Historical sites around us
March 30, 2019
Here's a story shared about a local site by my neighbor and lifetime resident of Northern Nevada, Laurie Hickey. Have you ever wondered about that large Carpenter-Gothic style home with those magnificent windows located on the east side of Old Highway 395 near Old Washoe City on the way to Bowers Mansion? I know I have every time I've passed it since moving here in 2004. At last, I asked the right person and here is what she had to tell me.
That beautiful Victorian was the family home, ranch and business headquarters of Theodore Winters. Winters arrived in Washoe Valley in November 1857 where he purchased 4,000 acres of land from several Mormon families who were disposing of their holdings. They had priced them very low in order to return to Utah. When the Comstock Lode was discovered Winters became a principal stockholder in the Ophir and other Comstock mines. With this new-found wealth, he was able to purchase another 2,000 acres, making his total holdings in Washoe Valley 6,000 acres. He called his vast holdings "Rancho del Sierra."
Theodore Winters married Margaret Martin in 1860 and began construction of this Carpenter-Gothic style home that was completed by 1863. It was furnished, draped and carpeted with the best materials money could buy. Theodore and Maggie raised their seven children in this home. The beautiful residence remained in the Winters family until 1954 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
"Rancho del Sierra," raised cattle, sheep, workhorses, plus a large dairy herd, and they made cheese and butter. The remnants of the ranch's old large fruit orchard can still be seen north of the house and on both sides of Old Highway 395. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad ran just east of the house and stopped regularly to load milk, cheese, butter, fruit, cattle and sheep for shipment to Carson City, Reno, Virginia City, and points east and west directly from the ranch. This was also a great convenience for the family in their travels for business and pleasure. Maggie could easily take a shopping trip to Carson City, Reno, Sacramento or even San Francisco.
Winters began purchasing large ranch holdings in and around the Sacramento Valley and before long had acquired over 12,000 acres. He donated 40 acres for a town-site and railroad that became "Winters, California." Always a good businessman, that railroad would later become a bonus for shipping cattle and agricultural products from his California holdings.
When Winters attended a horse-race on one of his many trips east for business, he fell in love with the sport. He purchased a horse named "Norfolk" which was the top racehorse in the country at that time. He also traveled to Kentucky and purchased the best racehorses he could find. He then built stables and a racetrack on his Winters, California ranch. In 1870 he built a huge Victorian looking barn that stood a good distance north of the house. A quarter-mile racetrack soon followed for training his racehorses every summer. Many of them were shipped to "Rancho del Sierra" for further training and to acclimate to the higher altitude. His theory was that doing this would help develop their lungs, thus giving them an advantage when racing in a lower altitude. He may have been right as he had some of the finest racehorses in the country. After 100 years the old barn was torn down in the 1970s.
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