Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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A Question Answered

The following history question was asked of John by a local resident. John's reply follows.


Hi John,

I am a graduate student in the geography department at UNR. I am doing some research about the neighborhood between Sixth Street and UNR (which I-80 cut in half) for a paper I am writing. I came across your website at visitreno.com and it seems that you have quite a bit of local knowledge. I wonder if you might be able to help me find some information.

Currently, I am trying to find out what that area was like before the Interstate was built. I have Sanborne and some other maps, but they really don't tell me much about what the sense of place was like (residential/business/industrial use, income levels, racial profile, etc). If you have any other information or suggestions about how to locate this information, I would very much appreciate it.

One other question, but it's a long shot. In the beginning of "The Misfits", Marilyn Monroe is boarding at one of the divorce houses near downtown Reno. Do you know if this house was actually in Reno, and if so, where?

Thank you,


John's Answer:

To the first question about Interstate 80 and the 6th street area; not much was really there except some fields and old houses. The houses that were torn down for the highway were built in the early 1910's and late 1930's. There were a few houses and business prior to that, but most of them burned down in fires, prevalent at the time because of kerosene lanterns and wood stoves. Some of the fields along the stretch around the fairgrounds are still there. That was exclusive land given to UNR by the county and state a long time ago. The thought was to expand the University Farm Field studies into one of the largest animal and plant research facilities in the Western United States. Most of the area next to the freeway up to Evans Avenue was made up of a patchwork of fields fed by a ditch system coming from the Truckee River all the way west from near the Mayberry Bridge. The fields were primarily timothy and rye grass fields for the many cattle that were bred at three large rances in north Reno. One of those ranches is now a park you know as Rancho San Rafael. It originally was on land that crept all the way down to Fifth and the end of Nevada Street which at one time went up the hill as a dirt rode all the way to the ranch. University Terrace off of Sierra Street was built and stopped Nevada Street in its tracks. The rest of the little farms represented the holdings of some Basque and Italian families who grew potatoes and other hardy vegetables. There were two narrow guage railroads that came up the hill from Reno into the mining district from just east of Lake Street. Both hauled supplies, ore and workers back and forth for years during the late 1890's and early 1900's. As the mines in the Wingfield district around Sun Valley dried up and miners left the area for more lucrative ventures in Virginia City, Austin and Tonapah, the railroads were moved out of town lock, stock and barrel. There was hardly any industry in that area except for a small tack and saddle shop and one large metal shop. Most of the town of Reno was built along the railroad and south of town. The town dump was located on a hillside just northeast of the UNR Campus and just south of McCarran Blvd. There is a large mobile home village at it's eastern edge there now. Valley Road used to be the road to the dump. Unlike today, most everything ran east and west, but as the town grew and people came to open up new businesses the direction started to move south and north. UNR stood almost all by itself for a couple of decades and then people started to fan out across the western and northern hills. I remember 395 as a two lane bumpy road north of town all the way into California and beyond. Some days, you could get on a horse just north of Seventh Street and not meet anyone all the way to Stead Airfield. Oh, by the way, the average income of the area was around $50 a month during the early 1900's. That was pretty high for the West. The town was run by just a few wealthy land baron's, mine owners and bankers. A few of their homes and mansions still stand along the southern shores of the Truckee and along the north side of California Avenue. During the 1930's, jobs and homes were lost and a few of land barons bought out the land as it went on sale at the County Court House for back taxes. One of them was a grumpy old codger by the name of Levere Redfield. His rock mansion still sits on Mt. Rose Avenue inhabited by a so called relative. Redfield used to play roulette at Harrah's during the 1950's and 60's for thousands of dollars. He even had special lammers that were made for his play indicating the size of his bets. You would never know he was rich though. He wore old worn out trousers and always had a scruffy beard and he always carried a little brown paper bag. In the bag was a sandwich and a roll of money. He never carried less than twenty to thirty thousand dollars. The reason? Because he would sit on the doorstep of the County Courthouse awaiting the clerk to make and post the annoucements of land for sale for back taxes. He'd pay the taxes and pay off any other notes that were attributed to the land and take it over. He liked the food at Bill Harrah's buffet and always ate for free. At one time, Redfield owned a good portion of South Reno all the way to Huffaker and up into Incline Village and north into Truckee. He would sell it to developers for as much as a hundred times or more what he paid for it. Then, he would go buy silver and gold dollars and hide them in his basement and on pieces of property. After he died, an inspection of his home and basement built with huge pieces of redwood for flooring led to the discovery of holes bored deep into the wood and holding hundreds of thousands of dollars in Silver Coin. There is still good reason to believe he left a ton of gold and silver coin in the ground on pieces of land he owned in the Sierra.

As to your second question, there were about sixty boarding houses and divorce ranches in the Reno area during the 1950's. Reno was known as the Divorce Capital of the world and women from around the country came to the area to wait out the six weeks and later two weeks for residency requirement to be granted a divorce. Two of the larges houses were south of Reno and one was a famous dude ranch. The dude ranch was owned by one of the best horseman I ever knew. He trained quarter horses to fall as a stunt in Hollywood westerns. The cowboy movies wouldn't have been the same without his training. Every time you see an old western and a horse tumbles or falls on cue from being shot by an Indian or Calvary trooper, that horse was most probably trained at this ranch. The stables later became known for its great trailriding and quiet surroundings by the Hollywood elite who came through for a respite or a divorce stay. The place was known as Western Stables. A few of the best stunt men in the world worked with the horses prior to actually taking them to Southern California and Hollywood. The boarding house was actually smaller than a dozen others in town but was more famous and well known by Hollywood directors. So, yes, some of the scenes were shot in and near there. A lot of the room scenes are actually sets in a Hollywood sound stage though. They were shot early in the movie production and then the crew and cast came to Reno to finish the outside and casino scenes. Some of the filming was around Fallon and Dayton and of course the casino was the Mapes Hotel and the old Commercial. But all the most exciting stuff was filmed north of Reno between Sky Ranch in Spanish Springs Valley and Winnemucca Lake north of Pyramid Lake.

As a note of interest, I did meet and talk for a long time with a gentleman cowboy that was the best horse handler and wrangler I've ever met. At the time, he was well into his 50's but worked circles around the other guys around the valley who trained horses. His name was Jack Lindell. Jack taught me some wonderful tricks on handling young quarterhorse studs. My background was with a little larger horse known as the Appaloosa. I broke and rode many horses growing up and I can't remember ever being unlucky with an Appy. Quarterhorses were few and far between in the region because of the cold winters but several ranchers took them in and developed breeding lines that have hung in there ever since. Most of these horses from this region were used for show but a few got out on the cutting range when horsemen saw the breed as a natural cutting horse. I worked a ranch when I was young in the south end of the valley known as the "Double Diamond". It was owned by a man who was very rarely on the ranch. He was usually off to Europe or Africa or Asia and only came back to the Reno ranch to relax once in a while. His name was Wilbur D. May. If you put his initials W and M together with the M above the W you saw his brand, hence the double diamond. He was a nice man with a bit of a limp but he loved horses and when I broke one of his quarterhorse studs in less than a couple of hours one day, he gave me a shotgun with field and stream inlay. I used the technique I learned from Jack Lindell and it always worked, especially on the truly tough hombres. The trick was being quiet and confident and letting the horse respect you as its peer. I never used a bucking saddle or star bit because it wasn't necessary. You just needed to show the horse you cared about them. That was the trick and I'll never forget it.


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