When state budget cuts in 2011 left the future of Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park in limbo, curator Mark Jensen stepped up.
“I invested blood, sweat and tears here, and wasn’t going to let the doors get shut,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of stories here, and I felt like someone needed to protect that. I didn’t want them to be forgotten.”
With the help of the nonprofit Friends of Dangberg Home Ranch and dozens of volunteers the park kept its doors open, and won the Nevada Commission on Tourism’s “Discover Your Nevada” contest two years straight.
“It felt rewarding because people wanted to vote for it,” Jensen said of the contest. “I’m confident in the future of the park, but we still need support.”
The site preserves the home of Heinrich F. Dangberg and his descendants. The Dangbergs were a prominent ranching family in Carson Valley history and founded Minden in 1906. The site includes eight historic structures built between 1857 and 1917, along with a collection of 39,000 artifacts, documents and photographs acquired and used by the Dangberg family.
“The collection itself is a curator’s dream. It’s all original to the house,” Jensen said. “I’ve learned so much about the family, I feel like they’re my family. When you’re opening people’s underwear drawer you learn a lot about them.”
As a certified archivist, Jensen first came to Minden in 2005 on a one-year contract to help catalogue artifacts for the house.
“It smelled like skunks,” Jensen said of his first impression. “At the time I was focused on having the job, and thought ‘Boy there’s a lot of stuff here.’ Some of it was as if the family had gotten up and left the day before.”
In 2008 he was hired by the state as a park interpreter.
That job entailed preparing the house for public tours and continuing to catalogue the artifacts.
Jensen said there are still documents in storage that have never been read.
“The collection is so big that most of it has to stay in storage because we can’t display all of them,” Jensen said. “The photographs are very interesting to me, and the letters. It’s how they connect to the stories.”
The county pays for the electricity, lawn-mowing, restrooms and computers, but the friends are responsible for Jensen’s salary, phone service, internet and maintenance of the park.
To raise money and awareness the park hosts concerts, speakers, storytellers, cowboy poets and other events. They also offer educational tours for students free of charge.
“We’ve been able to keep going — barely,” Jensen said. “We can’t run it as an historic house museum. That won’t sustain us.”
Although the park has come a long way, Jensen said there are still many projects he would like to accomplish.
Restoring the original entrance columns, the fence, inside of the carriage house, landscaping and conservation work on some of the items are only a few on Jensen’s list.
“There’s a lot to do here if it’s going to be what it’s supposed to be — a showpiece,” he said. “I want the park to be self-sustaining. I hope that Douglas County continues to see it as something worth preserving.”
The home ranch had 490 people tour the house last year, and Jensen is hoping to see those numbers increase in the future.
Tours are offered Wednesday through Sunday by reservation. Cost is $8 for adults and free for children 16 and younger.
Working as curator, tour guide, fundraiser, grantwriter and volunteer coordinator is more than just a job for the park’s only paid employee.
“It’s not just a job. It has meaning. It’s something I can contribute to,” Jensen said. “It’s very rewarding to have the opportunity to work with the volunteers. When I have a bad day I remind myself that I have a nice office. It’s quiet, and I can have some solitude.”
Jensen was voted Carson Valley Employee of the Year at the annual Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce and Record-Courier Community Awards in November.
For more information on the Dangberg Home Ranch Historic Park, visit its website www.dangberghomeranch.org.
The park is located at 1450 Highway 88 in Minden.