Cradle of Nevada History
“Valley of the Carson” is start of Nevada’s birth place
“Westward Ho! the wagons” …could be heard as wagon train after wagon train rolled along the Carson River Route of the Overland Emigrant Trail during the late 1840's and 50's. The Platt and Slater 1852 traveler's guide advised… “all to stop in this (Carson) valley and recruit their teams before crossing the Nevada mountains.”
As early explorers and pioneers entered Carson Valley, particularly in the spring, they saw a beautiful valley surrounded by mountains, the magnificent timber covered Carson Range on the west side and the pinion pine Pine Nut Range to the east. Miles of tulle, marsh, barren sage plains and tall wild grass near the river just waited for hungry livestock. The willow fringed Carson River separates into two branches south of Genoa, the East Fork and the West Fork. Both wound their way through the valley with the West Fork catching the melting snow run-off from the many west side canyons. What a beautiful picture. No wonder the site, later named Mormon Station and then Genoa, was a preferred camp location for those weary pioneers who stopped to rest their livestock, replenish their exhausted store of provisions, doctor their stock and fix their wagons. This site (Genoa) is about 4,800 feet above sea level and the Carson Valley covers 806 square miles or 515,340 acres.
The famous scout, Christopher “Kit” Carson, rode through this territory in 1844 as a guide to General John Fremont. Fremont writes in his diary that Carson camped overnight in the upper part of the Carson Valley and as he gazed at the streams teaming with fish and the wild game grazing in the tall grass, he exclaimed, “This is the Valley of the Carson.”
The Mormon Battalion passed through Carson Valley in 1846 on their way to California to help fight for the United States in the Mexican War. In 1848, the California gold discovery signaled the beginning of immense overland travel.
History related that in June of 1849, H. S. Beatie and his party camped on the banks of the Carson River. They learned from passing travelers that a heavy migration was expected through the area. Beatie and his men built walls forming a two room double logged one story structure, 20 x 60 feet, without floor or roof. Next, they built a large corral for the protection of their animals, taking up about an acre of ground. Beatie and Abner Blackburn crossed the mountains into California with an extra three yoke of cattle to sell or trade for flour, dried fruit, bacon, sugar, coffee, etc., to sell to passing wagon trains although their principal trade was in horses and mules. Travelers were willing to trade two animals for one fresh animal to avoid delays in their journey. Beatie and his men abandoned their trading post in September and returned to Salt Lake City where Beatie related his adventure to John and Enoch Reese, who employed Beatie as a clerk in their J & E Reese Mercantile.
In the spring of 1851, John Reese, taking Beatie’s Carson Valley experience seriously, ventured West with wagons loaded down with necessary supplies to establish a trading post. In the spring of 1851, Stephen A. Kinsey, Reese’s nephew and guide, waited for Reese’s train at the Beatie site. A man named Moore occupied the property. Reese paid him 15 or $20 to be sure of his ownership title. Reese also gave Captain Jim, chief of the Washoe tribe, two sacks of flour for the surrounding land. Flour sold for two dollars a pound.
On November 12, 1851, the settlers organized a “settlers” or “squatters” government, as it was impossible to quickly settle matters of justice when Salt Lake City was 500 miles away. They framed a petition to Congress for a separate government. The settlers proceeded to adopt rules for taking up land; resolutions were adopted for the survey of quarter section land claims, and by-laws adopted for governing the community, creating the office of recorder/treasurer. John Reese was elected to this office and he recorded the first land claim for himself in December of 1852.
On January 17, 1852, the Utah Territorial legislature passed an “Act” designating the western section of the Territory, County of Carson. Also in 1852, a mail route was established by the U.S. government between Salt Lake City, Utah and San Bernardino in southern California. A post office was established at Mormon Station on December 10, 1852, with the appointment of E. F. Barnard as postmaster.
The trading post was known as Mormon Station and/or Reese's Station until 1855 when Mormon Probate Judge Orson Hyde changed the name to Genoa. Hyde was sent to Mormon Station in 1854 by Mormon leader Brigham Young to survey a town site, determine the California border and set up a government. Hyde changed the name of the surveyed town site from Mormon Station to Genoa, supposedly in honor of Christopher Columbus’ birthplace, Genoa, Italy. Some sixty or seventy Mormon families came to the area as well as a number of non-Mormons, or gentiles, as they were called.
On March 2, 1861, an “Act” was passed by Congress creating the Territory of Nevada and James W. Nye as Governor. On November 25, 1861, an “Act” was passed to organize the new Nevada Territory into nine counties: Esmeralda, Douglas, Ormsby, Washoe, Lyon, Storey, Lake, Humboldt and Churchill. By 1861, the population of Genoa counted 155 souls of German, Danish, Italian and English nationality. John Carlisle was the town barber, R. N. Allen an attorney and N. A. Cook the local butcher. Other businesses included dry goods and grocery merchants Salmon & Johnson, J. Child’s Dry Goods, Mandlebaum & Klauber and Gallick & Co. Salmon & Johnson also operated the Utah Market on the Public Square and acted as agents for Wells Fargo & Company’s Express Office.
The Kohner & Heinz bakery and saloon, the Metropolitan Saloon and Livingstone’s Exchange were all located on Main Street.
R. J. Loughbridge operated a saloon next to the Union Hotel. John Connery owned a livery stable and James McLean & Henry Stael operated one of the blacksmith shops. Henry R. Dickerson & J. L. Wilder operated yet another blacksmith shop. The Big Tree Hay Yard was kept quite busy. Boot makers in Genoa were Charles Daudel and J. Leonard. Good food was served at the Union Restaurant and the Nevada Hotel. J. H. Davis operated both the telegraph and the post office. Farmers began to develop land into productive farms and ranches. The first important land and water rights were determined at the Genoa Courthouse.
A significant event in Genoa’s history occurred when the Mormons were called back to Salt Lake City, September 5, 1857, to defend the church and Salt Lake Valley from the U.S. Army’s invasion of the area. Property was abandoned or sold for a fraction of its actual value. Reese sold his station in about 1859 and returned to Salt Lake. Instead of a Mormon government, gentiles were elected into public offices.
Genoa was the major city in western Utah Territory until the discovery of the Comstock Lode and subsequent development of Virginia City. Genoa’s economy had been dependent on passing wagon trains, local farming and ranching but this was soon to change. Other settlements such as Washoe City, Carson City and Lake's Crossing (Reno) became supply centers for the growing population.
The completion of the Virginia and Truckee (V&T) Railroad to Virginia City in 1872 and to Minden in 1906 became a factor in Genoa’s loss of population. Genoa was included in an early railroad survey but was never serviced by rail and this fact eventually contributed to the loss of its county seat to Minden in 1916. Also the 1910 fire destroyed a large area of the Main Street business district. The courthouse was left with only brick walls standing. The Douglas County Commissioners voted to rebuild the courthouse but many of the businesses destroyed by the fire relocated to the growing areas of Minden and Gardnerville.
Although Genoa retains its historic integrity, the twentieth century has indeed impacted the town. Perhaps the lack of development is the attraction resulting in the increase of residential building around the town. Genoa’s historic atmosphere can be maintained by careful restoration and replication.
For more about historic places and museums in the Carson Valley area, visit Douglas County Historical Society's website.