A Photo Visit to the Sutro Tunnel

It’s been well over a century since the last mining car filled with ore from the Comstock rolled out of Sutro Tunnel. By the time the Tunnel was completed in 1878, the Big Bonanza was winding down, and the best guess is that the last batch of Comstock ore came through about 1880. But just three years ago, workers began converging at the old Sutro site once more.

The Sutro Tunnel entrance as it looks today, with the brick candle house on the right. Just visible on the hillside between the two upright posts is a survey marker, used as the tunnel was built to make sure it ran straight. Work commenced October 19, 1869 and the tunnel was completed July 8, 1878. What looks like “1888” in the arch above the tunnel is actually “1869”. (Rick Dustman photo).

The Sutro Tunnel entrance before restoration. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster). 

No, they’re not miners. In 2017, a determined group of volunteers began working to preserve and restore the old buildings and artifacts that still remain here from the Sutro’s hey-day. It’s now privately owned. But thanks to restoration volunteer Dan Webster, we were fortunate enough to be invited to visit the site!

The tunnel mouth remains the most prominent feature of the site. Volunteers have re-plastered the brick entry wings and repainted the markings, restoring it to the way it looked when the tunnel was new. Water still flows out of the tunnel, thanks to its gently sloping design.

Back in Sutro’s day, the tunnel stretched 3-1/2 miles underground to connect first with the Savage Mine at Virginia City. From there, additional tunnels branched out to connect with other Comstock mines.

Interior of the tunnel, viewed through the bars. (Rick Dustman photo)

The original theodolite base is still visible, where surveyors set up their transit equipment to ensure the tunnel ran straight to its intended destination. Survey markers are still in place on the hillside above (see first photo, above).

Fixed metal base for anchoring the theodolite (survey transit). (Rick Dustman photo)

Sutro himself once had a mansion on the hillside to the right of the tunnel entrance. Completed and occupied in late 1872, the house was a mansion indeed, featuring gas lighting and indoor plumbing. Sutro’s wife and children lived here until – well, as the story goes, until Sutro was caught with another woman, after which the wife departed for San Francisco. Sutro, too, eventually moved to San Francisco as his tunnel prospects faded. Sadly, the mansion was destroyed in a fire in 1941, thought to be arson committed by a disgruntled former employee.

The Sutro Mansion (now gone). Photo courtesy of Dan Webster.

To the right side of the tunnel entrance stands the brick candle house. One side has been caved in by falling rocks from the hillside, but its original bricks have been saved to allow it to be rebuilt eventually.

The candle house, which held candles to provide the tunnel workers with light. (Rick Dustman photo).

Next door, the old machine shop has been cleaned and its floors oiled. Photographs and artifacts are being assembled inside, and it’s hoped this will one day become a museum, helping to acquaint visitors with the history of the site. Still visible in the floor are tracks that once allowed mining equipment to be rolled into the building for repair.

The inside of the machine shop at the mouth of the Sutro Tunnel in days gone by. (Photo courtesy of Dan Webster)

Outside, a cluster of iron ore cars that once rattled along the tracks of the tunnel still stand a silent vigil. Markings on some of the wheels show they were cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City. (Fun fact: the V&T foundry provided not only machinery for the railroad, but also for mines and mills all over Nevada.) The car bodies themselves were built on site here at the machine shop. Each ore car could haul 2-1/2 tons of material.

Ore cars, built using wheels cast at the V&T foundry in Carson City, on a restored section of rail in front of the machine shop. (photo courtesy of Julie Michler).

Next door is the mule barn, where mules for the tunnel work were stabled. And there’s even tack still hanging inside (see photos, below).

Mule barn including interior stalls, with tack still hanging, and its well-used wooden floors. (Karen Dustman photos)

This is thought to be a second mule barn, built in the early 1900s; the first was said to have burned in a fire. The roof of this mule barn had begun to sag sadly before renovations began in 2017. It was stabilized and additional roof support added by volunteers just last year (2019).

Once the warehouse for Sutro’s Tunnel, this became a bar and dance hall in the 1960-1970s. (Rick Dustman photo)

To the left of the tunnel mouth, a large warehouse (below) once held supplies during Sutro’s day. In the 1960s and ‘70s, hippies turned the former warehouse into a bar and dance hall.

A small red house off to one side has its own fascinating history. Not original to the site, it was moved here from Carson City in the 1960s from the area that’s now the Nugget parking lot. According to local lore, this humble cabin used to be the home of famous prostitute Rosa May!

Okay, it’s anecdotal. But what a fun anecdote! According to local lore, the small red house at the rear of this photo used to be Rosa May’s in Carson City! (Rick Dustman photo)
This old Victorian home was also moved from Carson City to the property near the Sutro Tunnel. (Karen Dustman photo)

A two-story Victorian home is also on site – and it, too, was moved. This once was the home of John and Helen Schulz in Carson City. Here at the Sutro site it was occupied by tenants until very recently, but now is vacant.

Just over the hill below the tunnel mouth, a ten-stamp cyanide-process mill was erected in 1900 by Mr. Leonard, then president of the Sutro Tunnel Company, and is thought to have run sporadically through the early 1940s. It was originally water-powered, using pelton wheels. That power source was replaced by two diesel engines, probably in the 1930s. Ore from various Comstock mines was initially trucked to the mill. Later, a tailings pile west of the mill was worked,  using a steam shovel to load dump trucks, and the tailings material was then gravity-fed to the stamps.

The old wooden mill building itself burned in 1967. But much of the large metal mill equipment can still be seen, some pieces still showing signs of distortion from the fire.

Metal parts from the mill are collected on site. Some show bends from the heat of the fire that destroyed the mill. (Rick Dustman photo)
Remnants of a large old wagon. (Rick Dustman photo)
An old saw. (Rick Dustman photo)

Below the mill once sat the Town of Sutro, a neatly-laid-out company town where workers and their families once lived. Crops were grown there using water from the mine for irrigation. Sutro himself brought in German Cottonwood trees, and had them planted in nice, straight rows to line the streets.

The former Town of Sutro, complete with a grid of tree-lined streets, once sat on this plain below the tunnel. (Rick Dustman photo)

Volunteers are continuing to work hard to restore the buildings and preserve the extensive artifacts at the Sutro Tunnel site. Eventually, they hope public tours may help raise money to assist with restoration efforts — and share the amazing story of Sutro himself and his famous tunnel!

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Story copyright Karen Dustman 2020. Unlawful to use without prior written permission.

The Story of Dr. Ernest Hand

Physician. Surgeon. Obstetrician. First responder. Ambulance driver. Back in the day, Dr. Ernest Hand did it all.

Baby arriving? He’d come to your home for the delivery. Had a hunting accident out in the wilderness? He’d fight his way through the roughest territory to get to your side and render aid. Need an ambulance? He’d tote you piggyback out to his own Lincoln automobile, and then race for the hospital at Carson or Reno – with no regard for posted speed limits. “Not to worry,” he’d say. “I used to be a race car driver.”

Dr. Hand and his wife, Eleanor, arrived in Gardnerville in December, 1934, the year they were married. And for the next 23 years Dr. Hand would render expert, compassionate care to everyone in town, regardless of race, creed, color, or ability to pay.

Dr. Hand’s two-story residence on Douglas Avenue. It’s said the good doctor helped build it with his own hands.

Born in Pennsylvania June 8, 1886, Dr. Hand put himself through Baltimore Medical College by working as a linotype operator for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. He began his medical career in New York in 1909, alternating private practice with a stint as an in-house physician for a company with 75,000 employees. He honed his medical skills in both urology and dermatology. Perhaps more important for his future career, he also delivered some 5,000 babies – experience that would later prove invaluable when he arrived in Carson Valley.

The good doctor not only loved medicine, he loved carpentry too. An excellent cabinet-maker, he helped build his own house on Douglas Avenue and crafted cabinets for his medical office. He also loved animals and gardening. In his off-hours (few as those were) he lovingly tended a garden and fruit trees by his home. He’d can and preserve the fruits and vegetable he grew, too.

And oh, his work ethic! From 7 to 8 a.m. every morning Dr. Hand’s waiting room would be jammed with drop-in patients – no appointments needed. His office was right on Main Street, just north of the Overland, where “Restyle” stands today. He’d treat everything from sniffles to gunshot wounds right there in his office. He made the drive nearly every day to Carson City and Reno to check on his patients in the hospital. And he also served as county health officer for both Douglas and Alpine Counties.

Many Carson Valley residents still remember Dr. Hand fondly. “He was a happy ol’ guy — he looked like Santa Claus,” remembers one long-time local boy. “He had a belly, and white hair and glasses. He was very kind. And he would talk to you. One time as a kid I had pains every morning and my mom thought I just didn’t want to go to school. But there really was something wrong, and he figured it out.”

Dr. Hand, circa 1950, with a pocket full of pens. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

“He was kinda like a miracle worker; it was like he had 48 hours in the day, not 24,” recalls another former patient. “Even after normal office hours, he’d go out and make house calls. And he’d still have just as much interest in you. It didn’t matter how late he’d been up the night before.”

Medical care would often be simple but effective. “I fell once as a boy and broke my arm,” one local still remembers. “Dr. Hand came up to the house and he just pulled on it to set it. You didn’t get pain shots for every little thing back then.”

Newspaper reports provide a snapshot of the wide variety of ailments Dr. Hand was called upon to attend. He cared for the victim of a logging accident with major spinal injuries. He trekked six miles into the hills outside Markleeville to render aid to a teenager whose leg bone was shattered in a hunting accident. He administered polio shots to local school children, and treated a road worker with severe burns after his oil-stained clothes had caught on fire. And when floods closed local roads and prevented a pregnant military wife from reaching the base hospital in Hawthorne, Dr. Hand came to her home for the delivery – despite getting the call just hours before the baby arrived.

Dr. Hand was credited with delivering more than 500 children during his 23 years of practice in and around Gardnerville. (Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy.com).

Those who knew the good doctor still shrug and smile about his lead-footed driving. “I rode with him once for a trip to the hospital – he said he’d used to be a race car driver, but he was still a race car driver!” grins one former patient. “He would blow the wheels off that car!” confirms another.

As luck would have it, it was the doctor’s own speedy driving that once led to a special kind of cure. A young child had gotten a small whistle stuck in his throat and Dr. Hand was, as usual, putting pedal to the metal to get the boy to the hospital for an operation. Suddenly another car cut in front of them. Dr. Hand slammed on his brakes and threw out his arm protectively to keep the young boy from falling forward. Lo and behold, that sudden jolt was just what the doctor ordered. The whistle was dislodged – and no operation was required!

In 1950, Dr. Hand was lauded for his years of work by a grateful community. Donations totaling $1,000 had been taken up – enough to pay for a new incubator and a hospital room at Carson-Tahoe Hospital in honor of Dr. Hand. The doctor’s wife, too, received special thanks from the community for her “untiring assistance” to her husband – and no doubt her patience with years of middle-of-the-night emergency phone calls. The community’s tribute came as a complete surprise to Dr. Hand. He was, as he put it, “too full for words.”

Dr. Hand passed away on December 27, 1957 of a sudden heart attack, at the age of 71. He’d tended patients here in Carson Valley for 23 years. More than 800 mourners turned out to pay their respects at his funeral at Carson City’s civic auditorium. He was laid to rest at first in Lone Mountain Cemetery – but it wasn’t for long. In the summer of 1960, Dr. Hand’s family had his body moved and reburied at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville, the town he had lived in and served for so many years.

If you visit, you can read his epitaph:

       “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Dr. Hand’s memorial plaque at the Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville.

The Adams House in Carson City

Even from the street, this little bungalow at 990 N. Minnesota St. in Carson City looks like it was built with love. It’s called the Adams House. And today, it is the home of KNVC Radio. But just who was Adams? And what’s the house’s story?

Thanks to Sandie LaNae, I got to visit the Adams House and hear the story. Turns out whole lot of life has passed through these doors. And a little bit of death, too.  Here’s the tale!

Period styling includes the square, leaded glass lights in the front door, and dark-stained wooden door trim and paneling.

Turns out this century-old home wasn’t the first house on this property. Mining engineer John S. Phillips once had a farm house here. (Just imagine this residential section of Carson City, dotted with small farms!)

Phillips died after a tragic mining accident in 1909. By 1915, his widow had become so destitute she was forced to put their young children in the Orphan’s Home. She arranged to have the farmhouse itself moved to Mina, Nevada. And in May, 1922, she sold the now-empty town lot to DeWitt Adams, for a bit more than the back taxes.

Born in South Carolina in 1885, DeWitt had worked his way west when he was 13. About 1916, he married Carson City native Meta Anderson. At the time he purchased the property in 1922, DeWitt was working in a local hardware store. He and Meta would eventually have a total of six children: Jasper, Maurice, Margaret, Walter, Arthur (who died as an infant), and Robert.

With five kids and a wife, Adams wasted no time creating a home. Between 1922 and 1923, he built the present bungalow, largely with his own hands. Plans for the house may have been ordered from a catalog, or perhaps they were taken from a magazine of the day. Either way, it’s true Craftsman-era styling through and through, with features including built-in cabinets lovingly made by Adams himself. The family was in a hurry to enjoy their new home; they moved in even  before it was totally finished. The house would remain in the Adams family for the next 75 years.

The Depression years were soon upon them. For extra spending money, DeWitt grew an extensive fruit and vegetable garden out back, and the family raised fryer chickens and sold eggs. “Seed money” from the sales was carefully tucked away in a small tin box, hidden in the warming-oven of the old kitchen woodstove. City water hadn’t yet arrived, so water for household use and the garden came from seven artesian wells right there on the property.

Meta passed away in June, 1930 at just 38 years old, from complications of childbirth. DeWitt finished raising their children alone, and never remarried. In later life, he left his job at the hardware store and worked for the state buildings and grounds department, retiring in 1956. He passed away in 1969, at the age of 84.

Even today, traces of the family’s life are still visible. The small front entryway once doubled as Meta’s sewing room. To the left is their living room, separated from the dining room by built-in bookshelves crafted by DeWitt himself. The old stained-wood wainscoting and rough plaster still remain, and the original milk glass light fixtures are suspended from the ceiling.

The living room features the original hanging light fixture and dark-stained trim.

The dining room features a built-in china cabinet, also crafted by DeWitt himself. Although the old potbelly stove is gone, now, it was a central feature when the house was new, keeping the family warm as they sat around the dinner table.

The built-in china cabinet was lovingly crafted by DeWitt Adams himself. Note the typical Craftsman styling of the glass-fronted doors.

Wood floors are featured throughout much the house, though Mrs. Adams likely accented them with colorful rugs. One warm example of a well-worn old rug remains in today’s radio studio (originally DeWitt and Meta’s bedroom). Old-fashioned linoleum in the kitchen and two children’s bedrooms gave those wood floors a durable, practical finish. The four boys shared a single bedroom adjacent to their parents. Daughter Margaret – the only girl – got her own bedroom at the back of the house.

Painted wainscoting and hardwood floors in the kitchen.

The kitchen once featured a large wood-burning stove (the same one where the “seed money” got stashed), and a big freestanding sink. The home’s single bathroom – though included in the original plans – wasn’t functional until the late 1920s when an artesian well was dug to supply it with water.

At the rear of the house, a cold storage room was added in the 1930s, constructed of thick stone blocks originally hewn at the Nevada prison quarry. It features a sawdust-filled ceiling for insulation, and vents at floor level that could be opened or closed to regulate the inside temperature. A rear entryway and breakfast room were added about the same time.

The thick stone walls of the cold storage room provided refrigeration without electricity.

Daughter Margaret never married. She stayed home and cared for her father in his waning years, and continued to live in the house until her own death in 1997.

The Adams house was purchased after Margaret’s death by Carson-Tahoe Hospital, which initially planned to raze it for additional parking. Thanks to efforts by preservation-minded community members, however, the Hospital Board was convinced to save the building.

Today it’s a living reminder of life in Carson City just a century ago – and the beauty that loving hands can build.

Many thanks to Sandie LaNae for the kind visit to the Adams House and the information for this story! Connect with her through her website, www.sandiespsychicstones.com.

Gardnerville’s Coolest Building (Part 1)

The sign on the outside used to read “Perry’s Dry Goods.” And locals today still smile when they remember Frank Perry, a short, wiry Basque known for his charming mustache and his wide range of Western wear.

But Perry, as it turns out, wasn’t actually his real name. At birth it was Yparraguirre. “Perry” was just shorter. And much easier to spell.

Frank Yparraguirre with his trademark smile. Perry’s Dry Goods sold Western wear, ranch clothing, and of course men’s hats. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

Even today, the tall, narrow building that once housed Perry’s Dry Goods (1448 Highway 395) still draws your eye.  That high, false wooden front stretches an imposing two stories in the air — yet from the side it’s so narrow it seems half the building went missing.

In the rear, that towering front slumps down to merge with a squat, unassuming cottage. (Looks like nothing important back there, right? Spoiler alert: Its history may be even cooler than the front!)

The history of this quirky edifice — arguably Gardnerville’s coolest building — is also the story of Frank Yparraguirre (aka Perry), of course. And before him, Ole Haugner, the shopkeeper who occupied it in earlier days. Together, these two early residents peddled wares within these walls — day after day, year after year — for nearly a century.

So, read on for Frank Yparraguirre’s story. Part 2 will go back even further in time to share Haugner’s own tale. Along the way you’ll discover how this “coolest” building got its strange shape. And we’ll share two secrets about this quirky structure that almost nobody knows today!

Francisco (Frank Sr.) and Marie Yparraguirre at their Sweetwater Ranch (Ancestry.com).

Here’s the Backstory on Frank Perry:
Frank’s father (Francisco Yparraguirre) emigrated from Echalar, Spain at the tender age of 13, in 1876. He made his way to San Francisco, where an older brother already owned a hotel at the corner of Powell and Broadway (naturally enough, named the Yparraguirre Hotel).

Like so many young Basques, Frank Sr. found employment as a sheepherder. The succeeding years took him all over California and Nevada, from Six-Mile Canyon near Elko to Monitor Pass, California, tending sheep. Eventually about 1886, Frank and his brothers pooled their resources and purchased a section of land in the Sweetwaters. There, Frank served as proprietor of a 32-room hotel serving travelers on the road to Bodie and Aurora.

Finally secure enough to think about a family, Frank Sr. got married about 1901. And in 1903, Frank Jr. (yes, our Gardnerville “Perry”) was born at the family hotel in San Francisco.

In his early years, Frank Jr. grew up on his family’s ranch in the Sweetwaters, finally starting school in San Francisco belatedly at the age of ten. He proved to be a good student, however. He caught on quickly and graduated with his age-mates in 1921. For a time, he returned to work on the family ranch. But a pair of ranching accidents left him with a broken ankle and two broken clavicles. A recession and downturn in the sheep business also made the young man think, “Well, maybe I don’t belong on a ranch.”

Frank Jr. moved to Gardnerville about 1924. His first job was for Standard Oil Co.; then he did a seven-year stint with the Minden Merc. But finally, in August, 1939, he determined to leap into business for himself. He opened a small dry goods store in a rented building just south of the Corner Saloon (today’s Sharkey’s) — and “Perry’s” was born.

Here Fate stepped in to shuffle up the deck of Life. Ole Haugner, long-time proprietor of a shoe store just up the street, had just lost his wife in May, 1939. And that following March, 1940, Ole too gave up the ghost and, at the age of 85, followed his wife into the Great Beyond.

After more than forty years of service for Haugner’s shoe business, the tall, two-story building just up the street offered a perfect spot for the new Perry’s dry goods store. The location was well-known. And there’d be far more room for inventory.

Frank Yparraguirre cut a deal with the Haugner heirs, eventually purchasing the building in 1949. And that tall, two-story former shoe store location became what locals would know as Perry’s Dry Goods for some 49 years.

Frank Yparraguirre holds forth inside his well-stocked dry goods store. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

“Be “Be Practical! Give a Practical Gift!” was the caption for this Christmas ad for Perry’s Dry Goods in 1941, not long after he opened. (Record-Courier, December 12, 1941).

Cool as it was on the outside, Perry’s new dry goods building came with an even cooler history. There was the story of Ole Haugner himself, the enterprising Norwegian emigrant who arrived in Gardnerville in 1897 and spent more than 40 years making shoes right here.

And that unimpressive single-story cottage in the back? Well, here’s the first little-known “secret”:  it reportedly was once the home of John Gardner (after whom the town of Gardnerville was named), and had been moved from the original Gardner Ranch to this location!

There’s way more to the story — but we’ll stop here for now. Stay tuned next time for more of the story of Haugner, Perry, and Gardnerville’s Coolest Building!

Love Carson Valley history? Check out our new book — 33 forgotten tales about people, buildings, buried treasure and more!

Mrs. Pitts’ Maternity Home

This year, a modest house on Centerville Lane will celebrate its 100th birthday (or so the assessment records say). And ironically, the word “birthday” holds a very special meaning for this old home. Think 159 of them . . . .

Options for pregnant mothers were limited in Gardnerville during the World War II years. You could have your baby the old-fashioned way, at home. But if you opted instead for a high-speed run to reach the hospital in Reno or Carson City, you took your chances on getting there in time.

After a few “hair-raising experiences” involving babies delivered by the side of the road, local doctor Ernest Hand figured there had to be a better way. He prevailed upon Mrs. Frieda Pitts to open a maternity home right here in Gardnerville in 1943.

That plan sounded great to Frieda Pitts. A widow, Mrs. Pitts had lost her husband, William, to kidney disease in March, 1940. Never mind that she had no formal training as a nurse. Or that the “maternity home” facility would consist of just two beds in her own house here on Centerville Lane – a home that initially had no indoor bathroom and no furnace.

Mrs. Frieda Pitts, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy ofDouglas County Historical Society).

Mrs. Pitts devoted her living room and a bedroom to the cause. Neighbor Lizzie Etherton assisted with laundry, courtesy of her wringer washer. And Dr. Hand taught Frieda all about labor, delivery, and maternity care.

And that’s how, you might say, Mrs. Pitts’ Maternity Home was born. When it opened in March, 1943, the facility was a welcome addition for Valley mothers indeed. Over the next eleven years, some 159 babies would enter the world there. Dr. Hand was just a phone call away.

Sometimes mothers would come to stay with Mrs. Pitts before the baby arrived. But “generally you would go to Mrs. Pitts when your contractions started,” a long-time Valley resident recalled. “You’d leave home with your little satchel and then you would stay there at Mrs. Pitts’s for eleven days. They wanted to make sure the baby had a good start. So that was considered the proper length of time to see if the baby did well and if you did well. And they kept you in bed for those eleven days. You didn’t get up and run around.”

Mrs. Pitts not only cooked meals for her patients, she also changed diapers, prepared formula, and cared for the babies at night so their mothers got a good night’s sleep.

Pitts Maternity Home became so popular that Frieda added an addition to her house in September, 1944. It must not have been a large one, however; as late as July, 1952, the facility offered only two beds. In a pinch, however, it was able to accommodate a small “baby boom.” The largest: five babies in a single week.

Image courtesy of TheGraphicsFairy.com.

Babies of all sizes made their debut at Mrs. Pitts’ home. One of the smallest, a 4-pound daughter, was born to Mr. and Mrs. Andres Ortiz in 1948. For tiny preemies like this one, Mrs. Pitts created a make-shift incubator that was lined with flannel and heated with hot water bottles. At the other end of the spectrum, one baby boy tipped the scales at 10 pounds, 4 ounces! At least one set of twins was delivered at Mrs. Pitts’ home. And one impatient baby didn’t even make it in the front door, instead making its debut at her front gate! But of all those 159 children born at Mrs. Pitts’ home, not a single baby was lost.

The Record-Courier once noted that the names of those who gave birth at Mrs. Pitts’ home “reads quite a lot like the old Carson Valley telephone book.” But it wasn’t just Valley children born here. A few mothers came from Markleeville. And even a few moms-to-be who were just “passing through” availed themselves of Mrs. Pitts’ kind services.

So, who was Frieda Pitts, the kindly soul who tended to all these moms and babies? Well, she was oldest of the eight children of Fritz and Marie Sarman, born October 22, 1906. The Sarman family owned the “Ladies Best” flour mill south of Gardnerville, and Frieda was raised there. Frieda’s siblings included brothers Edwin and John; and sisters Mabel Marie (Mrs. James Perry) of Smith Valley, Mrs. Aldon Arigoni of Reno, and Edna Araujo.

Frieda Sarman (soon to be Pitts) is seated in the front row, third from left. This is the Freshman Class at Douglas High School in 1922. (Photo courtesy of Douglas County Historical Society).

Frieda married William Pitts in 1925, when she was fresh out of high school. He was 39 at the time; she was just 18.

Despite her lack of formal nursing training, Mrs. Pitts became a fine  nurse, midwife, and caregiver. When Douglas County began registering all the registered and practical nurses in Douglas County in 1956 for “civil defense and disaster planning” purposes, Mrs. Pitts was the one they put in charge of the nursing registration effort.

But in 1954, state regulations changed. Hospital births began to be required, essentially putting Mrs. Pitts out of business. But she never stopped caring for others. Various younger siblings and nephews from Smith Valley lived with her over the years so they could attend Douglas High School. Dr. Hand’s granddaughter, Debbie Lambert, lived with Frieda for a while. She cared for her father when he became ill, and her mother eventually came to live in the house with her. Frieda was also in great demand as a local babysitter. Locals still remember the fine homemade bread and cookies she would bake.

Frieda Pitts died in 1991, and is buried at Garden Cemetery in Gardnerville. Although she never had any children of her own, she always said she felt a special kinship with every one of those 159 babies she helped bring into the world.

 

Carson City’s Vanishing History: Please Help Save Adele’s!

A beautiful piece of Carson City history may soon be — history.

The former Adele’s restaurant, that popular upscale eatery that has graced N. Carson Street since 1977, could soon be razed to enlarge the gas station next door.

An view of the building that became Adele’s, circa 1900. (Carson City Historical Society photo).

Folks are scrambling to save this century-and-a-half-old landmark. But the deadline to raise an estimated $100,000 and physically move it? March 1. Yes, this March 1, 2020. Just a few weeks away. So if you want to help preserve Adele’s, there’s no time to waste.

As of this writing, over $5,000 has been donated to the cause between checks and a GoFundMe account. Contribute NOW to Carson City Historical Society’s fundraiser to save the original part of the building: www.GoFundMe.com/f/cchistoricalsociety-save-adeles.

Like to know the history of this 146-year-old lady? Here’s a short thumbnail:

The building we know today as Adele’s was built in 1874 by a man named Captain Porter. It featured the gracious mansard roof and dormer windows typical of a Victorian building style known as “Second Empire,” popular between 1860-1880.

Daily Appeal, 5-28-1874 story about Capt. Porter building his home — the “first of the kind” in Carson with a mansard roof.

In the 1880s, the home became the property of Benjamin F. Slater, a hotelier and hay yard owner who later would enter politics. The Slaters apparently didn’t own it long, moving on to Southern California in March, 1884.

In the 1890s, the home’s owner was Judge Michael Augustus Murphy. Born in New York, Murphy had made his way west at 16, mining as a young man at Aurora. After becoming a lawyer in 1872 Murphy entered public service, serving as district attorney for Esmeralda County, state attorney general, a District Court Judge, and eventually a Nevada Supreme Court justice.

After Judge Murphy’s death in 1909, son Frank Murphy continued to live in the house until the 1920s. Frank started his career with the V&T Railroad as a baggage handler, eventually rising to the post of V.P./General Manager.

Just think of all the conversations about law and politics that have taken place through the years under Adele’s roof !

The Belknap House (from National Register application).

But if the Porter/Murphy/Adele’s house was the first mansard-roofed home in Carson, it wouldn’t be the last. There’s a similar home just two blocks away. This one, at 1206 N. Nevada (just west of Adele’s) was built the next year, in 1875, by Henry Hudson Beck. It was purchased in 1881 by Judge Charles Henry Belknap, Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. Belknap and his wife Virginia  lived there for more than two decades, eventually moving to California in 1908 (Judge Belknap died in 1926). The Belknap House is now listed on the National Register.

The Leport-Toupin house at 503 E. Telegraph St. (National Register application photo).

And there’s also a third Second Empire-style house in Carson City at 503 E. Telegraph, on the east side of town. This is the Leport-Toupin house, built in 1879 by French merchant Alexander Leport for his soon-to-be bride, Mary Blavee. The house was later acquired by Genoan T.P. Hawkins and his wife, Clara, in 1907, and it stayed in the Hawkins family until 1963. The Leport-Toupin house, too, is currently listed on the National Register.

Similarly-styled building at 377 S. Nevada St.

By coincidence we also spotted this similar-looking beauty at 377 S. Nevada St. It’s more modern than it looks, though; the assessor’s records peg it as a 1985 creation.

 

 

Like to help save Adele’s and its history for future generations? Upset with great historic buildings going away for a parking lot?  Please donate generously to saving Adele’s. Then tell your friends that you did, and urge them to contribute, too.

Make sure Adele’s 146-year history doesn’t come to a tragic end on March 1! Here’s that link for Carson City Historical Society’s fundraiser to save it:

www.GoFundMe.com/f/cchistoricalsociety-save-adeles

Or checks can be mailed to: Carson City Historical Society, 112 N. Curry St., Carson City NV 89703, with a memo “Save Adele’s.”

 

 

Newly-Discovered History at Mormon Station

Next time you drive past Mormon Station State Historic Park, keep an eye peeled for a small, white, garage-looking structure just north of the stockade.

When Mormon Station acquired the 1.2-acre property adjacent to the Fort in 2002, that’s exactly what they thought this small building was: just a “barn or garage.” Initial estimates dated it to about 1948-50, so it was brushed off as having “no significant historic value.”

Not surprisingly, the Park Service’s 2005 Master Plan called for this small building to be torn down. At the time, planners had grand ideas to actually rebuild some of the early Genoa’s now-gone buildings, such as Gelatt’s Livery Stable and the early “White House Hotel”, which once sat to the south of the small garage. There was no place in such a glorious picture for a remnant of the 1940s or ’50s.

Well, that all sounded terrific — until the price tag showed up. Initial estimates pegged the ambitious project at $1.6 million. And even that figure could have been too low. Yup, after that wake-up call, the plan to recreate long-ago buildings was no longer in the cards.

In the meantime, however, Park employees began noticing a few things about the humble “garage” that were, well – a little bit odd. For one thing, it had been built on a stone foundation. Pretty unusual for 1940s/50s construction. There were square nails in the wooden flooring. And, a central section of the floor planking was missing entirely, suggesting perhaps a forge once sat there.

The vacant space in the floor probably held a forge.

Yep, on closer inspection, it didn’t look like much a 1940s or 1950s building, at all!

Park staff already knew that the property had been owned by the Rice family from 1872 to 1902; the Rice family’s White House Hotel once was located just to the south. When Chris Johnson was hired at the Mormon Station in 2017 as Park Interpreter, he began digging more into the past ownership of the property. He started searching through the old newspapers for  mentions that might shed additional light on the building and its former use. And because some early-1900s newspaper issues aren’t searchable, that meant long hours of skimming page-by-page through microfilm reels.

But Johnson’s sleuth work finally paid off! Johnson turned up a newspaper article from 1908 reporting that the White House Hotel had been purchased by a man named Nels Morrison (legal title was actually held in his wife Hattie’s name). Best of all, that same 1908 newspaper story reported that Morrison was planning to use part of the old Rice Hotel to build a blacksmith shop on the property. “Bingo!” says Johnson. His suspicions that this had been a blacksmith shop were confirmed.

The front door, with its original heavy metal hardware.

As Johnson kept digging,  even more fun pieces of the puzzle began coming to light.

An oral history by local Arnold Trimmer mentioned the old Hotel had been torn down and that some of the hotel’s lumber went into a house across the street.  So it’s no surprise that Morrison might have used some of the lumber from the old hotel to build his new blacksmith shop, too.

The Rice brothers’ White House Hotel, circa 1865. This hotel was one of the first buildings to be erected at Genoa, according to a 1908 newspaper account. (Photo courtesy of Mormon Station State Historic Park).

As Johnson and his crew began clearing away decades-worth of trash from inside the old  building, even more fun traces of the building’s past came to light!

Trap doors in the old wooden floor concealed lots of litter beneath — and a few treasures!

That “solid” wooden floor? Well, turns out three small trap doors had been cut in it. Reaching beneath one of the trap doors, Johnson discovered an intact bitters bottle, dating from the period 1906-1920. Although sold as a “medicinal” remedy, such potions contained as much as 37% alcohol. Can’t you just picture the boys sitting around the blacksmith shop, passing the “medicine”?

The beautifully-preserved “Bitters” bottle discovered by Johnson beneath the shop floor is now on display at Mormon Station.

Lath marks on some of the interior boards of the “garage” (photo below) confirm that some of the lumber used to build the blacksmith shop had originally been part of a different building – quite possibly Rice’s earlier White House Hotel.

Studs and crossbracing boards show lath and nail marks, suggesting they likely were salvaged from an earlier building — quite possibly the White House Hotel.

Three sets of initials also were found painted on the shop’s walls: “C,” “CM,” and “CF.” Although the first two are a mystery, the initials “CM” might stand for “Claire Morrison” — one of owner Nels Morrison’s sons, who worked as a mechanic at COD Garage.

Three sets of initials painted above the workbench include “C.M.”

But the most exciting discovery of all came to light only a few months ago.

As Park employees cleaned out the debris that was packed in the old building, they eventually uncovered the original old work bench. Johnson looked closely at the side of the wooden bench – and discovered blacksmith Nels Morrison’s “maker’s mark” stamped into the old wood!

The name “N.P. Morrison” is stamped repeatedly in a vertical line down the front of the old wooden bench — a great remnant of his blacksmith’s “maker’s mark”!

Johnson hopes the old Nels Morrison blacksmith building will eventually be restored into a working blacksmith shop, with artifacts on display to show how it would have looked. Already, they’ve begun acquiring equipment from the 1902-1906 period, including a historic forge and blower. Perhaps volunteers might eventually operate the blacksmith shop on weekends or for school groups, Johnson said, crafting metal objects like dinner bells that might be sold in the gift shop.

Artifacts that might eventually be used in the blacksmith shop exhibit.

So now you know the fun story of this long-forgotten Genoa gem – and the tale of just how close it came to being demolished. Stop by to see the building and the Bitters bottle next time you’re at Mormon Station!

 

Treasure Out of Tragedy: A Tiny Reminder of Genoa’s Avalanche

Call it the Hand of Providence.  How else to explain a fragile ceramic figurine surviving one of the worst disasters to hit Genoa, Nevada — and making it through another 132 years, too?!

As you may remember, the Great Avalanche of March 17, 1882 wiped out several Genoa homes — and took at least ten lives. [In case you missed it, here’s our earlier story about the avalanche: http://blog.clairitage.com/2018/10/12/genoas-avalanche-of-1882/]  Casualties included Mr. and Mrs. Nimrod Bowers, whose bodies were discovered buried in the debris of their flattened home.

The Bowers* were a German couple who’d settled in Genoa in 1864, after crossing the plains with the same wagon train as the G.W.G. Ferris family. But the tragic avalanche wasn’t quite the end to the Bowers’ story.

Sometime after the disaster, neighbor Mary Raycraft Virgin was examining the ruins of the Bowers’ home. And there amid the chaos and destruction she discovered a small porcelain figurine of the Madonna and Child — nearly unbroken except for one tiny chip. Mary eventually handed down the fragile and beautiful statuette to her daughter, Lillian Finnegan, who in turn gave it to her aunt, Annie Raycraft, who later passed it to her daughter, Josephine Raycraft Hellwinkel.

Photo courtesy of Donna Hellwinkel.

Imagine how excited we were to learn that the statue that survived the Genoa Avalanche still exists! Today it occupies a place of honor at the home of Josephine’s granddaughter, Donna Jo Hellwinkel. And it’s just as beautiful today as the day that Mary Virgin rescued it from the ruins.

Delicate details on the figurine are embellished with gold, and the features of the faces are delicately tinted. There seems to be no maker’s mark to identify where the figurine was made. But the Bowers were Catholics, and this little religious statue could well have accompanied them when they emigrated from Germany. We’re so grateful that the family has allowed us to share this photo of the precious statue with you!

And that isn’t quite the end of the Bowers’ story, either. Somehow, the Hand of Providence reached out yet again as we were working on this story. Thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, we learned that photos of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers themselves still exist, too!

All four photos of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers (approx 1880 and 1865) courtesy of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park.

The graves of Mr. and Mrs. Bowers at Genoa Cemetery are presently unmarked. But if you’d like to visit, they’re resting in Section F, Plot 15 — just downhill and a teensy bit north of Snowshoe Thompson’s grave.

Although the Bowers’ lives were cut short by the avalanche, somehow the “hand of Providence” made sure that these tiny pieces of their lives survived (as one newspaper story put it in 1947), “whole and beautiful and safe.”

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Grateful thanks to Marlena and Donna Hellwinkel and to Mark Jensen, Curator of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, who kindly provided information and photos for this story!

*The Bowers’ names are spelled many different ways: Meinrod, Nimrod, and Minrod; and Bower, Bauer, and Bowers. It’s thanks to Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park that we know the name of Mr. Bower’s wife: Margaret. What luck that another Margaret — Margaret Gale Ferris Dangberg — wrote Mrs. Bowers’ name on the back of her photo!

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Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.

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Gardnerville’s Big Yellow House

Have you ever driven by the two-story Yellow House at the “S” Bend in Gardnerville? It’s not quite a mansion. Technically, according to the plaque out front, the style is “Vernacular with Eastlake Details.” Well, whatever. For Gardnerville, it’s a mansion!

We’ve always been curious about the history of this beautiful house. So we started to dig a bit. And, lucky us, we came up (figuratively) with gold!

Tom Browne’s wagon-making advertisement in the July 12, 1889 issue of the Genoa Weekly Courier. Browne evidently had a wagon shop at the corner of Main and Mill Streets in Genoa.

Back in December, 1895, the local paper noted that builder Tom Browne was “erecting a residence on his lot in Gardnerville.” Turns out Browne had a darn good reason to be hurrying a new house along: he had just gotten married that October to Miss Jenette S. Van Sickle, the daughter of Peter Van Sickle. (Exactly how the couple had met is unclear, but we do know that Browne had built a “fine wagon” for Van Sickle in August, 1889!)

Browne was well-known as a carpenter, and he was a good one. And he didn’t just build houses, either. He built lots of things! During the late 1880s and 1890s his work included a new dam for Joe Jones and a huge, 6-foot by 18-foot by 2-foot water tank for the front of Fettic’s Exchange. He erected a 36 x 86-foot creamery at Fredericksburg, and a similar one in Smith Valley; a school in Yerington (plus a bridge across Walker River); and a two-story house on the J.H. Hickey ranch. In 1890, he helped add a new addition to the beautiful Fred Bruns house in Fredericksburg. And he also made repairs to the St. Charles Hotel and the Genoa courthouse.

The new home in Gardnerville that Browne created for his bride was huge — 3,800 square feet! And it was assembled with a craftsman’s pride. Some sixty years later, the floors were still as level as the day the home was built. It was painted yellow back then, too, the same signature color it’s worn in recent years. But Browne and his new wife owned their beautiful new home for only about a decade.

In October, 1906, H.C. (“Chris”) Dangberg purchased the “palatial” house, intending it as his retirement home. According to the Record-Courier, Dangberg planned to “enjoy the remainder of his days [there,] away from the strenuous duties of farm life.” It’s possible that Dangberg was still mourning the death of his son, William, who had been shot and killed in September, 1899. Dangberg seemed excited about his move, however; the paper reported that he went to Reno in December, 1906, to buy furniture for his new home.

August 30, 1929 Record-Courier.

The property eventually passed to son George P. Dangberg (likely after his father died, in March, 1920). And for a time, it seems to have been rented out. Tenants may have included Ralph Springmeyer and A.Y. Werner; it was described as the “Springmeyer-Werner residence” when George P. Dangberg finally sold the property to Dr. R.J. Sewell in August, 1929.

Sewell was a medical doctor who had practiced briefly in Carson Valley in the 1920s, before moving west to Ojai, California. But he evidently kept an eye on local real estate. According to the newspaper, Dr. Sewell was purchasing the large house from George Dangberg for use as an “emergency hospital,” and later owners think it served in that capacity for a few years.

In May, 1935, the property was snapped up by Lois Stewart, probably thanks to a loan from her grandmother, Harriet Grover. Lois had to work hard to make ends meet for herself and her three children. She drove the mail stage to Markleeville for thirty years, using a wagon or riding a horse in the early years. As time went by, she bought a four-wheel-drive Jeep. She added a trailer park in back of her home to bring in extra income, and kept chickens, a cow, and horses on her property. And she also raised bummer lambs to sell, and did odd jobs. Not long after purchasing the Yellow House, Lois remarried for a short time, but divorced her second husband, Red Buck, in 1943.

Lois Buck with one of her beloved horses. The Yellow House is visible in the background. (Photo courtesy of Gail Souligny).
Lois’s grandchildren with calves in the back yard of the Yellow House, circa 1950. (Photo courtesy of Gail Souligny).

About 1948, Lois’s daughter, Edith, her husband and their two children moved into the Yellow House, too. They created two separate apartments inside: one upstairs for Lois, and one downstairs for the younger generations. Lois’s grandchildren still fondly remember living with their grandmother “Loisy” (as they called her) in the big yellow house.

The house was painted white when the DeHarts purchased it. Here is how it looked about the time they bought it in June, 1959. (Photo courtesy of Greta DeHart).

After 24 years, Lois Buck finally sold the big yellow house to Barton and Greta DeHart in June 1959. The DeHarts lived in and loved this special home for over 42 years, finally selling it in December, 1999.

Greta DeHart still fondly remembers all the work she and her husband put into renovating the gracious turn-of-the-century home. “There was no insulation in the house when we bought it,” she remembers. “We insulated the whole big attic ourselves, and we moved the kitchen back to where the kitchen originally had been. I stripped all the woodwork, and where there had been wallpaper, we resurfaced it with drywall.” Other improvements made by the DeHarts included adding beautiful Exminster carpet and repainting the outside in three shades of yellow, carefully matching the color to a bit of yellow paint they discovered from its earliest days.

And just as you would expect, the gracious old home comes with its own share of ghost tales! Former owners describe an “energy” in the northeast corner of the living room. Visitors report they have seen a little girl, who only appears in the wee morning hours. One guest reportedly encountered a strange man in the hall one night, dressed a long overcoat and cowboy hat. And a former owner was startled to see a bright light zip through the room, while everyone else was asleep.

Perhaps most special of all, the house still carries a special legacy from its original builder. During the renovation process, Greta discovered the signature of the original builder, Thomas J. Browne, hidden away on a board inside a wall. He’d left his name there for posterity — just like an artist, signing his masterpiece.

Original builder Thomas J. Browne left his signature hidden away on a board, inside a wall, like an artist signing his masterpiece. (Photo courtesy of Greta DeHart)

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Karen Dustman is a published author, freelance journalist, historian, and story-sleuth. For more about Karen, her books and other fun stuff she’s written, check out her author website: www.KarenDustman.com.

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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!