South Virginia’s Nevada Stock Farm

HorseRoping

 

In days past Hill & Son, August and Fred respectively, have crept into my writings, in connection with building what we now call the Redfield home on Mt. Rose Street, that a duplicate of August Hill’s brownstone in New York City following his migration to Reno in the 1920s.  Later they were the builders of Hill & Son’s Motel, which was gradually absorbed into the Peppermill.

            I alluded in earlier columns to a dude ranch they owned and operated on South Virginia Street.  Following a little legwork, some help from August Hill’s great-grandson, Reno attorney Richard Hill, a pleasant afternoon in the deep catacombs of the Nevada Historical Society, and finally info from a book I’ll name soon, the time is upon us to learn of the Nevada Stock Farm.  But – we have to go back to 1915 and start the yarn with a reference to George Wingfield, Owner and Operator of Nevada.

            That’s the title of Elizabeth Raymond’s authoritative 1994 bio of Wingfield, one source of research of the stock farm.  Wingfield, whose long suit probably lay in horse breeding and racing as much as it did in Nevada politics, acquired land on the east side of South Virginia Street in or around 1914, from the old Anderson Ranch.  The land was bounded on the east by the Virginia & Truckee Railroad right-of-way, on the north by a point appearing in old photos to be what would later become Gentry Way, now Airport Road.  The southern boundary appears to be south of what later became East Moana Lane.

            Wingfield’s intention was to build the finest stable of trotting horses and Thoroughbreds in the nation and work was begun on the facility.  Some of the rock structures he built were evident until only a few years ago when they were demolished for modern buildings just north of the present bowling alley.   The earliest reference to the stock farm was in a Sept. 1915 Reno Evening Gazette, touting a hot water well drilled on the property; a Gazette piece two months later spoke of a George Berry named to manage the stock farm, Berry hired away from a similar job with the Spreckels family in Napa.  And voila, on March 19, 1916, Wingfield’s stable of race horses, some of which were in national contention, arrived by the V&T from Pleasanton, Cal. – 12 of the steeds’ names were carried in the Gazette, most of them recognizable as modern-day street names in Wingfield Springs, General Thatcher being a horse drawing national interest and named as a contender for the1923 Kentucky Derby.

            The stock farm thrived, and Wingfield opened a companion ranch in Louisville, Ky. With the nation locked in a depression heavily impacting Wingfield’s mining interests, in November of 1932 he sold the 16 Thoroughbreds remaining in the Reno operation and the once-grand stock farm with many attractive buildings and well-tended arenas and corrals went on the block.  Here research eludes me whether Wingfield’s sale of the Nevada Stock Farm was voluntary or by a courtroom-steps auction, and whether the Hills bought it directly or from an intervening party, but acquire it, they did, and retained the name.

            August Hill operated a stable in Manhattan in the 1910s which might have invited his attention to the stock farm as an equestrian endeavor, but August and son Frederick took a different tack, horse word: They went into the dude ranch business, using Wingfield’s facilities for cottages and a dining hall, while retaining the corrals and stables with Palomino horses for the use of their guests, many of whom were drawn to Reno in search of a quickie Nevada divorce.

            A handsome brochure the Hills published contained some great photos, and “…the Nevada Stock Farm is Nevada’s largest, most exclusive Dude Ranch [caps ibid.] and Stock Ranch”  “…the Mineral Pool is 4 to 7 feet deep and 50 feet long, with a smaller hot mineral pool with a temperature of about 115 degrees.”  That temperature setting should render any dudette alive and medium well after her first long ride on a Palomino – yikes!  “…Our own dairy herd supplies fresh milk, cream and butter.  Appetizing meals, First Class cook; the dining room is for exclusive use of our guests.”    The Hills apparently ran a dairy herd.  “…The Recreation Room is 75 feet long, featuring Moving Pictures and a fine large fireplace.”  “…Each cottage is equipped with hot and cold water, a bathroom and a dressing room, with hot water heat.”  Simmons Beauty Rest [two words ibid.] mattresses, Chesterfields, writing desks and radios, with all maid, dining room, and room service.”

            Rates were $21 per week, or $40 American Plan per person.  “…All recreational activities are available, golf, tennis, hiking, and colts are available to be broken.”  You’ll like this amenity: “No charge for resident witness in court;” I noted while researching this that that service was a common amenity for all the dude ranches in town

            The ranch figures into several Reno brochures and travel guides, and listings of dude ranches in handouts from Union Pacific and Southern Pacific Railroads, United Air Lines, three words in the 1930s, and in some Reno marketing brochures – not necessarily identified as divorce-seekers destinations but most including the “free resident witness” feature.

            The Nevada Stock Farm began falling off the scene in phone books and travel brochures in the late 1940s – no date of its demise from the Reno scene is evident.  But, other businesses in that corridor of South Virginia   Street began cropping up.  Some of the farm’s old native stone buildings were used for quite a time as a simple – non-dude ranch – hostel, others housed a bar and smallish restaurant. Only one is left in 2013.

     (I checked again, on-site, on Wednesday; none now remain)       The Nevada Stock Farm structures, to reiterate above, are now long gone, but a few of us can still remember these last rock vestiges of an endeavor meriting once-national acclaim, operated at its inception by one of Nevada’s most dynamic, if perplexing, nabobs, George Wingfield, and later by a couple of Reno’s most innovative and successful mid-20th century builders and developers, August and Frederick Hill.

 

Photo credit: Jack Case Rodeo Productions

           

 

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