it just has a sense of peacefulness about it. But how this grave came to be here is a story in itself — a tale of a family’s abiding love and a community’s deep respect.

Grave of Kermit Neddenriep at Fredericksburg Cemetery, Alpine County. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire)

You see, Kermit wasn’t buried here initially. Like so many servicemen killed overseas, his body was laid to rest close to the place where he died. After a family friend located Kermit’s grave in Italy, the Neddenriep family began the process of seeking to return his remains. And eventually they were successful.

On November 17, 1949, over five years after he passed away, Kermit’s body was finally laid to rest here in Alpine County, where he’d been born. In the intervening years a VFW post had been established in Smith Valley in Kermit’s honor: the “Kermit H. Neddenriep VFW Post 8084.” Members of this new post served as pallbearers at his funeral, and ensured he was given full military honors for the observance, including the playing of taps and a 3-rifle salute. And this Post (later re-established in Yerington, NV) now maintains his gravesite.

Banner of the Kermit H. Neddenriep VFW Post No. 8084 (courtesy of Post Historian Charlene La Belle).

This year, July 26, 2019, will mark exactly 75 years from the day Kermit Neddenriep was killed in action, so far away from home. I hope you will join me in remembering him.

Fredericksburg Cemetery, Alpine County. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

 

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Just released! Our new book, “Forgotten Tales of Carson Valley.” 33 great tales, including stagecoach robberies, murders, buried treasure, and even a romance or two! Read about the couple who eloped on horseback and the folks who searched for robbers’ loot with a dowsing rod.

Brand new — available in paperback and Kindle version here!

 

 

 

 

The Old Ferris Ranch House

Just one lonely image, captured by Juanita Schubert in the 1940s. That was all that was left of the old Ferris House in Carson Valley. Or so we thought.

But wait! Locals informed us the old Ferris home still exists — the house was moved in the 1940s, and now sits off Stockyard Road, a few miles east of its original location! So naturally we went “off on the hunt” to find it.

Back in its day, the house stood in a fairly remote location, at the crossroads of two early roads and about four miles east of Genoa. . From the west, the Boyd Toll Road meandered in from Genoa before heading southeast across the valley. And from the north, the Cradlebaugh Road headed down the valley from Carson City and continued on south.

Close-up of the two-story Ferris Ranch House, from Juanita Schubert’s picture. (Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum).

In terms of today’s geography, that translates into north of Muller Lane, on the west side of Hwy 395. And there’s a great landmark that can help you find the right spot today: the old house once sat just below the prominent Douglas County “D” on the side of the hill. (Look closely at the top photo above, and you can make out the white “D”!)

The Ferris family arrived in Carson Valley in September, 1864, after crossing the plains by wagon train from Galesburg, Illinois — George W.G. Ferris, his wife Martha, and eight of their ten children. (Son Fred was a soldier in the Civil War at the time; and daughter Harriet had died as a baby in 1849).

This actually wasn’t the first trip west for George Ferris Sr.; back in 1851 he’d spent seven months in California seeking Gold Rush riches with relative Chauncey Noteware. Although Noteware remained in the west (later becoming Nevada’s first Secretary of State), Ferris had quickly realized there were more lucrative opportunities for him at home, and returned to Galesburg. But he never stopped dreaming of returning. And so in 1864, George Ferris and his family finally made the long, hard overland haul in 1864 by wagon, heading (they originally thought) for San Jose.

Perhaps it was sheer economics that led Ferris to abandon San Jose as a destination and determine to settle in Carson Valley instead. Perhaps the beautiful scenery won him over. Or perhaps relative Chauncey Noteware (by then living in Carson City) had some hand in the decision. However it happened, once here, the Ferrises decided to stay.

Back in Illinois, George Ferris Sr. had been a well-to-do farmer. He’d realized a handsome sum by selling his Illinois farm — some say as much as $60,000. But he had taken his profits in greenbacks. To his dismay, he found that here in Carson Valley, greenbacks were disfavored and he was forced to pay for his new land in gold. He would later tell listeners that he’d lost $10,000 to $12,000 by the conversion; descendants told an even worse tale, saying he’d realized a mere fifty cents on each greenback dollar.

They promptly set about building a home, and by 1865 they had what one later biographer called a “rudimentary ranch house” in Carson Valley. Great-granddaughter Grace Dangberg would later say that the home was constructed “with nails hammered out on the anvils of Henry Van Sickle.” The plaster on its interior walls was mixed with horsehair for strength, she tells us (a common building technique at the time). And the parlor featured a fancy fireplace with a marble face. Not quite so “rudimentary,” after all!

George Washington Gale Ferris, Sr. — aka G.W.G. Ferris, circa 1889. (Photo courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.)

In years to come, the Ferris house would be the scene of many happy memories — and several tragic ones, as well.

One of the happiest events took place in March, 1866, when Margaret Gale Ferris (oldest living daughter of George Ferris Sr. and an older sister of Ferris Wheel inventor, G.W.G. Ferris, Jr.) married prominent rancher H.F. Dangberg, here in this house. She was just 17 at the time, while Dangberg was in his middle-30s — twice her age. Margaret lived thereafter on the Dangberg Home Ranch, and raised her children there.

Daughter Margaret Gale Ferris, who married H.F. Dangberg. This photo is circa 1880s. (Courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.)

Although the house would continue to be referred to as “the Ferris house” for many years, the family actually didn’t live here for long. In 1868, George Ferris, Sr. purchased a nearly-new home in Carson City from Gregory A. Sears. The “Sears-Ferris House” had just been built in 1863, and it still stands today at 311 West Third Street.

Just why the family left Carson Valley and moved to Carson City is a matter of some dispute. One story has it that the family feared the local Washoe Indians after an accidental shooting raised hard feelings. But as historian Richard G. Weingardt put it, George Sr. was simply “tired of living on an isolated ranch.” Carson City probably offered a more citified existence and greater social and cultural activities for the well-heeled family.

Whatever the precipitating reason was, in 1868, just four years after arriving in Nevada, the Ferris family moved to Carson City. There George Sr. continued his passion for farming as a “gentleman farmer.” And he also did his best to beautify his new hometown; it’s Ferris who is credited with planting hickory, black walnuts and chestnut trees on the grounds of Nevada’s Capitol building. He would eventually sell the Sears-Ferris House in Carson to his daughter, Mary, in 1890.

The Sears-Ferris House in Carson City, at 311 West Third Street. (Wikipedia photo).

As for the Ferris Ranch in Carson Valley, Grace Dangberg tells us that the family eventually sold it to Margaret’s husband, H.F. Dangberg, who leased it to tenant farmers. So over the coming decades, the Ferris house didn’t stay empty.

And here’s where the tale turns tragic. German immigrants Anna and Fritz Sarman arrived with their family in May, 1882, and took up residence in the former Ferris House. The Sarman family continued to live peacefully in the home for the next dozen years. Then on May 8, 1895, Anna was brutally murdered inside the house — struck in the head with a hatchet.

Suspicions focused at first on Anna’s husband, Fritz, who claimed to have been out in the fields at the time. But he and other supporters contended the culprit must have been a passing tramp. It was true that drifters along the nearby roads would often stop in at the house for a meal, and one had just eaten breakfast there the day Anna was killed. Sadly, Anna’s murder is still a mystery that’s never been solved.

The grave of Anna Sarman at Genoa Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire).

The Ferris house would become the scene of yet another sad event some eight years later, in 1903, while newlyweds Henry and Viola Berning were living in the old Ferris home. The young couple had just tied the knot on Christmas Day, 1902 in Gardnerville. Young Viola soon found herself pregnant with triplets — a nearly unheard-of medical event for the day. About October 17, 1903, Viola successfully gave birth to three tiny girls: Nina, Ina, and Mina. Baby Nina died shortly after birth. And just nine days later, mother Viola, too, died here at the Ferris house (October 26, 1903).

The old Ferris house no longer stands in the fields where Juanita Schubert snapped its picture. But traces of the former occupants still turn up  occasionally near the site. An early dime, a silver-plated pocket watch, and parts from various agricultural implements have been found over the years.

View toward the site where the Ferris home once stood, with the old fence line still in place. (Rick Dustman photo).

And where did everyone go? Mother Viola Berning and baby Nina are both buried (in unmarked graves) at Genoa Cemetery. Viola’s remaining two triplets both survived, and lived on into their 70s. George Ferris, Sr. moved to Riverside, California in 1881, passing away there in April, 1895. George Ferris, Jr. died in Pittsburgh, PA in 1896, at the entirely-too-young age of 37. Fritz Sarman died in May, 1900, almost exactly five years after his wife’s murder. Margaret Ferris Dangberg passed away in 1946 and rests at Lone Mountain Cemetery.

As for the old Ferris house itself — it was moved to the sheep camp on Stockyard Road about 1942. A subsequent owner had the house significantly remodeled, and used it as a second home when he and his wife came down from Reno. In recent years the old house become part of the Bently holdings, serving as a ranch manager’s home.

It’s so amazing this piece of history is still here, square nails and all! For all the tragedies this old house has seen, how lovely to know that it’s still a survivor.

The Ferris house, as it looks today. (Rick Dustman photo).

Top image (Juanita Schubert photo): Courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

We hope you’ll visit Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park to learn more about the Ferris family, the Dangberg family — and Carson Valley’s wonderful history! Many thanks for help with this article to both Mark Jensen of Dangberg Home Ranch and a certain kind and generous researcher who’s too shy to see her name in print.

Stories of the Fairview School – Part 2

We left off last time with the story of a funny Halloween prank played on old-time rancher Abednego John. (If you missed it, you can find that tale in Part 1, here!)

The original Fairview School, as you’ll remember, sat at the mouth of Fay-Luther canyon. But roughly twenty years later, a new and improved, second Fairview school was built about a mile to the south. Was this new spot just a more convenient site? Or were there other reasons for starting over?

That question’s a mystery. But we do know that well-known local builder John Cress was chosen as the contractor, and the new schoolhouse quickly sprouted at the corner of today’s Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads in the summer of 1893 . When school began again that fall, the teacher at the new one-room Fairview school was a Miss Lloyd. Just imagine how she must have felt, moving into the freshly-built quarters!

Could this the first day of school in the brand-new Fairview School building, in the fall of 1893? That would be my bet! For one thing, there are no trees visible around the new school (the trees didn’t arrive until 1894). If so, that’s probably Miss Layne in the far-back right, with her 24 students. See this rare photo for yourself at Douglas County Historical Society in a charming exhibit (downstairs). The exhibit includes a child’s antique alphabet-block (just visible at lower left in this photo). (Photo courtesy of Judy Wickwire.)

The following spring, Miss Lloyd had a grand idea to beautify the rather barren school grounds. In honor of Arbor Day, 1894 (the last Friday in April), Miss Lloyd put her students to work planting trees around their new schoolhouse. Then each student took on the responsibility of watering the tree they had planted.

“We hope the trees will live and flourish,” enthused the Genoa Weekly Courier on April 27, 1894, “and that the teacher and pupils will be able to enjoy their shade for many years.” That happy wish that would come true — and not just for Miss Lloyd’s helpful students, but for generations of Carson Valley residents to come. Many of those early saplings still adorn the site today!

Genoa Weekly Courier, April 27, 1894.

A further upgrade for the new school arrived in January, 1901, when Allen & Dake bored a new well. The school’s fortuitous location in the bottomlands made this a relatively easy task; they only had to go 40 feet deep. The new well probably helped greatly with keeping the trees watered. And how many thirsty students must have paused to get a drink from the school’s handy new “pump well”?!

The number of pupils attending Fairview School seems to have stayed fairly constant, at least for a time: 29 students were in attendance in 1881, and 25 occupied its desks in 1901. But Fairview was said to have been one of the roughest posts for teachers. “The Dresslers and the Bohlmans and the Ruhenstroths were all tough boys,” remembered one long-time Valley resident. “They would put skunks in the girls’ billy [outhouse]. So the teacher made the boys use the girls’ outhouse!”

Perhaps those rowdy kids help explain why Fairview teachers seemed to come and go with great rapidity. Mr. Spencer, the school’s first educator, was replaced by Mrs. Layne in 1876. By 1883 Katie Taylor had taken over, only to be replaced by Miss Belle Leslie in 1888 and Mrs. Mary Field in 1889. None other than Ellen Virgin (daughter of the Genoa judge) was engaged to teach at Fairview for the term beginning fall 1890. The tree-planting Miss Lloyd presided stuck it out for a few terms from 1894 to 1897 before returning to her home in Empire. 1898 featured a Miss Lamb from Washoe County as the teacher, while Nellie M. Cavanaugh was in charge for the 1899 and 1900 terms, before departing to take the post of principal at the Oak Grove School in Santa Clara County, California. In 1904 the Fairview School District secured its next teacher, J. Novacovich, from Reno. And that’s not an exhaustive list; there were likely a few other teachers as well!

The Fairview School circa 1908, at the southeast corner of Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads. By now its saplings were mature trees. (Scossa family photo).

But it’s hard to fight progress. As with so many small school districts, economics eventually forced the tiny Fairview School to close. Fairview’s School District was merged with Minden’s School District in the spring of 1929. The old Fairview schoolhouse was auctioned off that same year, with Charles Mapes becoming the successful bidder. About 1939 the old building was moved up the road to the Crosby Ranch (later Ahern Ranch), where some say it was converted to a bunkhouse and others say it became an office. Today all traces of the old school seem to be gone, however; local researchers say they have tried to locate it, without success.

Those Arbor Day trees planted by the students and their thoughtful teacher back in April, 1894? Some of those are now giants!  These tenacious survivors have continued to offer graceful shade and shelter for 125 years — and still counting. Miss Lloyd must be smiling at her handiwork indeed.

Site of the second Fairview School, looking south, with its 125-year-old trees. A private residence now occupies this parcel.(Rick Dustman photo).
Looking east from the corner at Fredericksburg and Fairview toward the spot where the Fairview School once stood. (Rick Dustman photo).
Discover the history of nearby Fredericksburg CA in this fun book – and walk its historic cemetery to “meet” local  pioneers! The book’s available right on this site, on the “Books” tab. Let us know and we’ll gladly sign your copy, too!

 

Stories of the Fairview School

We still don’t know exactly when the first schoolhouse was built at Fairview, Nevada. But it had to be sometime before 1875 — because that’s the year teacher Ella S. Lane became known as the “Heroine of Fairview School District”! And a well-deserved honor it was. Here’s the tale:

Like most buildings of the day, the Fairview School featured a handy woodstove to help ward off winter’s chill. Teachers’ duties would often include arriving early to light the stove before students arrived.

All was well until one chilly day when, in the midst of her lesson, Miss Lane happened to glance up. Quickly altering her plans, she seated herself at the school organ and commenced a rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers.” This was the students’ cue to march outside for a recess. No one (except the teacher) realized that the woodstove chimney had caught the loft on fire until the children had all made it safely outside the burning building. A heroine she was, indeed!

We’ve never seen an image of the very first Fairview School. This is the second school building at Fairview, ca. 1908, at the southeast corner of Fairview and Fredericksburg Roads. The earlier building stood at the head of the canyon a mile or so north. (Photo courtesy of Scossa family).
A pot-bellied stove was a common central feature in early schoolhouses. (c) K. Dustman

A few more tidbits about the early days of the Fairview School have been handed down to us courtesy of old-timer Owen E. Jones, who set pen to paper in 1925 to record his recollections. Fairview was the “first schoolhouse built in [this end of] Carson Valley,” Jones assures us. Its very first teacher? A Mr. Spencer. And the school itself moved around a bit; the first building initially sat at the mouth of the canyon, about a mile “west” [probably really northwest] of the spot where the second incarnation of the school later materialized.

A public building like a school was, after all, a public building; so the community embraced the Fairview schoolhouse for other needs as well. Following its week-day service as a one-room schoolhouse, the building wore a new role on Sundays as a place to hold church. Separation of church and state? No one evidently bothered their heads about such things, back in the day.

And there’s a hilarious story about one of those religious gatherings in the Fairview School, again preserved for us courtesy of Owen E. Jones. It seems that Abednego Johns, a pioneer Jacks Valley rancher, had arranged for two distinguished LDS ministers to come and preach at the schoolhouse one Sunday in late October during the 1880s. Mr. Johns, his wife, and the two visiting ministers — all “heavy-weighted persons” — clambered aboard Abednego’s wagon and rode south for the event. The Fairview school building was filled with neighbors, eagerly awaiting the out-of-town preachers. And then Mr. Johns stood up to introduce his guests.

Now, Mr. Johns was a “very splendid old gentleman,” Owen Jones tells us, whose “only fault was that, when he got to talking religion, he never knew when to stop.” So after beginning his introduction of the two visiting Mormon ministers, Mr. Johns just kept on talking! By the time he finally ceded the floor, most of the assembled crowd had given up and left the building. The two preachers were forced to simply bid the stragglers good-bye and call it a night.

Farm wagon.

And that wasn’t entirely the end of Mr. Johns’ rather unfortunate evening, either. While his “fillibuster” droned on, some wag had played a Halloween joke. Slipping outside, the prankster swapped the front and back wheels of Johns’ wagon, then added a heavy sack of wet sand beneath the driver’s seat and tied another to the rear axle. When the non-preaching event finally was over, Johns and his guests boarded their wagon, only to endure an excruciatingly slow journey home in the dark. They were mystified about why the team was so exhausted — until, hours later, they finally made it home to Jacks Valley and discovered the prank.

But wait! There’s more! Tune in next time for “Part 2” of this story — including who planted the trees around the old Fairview School, and where (more than a hundred years later) you can see them!

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Gardnerville’s Ritchford Hotel

William Ritchford was bound and determined to be a hotel owner. In March, 1893 he purchased the Gardnerville Hotel at the southwest corner of Main and Eddy Streets from Hans C. Jepsen. Here at his “fine hotel and saloon,” the accommodating new owner offered board and lodging by the day, week, or month. Patrons of his saloon were promised not only “good wines, liquors and cigars,” but also an opportunity to try their luck at the card tables.

The Ritchford Hotel, circa 1900. (Photo courtesy of the Douglas County Historical Society & Museum)

Ritchford had a partner in this new endeavor, Hans Nelson. And for a time, things went swimmingly. In June of 1893, the pair were already planning to build an addition to their hotel to “accommodate the transient custom that nightly make this a stopping point,” said the Genoa Weekly Courier. But by March of 1894, Ritchford had sold out his interest to Nelson for a bit more than $5,000, and was moving to Antelope Valley with his family.

They weren’t gone long, however. By October of 1896, the Ritchfords were back in Gardnerville, renting the lower floor of Pete Wilder’s house. By 1897, Bill Ritchford was operating a livery and feed business in town. But he still had heart set on another hotel.

About 1898, Ritchford purchased a parcel on the west side of today’s “S”-curve, then the south end of Gardnerville. An early blacksmith shop occupied the south corner of the property (opened by Chris Nelson and later operated by Fred Fricke). By March that same year, carpenters and stone masons were hard at work erecting a new hotel for Ritchford at the north end of his property.

Things didn’t get off to a terribly auspicious start. First, carpenter Henry Beste took a nasty fall at the under-construction hotel, confining him to bed rest for a day or two. Then the following week stone mason Henry Mathews, who’d been hired to lay the building’s foundation, suddenly passed away.

But by mid-July, Ritchford and his family were able to move into their new hotel. The building was finished enough that the newspaper was able to report on its “imposing appearance,” with a cornice painted a patriotic red, white and blue. In November, 1898 Ritchford added a tall water tank to the property, bringing gravity-fed water to the new building. Genuine “horsepower” of the old-fashioned kind was used to lift the large tank into place.

Advertisement for a “Grand House Warming” for Ritchford’s Hotel. (September 9, 1898 Genoa Courier).

That September, 1898, a “Grand House Warming” celebration and dance was advertised to celebrate the new hotel. In deference to the size of the expected crowd, festivities were held just up the street at Valhalla Hall. Tickets for the event cost $2, but thoughtfully included not only supper for attendees but also “horse feed.”

Even so, however, it appears the new hotel building was not quite finished. In June the following year, the Courier reported plans under way to “immediately finish” the third story of the hotel, “owing to the throng of people in Gardnerville.” A Sanborn Fire Insurance map drawn that year shows a two-and-a-half story “boarding house” on the property. Ritchford finally had his own hotel.

Advertisements in the Genoa Courier in late 1899 cheerfully informed the traveling public that Ritchford’s new hotel was open for business. He had picked an auspicious official name for it, too:  “The Latest.” Guests could stable their horses at the livery just 38 feet to the south (possibly a new incarnation of the former blacksmith shop). And Ritchford wasn’t done yet. By early 1900, carpenter Henry Dixon was “finishing up” what may have been more of the third story of the Ritchford.

A Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1899, showing a large livery stable on the south of Ritchford’s property (where the early blacksmith shop probably sat) and a 2-1/2 story “Boarding house” at the north end.
Ad for Ritchford’s Hotel, “The Latest,” in 1899.

When finally completed, the Ritchford Hotel featured 20 “first-class” rooms. Mrs. Ritchford charmed guests with her cooking, including  “sumptuous” turkey dinners. The livery business did so well that in 1902 a “large addition” was made to the stable. And in 1903, in keeping with the hotel’s name, “The Latest,” Ritchford had his hotel electrified — a significant improvement over the original gas lighting.

“Word of the Ritchford Hotel spread around the state, and anyone traveling through the valley wanted to stay there,” noted Scott Schrantz in a 2006 blog, Around Carson. “Even in San Francisco they spoke of its elegance and luxury.”

And even more improvements were yet to come. In the fall of 1905, Bill Ritchford added an “ice house” to the hotel and a “rustic front” to his stable. This latter change, the Record-Courier noted approvingly, “greatly add[ed] to [the stable’s] appearance.”

Ritchford worked hard to ensure a steady stream of patrons to his hotel. After the V&T opened its Minden depot in 1906, Ritchford  drove his team to meet the train every day to pick up “drummers” (traveling salesmen) needing a place to spend the night.

By 1907, the Sanborn maps show that another narrow addition had been made to the livery stable, pushing the building even farther south. And by 1912, almost the entire southern corner of the property had been covered with various extensions to the livery building.

Among other amenities for guests, it seems medical help was close at hand for anyone who needed it. As early as 1899, a patient was said to be “undergoing treatment at Ritchford’s hotel.” Advertisements from 1908 indicate that Dr. E.H. Hawkins kept both his medical office and his residence in the hotel. Another physican named Dr. Marotz had a convenient office nearby, and “at night [he] can be found at [a] cottage adjoining Ritchford hotel,” according to Marotz’s ad.

But at the age 0f 75, after more than two decades in the hotel business, Bill Ritchford passed away in a tragic accident. It was February of 1922. Despite his years, Ritchford was hauling hay from Minden to Gardnerville on a sled being pulled by a four-horse team. The load of hay slid forward, spooking the horses. Ritchford  fell off and was dragged for several hundred feet, and the sled ran over his body. His chest was crushed. Ritchford died the following day.

Son Bill Ritchford, Jr. continued to carry on the hotel business for the next two years. But not long after Bill’s death, his wife Anna’s health began to fail. She passed away in August, 1924, and was buried beside Bill in Carson City’s Lone Mountain Cemetery.

A few months after his mother’s passing, son Bill, Jr. sold the old Ritchford Hotel to the Aja family. It was still quite a place, featuring “stove heat,” electric lights; a parlor, two offices, a soft drink concession, dining room and kitchen, according to a 1923 Sanborn map. With automobiles now taking the place of horses, the former livery stable by now had been converted to a painting shop and “temporary fire headquarters.”

What remains of the Ritchford Hotel today. Gone are the third story, the front porch and architectural embellishments, but the “bare bones” of the old hotel still remain.
The former Livery stable, after innumerable additions.

Today, a portion of the gracious three-story Ritchford Hotel still stands. The current wooden structure is now just two stories tall, thanks to a fire that broke out on the third floor in January, 1937. Although the lower floors were saved, the top floor of the hotel was never rebuilt.

Next time you pass by, remember the tall water tower that once stood beside the Ritchford, boosted into place using old-fashioned horse-power. Think of the many smiling guests who crossed its threshold to enjoy Bill’s hospitality and Anna’s home-cooked dinners. And imagine Gardnerville’s early days when the gracious Ritchford Hotel was known as far away as San Francisco.

Historic plaque commemorating the much-beloved, long-lived Ritchford Hotel. This plaque notes the hotel was first opened in 1896. (Our research suggests his hotel actually opened in 1898.)

Carson Valley’s First Settler Wedding

The year was 1854 when two young riders pulled up outside Henry Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop, astride a single horse.

Their arrival at Van Sickle’s station wasn’t all that unusual — “Van” (as locals knew him) was an in-demand blacksmith and wheelwright, and his trading station had become a popular stopping place for passing-through emigrants.

What was unusual, however, was the mission of the two riders. Young David R. Jones and his even younger companion, Frances Angeline Williams, weren’t interested in Van’s assistance as a blacksmith, but rather his help as Justice of the Peace. They’d just eloped together on horseback, and wanted “Van” to marry them.

Frances was a native of Pennsylvania who’d come west with her family in a wagon train, arriving in Carson Valley during the fall of 1853. David had been born in Wales in 1830, emigrating initially as a child with his family to Wisconsin. David, too, had followed his dreams west to Carson Valley in 1853 as a member of the same wagon train as the Williams family, and was now living and working on the ranch owned by Frances’ father*, William T. “Billy” Williams.

Henry Van Sickle.

David was 25 years old when he rode up to Van Sickle’s blacksmith shop that fateful day. Frances, on the other hand, was just 15. And they hadn’t asked her parents’ permission to get married.

As later writers have recounted the tale, “Van” was hard at work at his forge when the eager young couple rushed in. Still clad in his leather blacksmith’s apron and rolled-up shirtsleeves, Van Sickle obliged with the briefest of ceremonies. Clapping one meaty hand on David’s shoulder and the other on Frances’, he solemnly proclaimed: “As Justice of the Peace of this township, I pronounce you man and wife under the law of the Territory of Utah.”

That was it. They were married.

Henry Van Sickle didn’t bother to take off his rough blacksmith’s apron for the marriage. Photos below of David R. Jones and Frances (Williams) Jones are courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society & Museum.

It was the first settler marriage ever performed in Carson Valley, at least according to local legend. (Small pause for a word of caution: when it comes to “firsts” like marriages and babies, there can often be room for dispute! But that’s how local legend tells it.) And the wedding wouldn’t be Van Sickle’s last. In August, 1857, Van Sickle also “stopped branding cattle long enough to perform the marriage” for Elzy Knott and Mary Harris.

There’s just one small factual hiccup giving later historians pause about the long-ago Jones wedding story: Henry Van Sickle probably wasn’t actually a J.P. yet in 1854. It wasn’t until Carson County, Utah Territory was formed in September, 1855 by Orson Hyde that Henry officially became a judge, as nearly as we can tell. Prior to that, although J.P.’s did exist, their authority was limited to handling court cases. With no authority for anyone at the time to perform weddings, emigrant marriages were sometimes accomplished by written “contract” or by stretching the fictitious jurisdiction of an eastern J.P.

Still, the story of the Jones’ wedding is so detailed there’s likely some truth to the tale. Perhaps the young couple thought Van Sickle had the power to marry them, and Van simply tried to oblige. Maybe later tellings got the year wrong and the marriage took place in 1855, after Henry really was a Justice of the Peace.  Or maybe the well-respected Van Sickle was simply the closest thing anyone had to a J.P. in those early days, and local folk never questioned the well-intentioned marriage attempt.

However it happened, if the oft-repeated story about the early wedding is true, newlyweds David and Frances must have had quite an interesting conversation with her family when they finally returned home to the Williams ranch! But any hard feelings were apparently soon forgiven. David would later purchase the Williams ranch in 1857.

Over the years, the couple prospered. David was (or at least, as he claimed to be) the first to plow the ground with an ox team near Genoa, and he soon began hauling hay and grain to Virginia City. But the early years of their marriage were filled with the dangers and difficulties of early pioneers. He would later recall: “We hid in the willows at night, [my] wife and I, because the Indians were hostile in those days and we feared for our lives.”

The Jones Ranch, as it appeared about 1881.

The couple’s first son, John R. Jones, born in 1855, was reportedly the first white male child born in Carson Valley. All told, David and Frances would go on to have a total of eleven children. One of those children, daughter Sarah, grew up to marry Lorenzo Smith of Washoe City, a tale recounted in this earlier story. (Daughter Sarah was laid to rest at the Washoe City Cemetery in early 1894.)

The Jones ranch grew, and by 1882 was valued for tax purposes at $3,500. David also evidently developed a passion for fine horses. In 1878, the newspaper reported the price for breeding services from his “noble-looking” stallion, Westfork.

D.R. Jones’ “noble” stallion, Westfork, was mentioned in the Carson Valley News of April 12, 1878.

David Jones was an active member of the local community, officiating as a judge of elections at the Mottsville Precinct in 1880, and serving as a Douglas County commissioner in the 1890s. According to some accounts Jones also became a prominent  and well-respected member of the Mormon Church — although in actuality, he’d broken ties with the LDS church. Instead, Jones may have been affiliated with the Re-organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when that movement emerged in the 1870s, though even the nature of his association with that group remains unclear.  In any event, Jones was listed as a “minister” at the marriage of John Boston and Nettie Jones in March, 1872, and was kindly referred to as “Rev. Jones” in February, 1898 when he officiated at the funeral of Mrs. Mary Gilman.

Frances passed away in 1909, with seven of her 11 children still surviving her. Five years later, David was applauded as the oldest still-living Nevada pioneer at the state’s 50thanniversary celebration. He died that same year, 1914, at the age of 85. David and Frances Jones are both buried in the historic Genoa Cemetery.

______________

     * William T. Williams is identified as Frances’ father in Sam P. Davis’s later History of Nevada (Vol. II), but according to letters in the possession of descendants, her real father was actually David Williams. It’s possible that William T. Williams was an uncle.
Special thanks also to the Douglas County Historical Society for the wonderful pair of photos of Frances and David Jones for this story, and the account of their elopement from the reminiscences of Robert A. Trimmer, a typescript in the Historical Society’s Van Sickle Library collection. A similar story about the Jones wedding was told by Owen E. Jones in the 
Record-Courier of September 4, 1925. David Jones’ account of hiding in the willows was reported in the Record-Courier of February 5, 1909, and his land purchase from “Bully [probably Billy] Williams” was in the Genoa Courier, December 19, 1902. The account of “Rev.” Jones conducting the funeral of Mrs. Gilman is from Genoa Weekly Courier, February 11, 1898.
And just a quick acknowledgment: I am so thankful for the help of local historians who know so much more and so freely share!  So, many thanks to one local historian in particular (who prefers to remain nameless) for the great information about the date of Van Sickle’s election as Justice of the Peace, various early marriage hurdles and work-arounds, and David Jones’ still-not-quite-clear connection with the Re-organized Mormon Church.