Friday, February 23, 2024

The Story of Lake Tahoe's Fabulous Tallac Historic Site

  Anyone who has been watching HBO’s popular show, The Gilded Age, knows that in the late 19th and early 20th century, America’s richest residents often built sprawling estates in places like Long Island’s Gold Coast in New York, Newport, Rhode Island, and, in the case of some of California’s wealthiest citizens, Lake Tahoe.

  Some of these homes—then simply considered elaborate summer cottages—can still be found at what is now called the Tallac Historic Site on Route 89, north of Camp Richardson. While many of the structures have disappeared over the years—victims of neglect and progress—a few have been preserved and are now managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

  One of the best ways to see and experience these homes is via a scenic two-and-a-half-mile-long bicycle and hiking path winds through the historic area.

  Traveling through the historic grounds is an opportunity to pretend that you’ve gone back to a time before automobiles and airplanes, when only the super-rich could afford to build seasonal homes in such a once remote but spectacularly scenic place like Lake Tahoe.

  The setting is remarkably peaceful and beautiful. The trail is lined with tall pine trees filled with chattering birds and, as you ride along, provides glimpses of the clear, blue waters of the lake.

  While the main path is paved, there are several dirt tributaries that snake through the reserve and lead to small, hidden beaches or particularly scenic tree groves.

  Development of the Tallac area started in the 1870s, when a man named Yank Clement opened the Tallac Point House on the south shore to accommodate visitors. Yank’s Inn also offered steamboat rides, a saloon and dancing.

  In 1880, "Yank's" was sold to Elias "Lucky" Baldwin, a California entrepreneur and professional gambler. Baldwin transformed the sleepy lakeside inn into a 250-room resort that included a casino, ballroom, four bowling alleys, sun parlors and billiards rooms.

  Meanwhile, in 1894, George Tallant, son of one of the founders of California’s Crocker Bank, built a rustic summer lodge adjacent to the Baldwin property.

  Five years later, Tallant’s sold his lodge to millionaire Lloyd Tevis, who expanded and renovated it, making it the largest and most luxurious in the area. Tevis added servants’ quarters, a dairy, stables and a shaded, garden with Japanese tea house and arched bridges.

  In 1923, Tevis sold the compound to George Pope Jr., a San Francisco lumber and shipping magnate. To reflect Pope’s ecumenical name, the estate was nicknamed the "Vatican Lodge."

  Also in 1923, another prominent businessman, Walter Heller purchased the land south of the Pope estate. Heller began construction of what would become perhaps the greatest of the Tallac mansions, an impressive stone and wood lodge named "Valhalla."

  The early 1920s marked the heyday of the magnificent Tallac homes but was also the end of "Lucky" Baldwin’s resort. In 1920, Baldwin's daughter, Anita, closed the casino-hotel and demolished the buildings.

  Later that same year, Dextra Baldwin McGonagle, Baldwin’s granddaughter, constructed a beautiful single-story home on the family property.

  For the next four decades, the three estates were private, lakeside vacation homes for their respective owners. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, however, the large homes proved to be too expensive to maintain and were turned over to the Forest Service (generally for tax considerations).

  All three are classic examples of the early 20th century "Tahoe" architecture, which utilized native stone and wood in order to blend with the pastoral surrounding.

  The Tallac museum, located on the grounds of the former Baldwin estate, offers original furnishings, a small gift shop as well as changing art exhibits and an informative Washo tribe display (before the homes were built, the area was inhabited by the native Washo Indians).

  The Washo exhibit includes a garden filled with various plants on which the tribe subsisted as well as examples of traditional Washo shelters, including a “galis daigal” or winter lodge made of bark and pine poles, and a “gadu” or summer home, built of sagebrush and branches.

  The Pope estate is the largest of the three areas and includes the greatest number of surviving buildings. Volunteer efforts are ongoing to maintain and restore the historic structures.

  Nearby Valhalla is perhaps the most impressive of the estates with its massive main hall that features a floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. The main house is used for special events.

  The 2,000-acre Tallac Historic Site also has picnic tables and several public beaches including Kiva Beach and Baldwin Beach.

  The Tallac Historic Site is open between Memorial Day and the end of September. Tours of many of the buildings are also available during the open season. For more information, go to:

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Galena Creek Regional Park is One of Reno's Hidden Gems


  One of the lesser known public spaces in Washoe County that should not be overlooked is the beautiful Galena Creek Regional Park, located south of Reno.

  With a picturesque creek, beautiful trees, spectacular views and fascinating history, Galena Creek is a great spot to spend part of a day enjoying nature at its finest. The 440-acre park is located off the Mount Rose Highway (State Route 431), about six miles west of U.S. 395.

  Washoe County acquired the land for the park in 1931. Named for a mining town that once existed a few miles to the east, the area was originally part of the Galena mining district.

  The word, “galena,” derives from the type of lead sulfide rock that was found with the gold mined in the district.

  Later, the town of Galena (off what today is Callahan Ranch Road) became an important lumber center, boasting 11 sawmills by 1863, as well as stores, hotels, a court, school, homes and, of course, saloons.

  Disastrous fires in 1865 and 1867 destroyed the town, which was abandoned after the second conflagration.

  Ironically, floods have had more to do with shaping the face of the Galena area. Over the years, snow melts in late winter and early spring or flash floods in late summer produced “wet mantle” floods—sometimes as high as 10-feet—which are sheets of water pouring down the mountain side.

  The result of such floods can be seen in the mounds of rocks and boulders found scattered around the park.

  With its groves of White Fir and Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines, the park is a wooded sanctuary that rises from a high desert, sagebrush vegetation zone to the more heavily wooded alpine environment.

  At the lower elevations, there are shrubs like Bitterbrush, Manzanita and clumps of twisted Mountain Mahogany. Animal life includes a wide variety of birds, such as jays and hawks, as well as an occasional black bear and mountain lion (although both are rarely seen).

  The park also encompasses several beautiful creeks, including its namesake, Galena Creek. The easiest and most accessible hike is the Bitterbrush Trail, which stretches from the north picnic area (the first turn-off into the park when driving west from Reno or Carson City) to the south picnic area.

  The trail wanders about a quarter of a mile through the pines before reaching the sturdy wooden bridge that spans Galena Creek. This is a particularly beautiful place to observe the rapidly rushing water tumbling over the smooth rocks.

  North of the Galena Creek Bridge is a Nature Trail that winds up the hillside to a variety of local flora and fauna.

  Visitors often wonder about the huge concrete blocks supported rusted metal boxes that can be seen along the trail. These are actually old camping stoves placed there in the 1940s when the girl scouts had a camp there. The campers would put charcoal into the box and heat pots and pans on top.

  More challenging hiking can be found on the Jones Creek-White's Creek Loop Trail (9.2 miles roundtrip) and the Black's Canyon Trail. Both are considerably more challenging than the lower trails but offer some of the best views found in the park.

  The Jones Creek-White Creek Trail, which can take six to eight hours to complete, winds all the way up the side of the mountain and ends at Church’s Pond.

  The Galena Creek Park has 68 individual picnic sites, available on a first-come, first-serve basis, as well as two group picnic areas, which can be reserved in advance. No woodcutting or private campfires are permitted.

  A couple of years ago, the county restored an historic stone building at the park’s south entrance. Known as the Galena Creek Park Stone House, it contains a visitor center filled with historic photos and displays describing the history of the area as well as the geology, plant and animal life.

  For more information go to:

Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Southern Nevada's Arrowhead Trail Was Once a Big Deal

   Tucked away in Southern Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park is a metal sign in the shape of the state of Nevada that commemorates something called the “Arrowhead Trail, 1914-1924.”

   The sign points out that the trail was the first all-weather highway to run between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City via Las Vegas, and that it was the result of a grass roots effort by various chambers of commerce, led by the Las Vegas chamber, to create better access to their communities.

   The sign credits Charles H. Bigelow, a Southern California businessman and former racecar driver for helping create and promote the road and mentions that he drove it several times in a twin-six Packard he named “Cactus Kate.”

   According to Utah historian Edward Leo Lyman, writing in the Summer 1999 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly, the Las Vegans wanted a highway through their town, which been founded only 9 years earlier, and partnered with Bigelow, who was described as a well known “desert pilot.”

   Bigelow quickly discovered that driving to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas was about 80 miles shorter than the more traveled route, which was to drive to Tonopah and through Ely before reaching Salt Lake City.

   He then met with officials in Salt Lake City and Southern California to gain their support and, in 1914, organized the Arrowhead Trails Association.

   The effort gained steam when it was enthusiastically embraced by the Automobile Club of Southern California, which had a goal of developing better roads to link communities throughout the country.

   Lyman said the club hired drivers in “scout cars” to report conditions on known roads as well as to travel onto uncharted areas in order to recommend where new routes might be located.

   On September 25, 1916, the Arrowhead Trail Association sponsored a convoy of cars to travel from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City via Las Vegas—along with a Los Angeles Times reporter—to prove the route was viable.

   After reaching Las Vegas, the party continued east through spectacular red sandstone valleys and canyons, which they named the “Valley of Fire,” before arriving in the town of St. Thomas (now under Lake Mead most years).

   “At Bunkerville, the group held a road promotion meeting and was treated to a melon and fruit feast across the Virgin River at Mesquite,” Lyman noted.

   Members of the caravan, who conducted rallies of support in various community along the way, reached Salt Lake City in about four days, traveling some 800 miles.

   Following the end of World War I, the road’s promoters shifted into high gear. For example, a January 25, 1917 issue of Motor Age noted, “no one can truly say he knows the West until he has traveled it (Arrowhead Trail).”

   Communities along the way volunteered to improve the road in their area, including filling chuckholes, racking loose rocks out of the road and building crude rock bridges over streams. Some towns began beautification programs to clean up their appearances.

   Bigelow was a tireless promoter of the route, often traveling on it alone while carrying gas, tires, water and other supplies, and stopping to assist any motorist in trouble.

   Part of his pitch was to focus on the beauty of the route as it passed through Valley of Fire as well as by the future Zion, Bryce Canyon and Cedar Breaks National Parks in Utah.

   In 1923, the Nevada State Legislature approved $50,000 to pave the route through most of Clark County. The new, smoother all-year road was such a hit that Utah and California soon followed in paving their roads that linked to the route.

   By the mid-1920s, however, the federal government had passed legislation creating a federal highway system and the days of the public-private partnership roads, such as the Lincoln Highway and Arrowhead Trail, were over. In 1926, the Arrowhead Trail name was officially changed to U.S. Route 91 and later parts of it were incorporated into Interstate 15.

   A guidebook about the road published in the early 1930s by the Automobile Club of Southern California noted that near Las Vegas the motorist would suddenly be “ushered into the realms of desert environment, of sage-brush and sand, grease-wood and gray-brown stretches of monotonous aspect.”

   The pamphlet, however, continued: “For the most part, all is silence, and the sense of brooding mystery—as a lion will wait behind the bars of a cage, his tawny head sunk between his paws, and his yellow eyes dreaming of African wildernesses.”

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

What are the Five Oldest Standing Courthouses in Nevada?


Belmont Courthouse

   One thing about old courthouses is that they are usually imposing and dignified. It’s clear the architects who designed them wanted them to be very grand yet serious, befitting of a place where justice was handed out.

   That is certainly the case with the five oldest standing courthouses in the state of Nevada. Each may have a different design but all share a similar DNA, which declares them to be important places where important matters—often involving life or death—could be settled.

   While not the first courthouse in the state—that honor most likely would have to go to a two-story, brick courthouse built in Dayton in 1864 (which burned in 1909)—the Douglas County Courthouse in Genoa, built in 1865, has the distinction of being the oldest standing courthouse in the state.

   The Genoa courthouse, which had first floor offices, a courtroom on the second floor and a jail to the rear of the building, was built at a cost of about $20,000, with construction completed in about six months. It served as the county courthouse until 1916, when the county seat was transferred to Minden.

   During the following four decades, the building served as an elementary school. In 1969, it became a local museum, which it remains to this day.

   The second oldest standing courthouse in the state is located in the historic mining town of Austin in central Nevada. Built in 1871, this two-story brick structure served as the Lander County Courthouse until 1979, when the county seat was relocated from Austin to Battle Mountain.

   Like the Genoa courthouse, the first floor of the building served as offices while the second floor housed a courtroom. Despite no longer serving as a courthouse, the building has remained in good shape and continues to serve as county offices.

   Next up on the list of Nevada’s oldest standing courthouses is the so-called Million Dollar Courthouse in Pioche. Constructed in 1871-72, the two-story brick courthouse, which has been stabilized and restored over the years, also had first floor offices, a second-floor courtroom, and jails built to the rear.

   The structure is known as the Million Dollar Courthouse because, according to records, of how it was financed. While the original contract called for the building to cost no more than $26,000, the final cost to taxpayers was more than $800,000 because it was funded by bonds that were refinanced several times during the following decades. It was finally paid off in 1938.

   Perhaps ironically, the year the debt was settled was also the year the county opened a new courthouse and county offices in Pioche, moving out of the original building that was no longer adequate. In subsequent years, the building has become a local museum and community center.

   The fourth oldest courthouse in Nevada is actually located in the central Nevada ghost town of Belmont. Built in 1874 at a cost of $34,000, the Nye County Courthouse was a grand two-story brick structure with an ornate Italianate architecture that included six brick chimneys and a Tuscan-style cupola on top.

   Belmont’s time as the county seat came to an end in 1905, with the rise of the mining boomtown of Tonopah. As the town of Belmont began to decline, the courthouse was eventually abandoned.

   In 1974, the building was deeded to the state of Nevada to become part of the Nevada State Park system, which helped to stabilize and rehabilitate the structure. In 2012, it was turned over to a non-profit group, The Friends of the Belmont Courthouse, which seeks to preserve and protect the site.

   Today, the group provides public tours of the building by appointment (

   The final member of the quintet of historic courthouses in the state that have remained standing for almost a century and a half is the Storey County Courthouse in Virginia City.

   Built in 1876, the courthouse, which is made of brick and iron, boasts an elaborate Italianate-style fa├žade made of metal and, according to historian Ron James, “is the most opulent of those built in nineteenth-century Nevada.”

   The courthouse, which remains in use, replaced an earlier building on the same site, the Odd Fellows Hall, which the county had rented for offices and a courthouse. That structure was destroyed during the great fire of 1875, which burned much of the city.

   Perhaps the most talked-about aspect of the Storey County Courthouse is the statue of Lady Justice that is perched above the building entrance.

   Unlike most renditions of Justice, this statue is not blindfolded, which has led many to believe it makes some kind of statement about frontier justice. Historians, however, note that the lack of a blindfold was not all that unusual on Lady Justice statues of the time.

   For more information about Nevada’s historic courthouses, pick up a copy of Ron James’ excellent book, “Temples of Justice,” published in 1994 by the University of Nevada Press.

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

Reno Once Boasted an 'Isle of Sin' in the Truckee River

1918 Map showing Reno's Infamous Scott Island (now gone)

   During the early to mid-20th century, Reno residents who tumbled to the bottom of the city’s economic ladder would often find themselves residing—sometimes outside—on a patch of land surrounded by the waters of the Truckee River.

   Known as Scott Island (and also called Monkey Island), it was a haven for hobos, transients, those with substance abuse problems, and others who had no place else to go. A 1958 Reno Evening Gazette article delicately described residents as “Reno’s less-than wealthy outdoor residents.”

   Scott Island was actually not a true island. It was a 16-acre, somewhat football-shaped piece of land on the south side of the Truckee River that, starting in the earl 1890s, had been cut off from the rest of Reno by an irrigation ditch.

   In addition to serving as an outdoor flophouse, over the years the island also was host to the Reno Boat Club’s clubhouse, alfalfa fields, a radio station tower, cabins, and a fairly nice house. In later years, it was the site of a garbage/salvage yard and a concrete plant.

   Reno newspaper accounts just after the turn of the 20th century contain several accounts of various criminal enterprises on the island.

   For example, in 1905, under the headline, “Police Rain Opium Joint,” the Gazette noted that “three opium outfits were captured by the police last night in a raid on a cabin” on the island. The story also said that a well-dress stranger “addicted to the Habit” was caught “red-handed” in the cabin. Not surprisingly, he declined to provide his name to the paper.

   A few years later, in 1910, the Gazette reported that the island was the location of a “free for all fight,” which was broken up by police. In 1924, the body of a janitor who lived in a cabin on the island was discovered. The paper said he had been shot twice and then beaten to death.

   By the 1920s, Scott Island had become a frequent target of Prohibition agents, who periodically raided the cabins to confiscate “moonshine” and other illegal alcoholic beverages.

   Throughout the years, the island was regularly flooded, which washed away most of the crude encampments. However, it was never too long before new ones cropped up.

   One of the saddest stories appeared in the Winnemucca Silver State newspaper on December 16, 1905. Beneath the headline, “Wife and Four Children Deserted and Destitute,” the paper noted that a Reno painter named Charles Carey had deserted his pregnant wife and four children, who lived in a cabin on the island, while he was out on strike from his employer.

   “To provide fuel for the little home, the woman, who is in a delicate condition, has been gathering up [gambling] chips from the street,” the paper reported. “Less than a dollar was the funds she had since her husband disappeared.”

   Fortunately for the woman and her children, her husband’s former employer decided to take care of the family, the story concluded.

   In June 1959, a fire broke out on the island, destroying most of the structures on what had become known as the “Reno Jungle.” By the early 1960s, the island was still the site of some bizarre newspaper accounts, including one, in 1963, about Reno police investigating a complaint that 20 cats had been shot and eaten.

   “Investigators said the man alleged to have shot the animals has denied the charge,” the Journal said. “However, according to police, a second man admitted eating them.”

   In the early 1970s, the irrigation ditch was filled in and future of Scott Island became the topic of much discussion among city and county leaders. When the families of those who owned the property offered to sell it to the city, some proposed making it into a city park (something that had been talked about since at least 1910).

   In the late 1970s, the site was sold to Reno Newspapers Inc., publishers of the Reno Evening Gazette and the Nevada State Journal, for a new printing plant and newspaper offices. After construction of a 92,588-square-foot facility in the early 1980s, the former island served as the newspaper company’s home until 2020, when the building was sold to the city of Reno.

   The city converted into the new headquarters of the Reno Police Department, which somehow seemed appropriate given the island’s notorious past.

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Remote Belmont Mill Survives Time's Ravages Mostly Intact

  The camp of Belmont Mill is a clear example of the enormous amount of mining activity that occurred in eastern Nevada during the so-called “Rush to White Pine” that began in the late 1860s.

  While the earliest mining booms occurred after 1868 in places in White Pine County like Shermantown, Hamilton, Treasure City and Eberhardt, the establishment of the Belmont Mill camp in 1915 indicated there was still a belief that riches remained to be found.

  While there had been some mining activity prior, in the early 20th century the Tonopah-Belmont Development Company began developing a mine and mill in the area, which is about seven miles southwest of the mining town of Hamilton.

  Records indicate that despite considerable investment—Belmont Mill was set up as a company town that provided housing and other amenities for its workers—its mines proved to be marginal and the camp was abandoned after only about a decade of mining.

  Perhaps because the mining company owned nearly everything at Belmont Mill, much of it remains fairly intact.

  For instance, the main mining mill building is quite impressive, sitting on a hillside overlooking a narrow canyon. The structure is substantial, constructed of thick metal sheets attached to a sturdy wooden frame. It is obvious that the builders intended for this structure to last.

  Peeking inside the main building—be careful not to touch anything or go inside because the wooden floors don't appear too safe—you can still see the milling equipment and a variety of other mining paraphernalia.

  You can also still find large elevated wooden bins filled with rocks on the south side of the mill. Apparently, these carts served as counter-weights to lift the ore containers to the top of the mill, where the precious dirt and rocks were dumped into the mill for processing.

  Also intact is an aerial tramway (which resembles the kind of aerial lift you find at a Lake Tahoe ski resort) that runs through the center of the building and stretches a quarter-mile or so up the hillside to several dig sites. The tram's thick support cable, while rusted after decades of neglect, still looks like it could do its job.

  If you walk alongside the tram, up the hill, you can get a great view of the mill and surrounding area. Nearby are several of the area's once-promising mines, which included such colorfully named shafts as the Dog Star, Jenny A. and Mary Ellen. Again, be cautious about exploring the area because mine shafts are dangerous.

  To the rear of the mill are rusted ore cart rails, which lead to an area where the processed ore was dumped into cargo containers and transported to a refinery.

  Adjacent to the large mill structure are other metal buildings, including the original office, as well as a boarding house and a machine shop, which contains some larger tools and assorted pieces of equipment.

  All of the buildings are posted with signs warning visitors not to touch or remove anything under penalty of law.

  While a business district never developed at Belmont Mill, a handful of decaying wooden structures sit on a hill above the mill, which appear to have been residences. Below the abandoned row of houses, you'll also find several rusted hulks of cars of more recent vintage.

  Belmont Mill is located about seven miles southwest of the ghost town of Hamilton. To reach it, head 37 miles west of Ely on Highway 50, then turn south on the marked road to Hamilton. Drive 10 miles on a maintained dirt road, then follow the signs (adjacent to the Hamilton Cemetery) to Belmont Mill. There will be a fork in the road about two miles from Hamilton, turn left to reach the site.

  Despite its relatively short life, Belmont Mill remains a good example of an early 20th century Nevada mining camp.

  For more information, a good website to check out is Forgotten Nevada (

Monday, January 08, 2024

Nevada Communities Have Long Found A Good Slogan Can Be Useful

   Many Nevada cities and towns have found promotional gold in adopting a colorful slogan to help promote themselves. Undoubtedly the most famous is Reno's "Biggest Little City in the World" slogan, which has appeared on several different archways spanning Virginia Street since 1929.

   The art of civic sloganeering, in fact, has proven to be a winning strategy for many communities, even to present times.

   For example, during the past two decades one of the most successful slogans has been the city of Las Vegas’ “What Happens Here, Stays Here” slogan. Created by the R and R Partners advertising agency in Las Vegas for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, the slogan became part of the national zeitgeist, appearing in films, on television shows, and in countless social media posts.

   Today, a variation of the slogan, “What Happens Here, Only Happens Here,” continues to be used in the city’s promotional campaigns.

   Over the years, Las Vegas has utilized a number of slogans. In the late 1930s, the community’s promotional slogan was “Las Vegas, City of Destiny,” meant to show it was a city on the move, and in the late 1940s, it embraced the phrase, “Still A Frontier Town,” to reinforce its modern yet still old west image, which was reflected in several of its resorts such as the New Frontier and the El Rancho.

   The city of Henderson, which is Nevada’s second largest city, also has its own slogan. In an effort to say that it has all the amenities of a big city but with smaller-town values, Henderson uses the slogan, “Henderson—A Place to Call Home.”

   Of course, Nevada’s smaller communities also have hung their promotional hats on their own slogans, some of which have been used for years, such as:

   • “Fallon: The Oasis of Nevada.” This phrase spotlights the fact that Fallon is an agricultural community, home of the Hearts of Gold cantaloupes, fields of alfalfa, and other crops.

   • “Tonopah: Queen of the Silver Camps.” No surprise here because Tonopah was founded in 1900 following the discovery of rich silver deposits in the area.

   • “Eureka: The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road.” A slogan of more recent vintage, this phrase was adopted by Eureka because of its location on U.S. 50, which is known as “The Loneliest Road in America.” The slogan is a nod toward that designation while also telling travelers that they will find a welcoming, friendly place during their journey across the state.

   • “Beatty: Gateway to Death Valley.” This slogan is pretty straightforward. It essentially says, ‘if you’re going to Death Valley National Park, the best way to get there is through Beatty.’

   • “Virginia City: Step Back in Time.” This is another fairly straightforward slogan. As one of Nevada’s premier historic mining communities, with a largely intact frontier business district, cemeteries, churches and other sites, Virginia City remains an opportunity to experience the past in the present.

   • "Cattle Kingdom in the Copper Hills" - This descriptive phrase has long been my favorite town slogan. It was used to promote Yerington for many decades, and said everything you needed to know about the community, namely that it was a cattle-raising area that also had a thriving copper mining industry. A classic billboard, which carried the slogan, stood at the entrance to the town from the 1960s to the early 1990s, when it was, sadly, destroyed in a rainstorm and not replaced.

The Story of Lake Tahoe's Fabulous Tallac Historic Site

  Anyone who has been watching HBO’s popular show, The Gilded Age, knows that in the late 19th and early 20th century, America’s richest res...