By Ursula Maxwell-Lewis
Family history is dramatic when you dig deep. Consider, for example, the Dangberg Home Ranch, and the family after which it is named.
Carson Valley pioneer Heinrich Friedrich Dangberg arrived in America in 1848, when he was 18 years old. In 1856, he headed west, staked his claim to 156 acres, built a log cabin, irrigated the land and married Margaret Ferris. Despite considerable differences in their background the couple raised five children, prospered, established a 30,000 acre spread (one of the largest ranches in western Nevada) and in 1902 formed the Dangberg Land and Livestock Co.
In 1905, the family founded the town of Minden.
As a guide describes four generations of Dangberg history, it’s clear that there were more than a few hiccups as the generations evolved. Without Heinrich Dangberg’s firm hand on the bank account and miscellaneous assets, family feuds erupted involving mishandled finances, lawsuits, and who would get to reside in the old homestead.
Surrounded by family photos and memorabilia, I wondered what the original homesteader would say if he could hear the the family dirty laundry being aired with relish in his own living room.
Perhaps he would smile and take comfort from the fact that, despite the impact of the Great Depression, his innovative irrigation ditches, canals and reservoirs continue to benefit the community, and he continues to feature prominently in the Carson City Museum and Cultural Centre situated in Gardnerville, about 30 minutes by car from the ranch.
Designed by architect Frederic DeLongchamps, the Carson City Museum was built in 1915 and is staffed by dedicated volunteers. The $3 admission fee opens the door to a wealth of wild life displays, a women’s history section and an excellent Native American Washo Tribe exhibit. The intricate beadwork, woven baskets and photographs alone are worth the visit.
Wander down “Main Street” to check out the Newspaper Office, be reminded of the days when the local doctor made house calls, and visit the all-important textile Dry Goods Store (the forerunner to our department stores).
My overnight in the area was at the nearby Carson Valley Inn adjacent to the Carson Valley RV Resort. Also in the area is David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort. It links its history to the Pony Express Route and the Emigrant Trail as well as such colourful characters as Clark Gable and Mark Twain. Easy choices to ease travellers back into the 21st century after being immersed in local history.
Exploring this valley from Reno to Lake Tahoe offers easy drives, expansive Nevada territory vistas and more than a few surprises.
For example, Genoa, a very appealing small town claims that the Genoa Bar (est. 1853) is “Nevada’s Oldest Thirst Parlour.” Since the main street was once part of the Overland Emigrant Trail, the claim may well be true. These days colourful small shops attract tourists instead of passing gold miners dreaming of the Mother Lode. The Mormon Station Historical site (est. 1851) is a proud reminder that Genoa, originally Mormon Station, was renamed by John Reese, an explorer-turned-trader who settled here while researching the area to establish various state lines.
Another surprise was meeting Cynthia Ferris-Bennett, owner of the Sierra Chef. This delightful shop is packed with confections and foods all freshly made and attractively packaged by Cynthia.
At lunchtime, locals know that the menu is simply whatever this personable gal feels like making that day. Since the menu invariably sells out everyone seems to be on her wavelength.
Just to add another dimension, Cynthia is directly related to George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. who designed the Ferris wheel after studying the intricacies of the Cradlebaugh Bridge water wheel on the Carson River. Innovation clearly runs in the family.
For reference, our road trip began in Reno with our final goal being Lake Tahoe. The final leg will be for a second column, but I was interested to hear that Reno (at large) is undergoing considerable renovation. By 2020 many new improvements will be unveiled. You can bet the facelift will be worth the wait.
Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a Cloverdale-based writer and photographer with travel in her DNA. Contact her at email@example.com.