The Washoe Tribe gathered pinion pine nuts from the Virginia Range in the fall, hunted waterfowl in Washoe Lake, gathered herbs and food plants and fished during the summer at Lake Tahoe. The abundant tulles at Washoe Lake were used for dwellings, boats, baskets, and shoes.
Mormons were among the first white people to settle in the valley. For the Comstock mining boom (1859-1890), Washoe Valley supplied water, timber, meat, milk, cheese, and fruit. Wooden flumes, allegedly invented in Washoe Valley, carried pine trees logged in the Sierra Nevada down into the valley. At one time nine mills operated in the valley. A trestle across Washoe Lake was used to transport the timber up Ophir Grade. In Virginia City, the lumber contributed to building a city for 30,000 people above ground and served as trusses to build the mines underground. Eilley Orrum and husband Sandy Bowers built Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley when he struck it rich in l860.
Theodore “Thee” Winters, was an early successful resident who eventually owned 4,000 acres, built a mansion next to what is now Highway 395, grew fruit, owned a dairy and raised famous race horses at his “Rancho Del Sierra.” Mark Twain called the mansion a “handsome dwelling” and described the unique features of the Winters new home for the Territorial Enterprise in 1864.
To move people and goods from Virginia City to Carson to Reno and to Douglas County the Virginia and Truckee (V&T) Railroad was completed in 1872 and operated until 1950. In places the raised bed of sand and rock still exist as a potential recreation trail.
Will James, writer and illustrator of books, like “Smokey,” and “Lone Cowboy” owned Washoe Pines Ranch in the l920’s. Walter Van Tilburg Clark, author of books as “City of Trembling Leaves”, and “Track of the Cat” lived in the old Heidenreich home (1947-49) on Franktown Road. Lord Wellesley (1933) built a 18th Century style English estate at the edge of the valley on a ranch later purchased by Governor Bob List’s father.
A more recent well known resident was Robert Laxalt, author of “Sweet Promised Land”, “Basque Hotel” and other books.
Also visit washoevalley.org for more information on Washoe Valley