Living history presents portrayal of Valley pioneer at museum |

Living history presents portrayal of Valley pioneer at museum

by Joyce Hollister

Imagine crossing the prairies in a covered wagon on your way to the goldfields of California.

No motel rooms. No fast food. And you are a woman with 10 children and another one on the way.

If you can’t imagine this scenario, you can hear about it when Marlena Hellwinkel, president of the Carson Valley Historical Society, portrays her husband Don’s great-grandmother, Ellen Raycraft, who found herself in just this situation in 1865.

The living history program is one of three to celebrate Women’s History Month at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center. The first features Ellen Raycraft and is set for March 14, 2-4 p.m.

Ellen Quinlan Raycraft came from Cork, Ireland. She arrived in the U.S. in 1823 and came overland to Genoa with her husband from Hannibal, Mo.

“When they got to Genoa, they pitched their camp in an orchard where she gave birth to her 11th child,” Hellwinkel said, “and she informed her husband this was it. She was going no farther.”

So they settled in Genoa. They owned the Raycraft Hotel, which was on land that is now part of the Giovacchini property. The hotel didn’t burn in the great Genoa fire of 1910, because, it is said, Mrs. Raycraft, who was a Catholic, sprinkled holy water around the hotel.

She always had holy water on hand, Hellwinkel said, for the visiting priests, as there was no permanent Catholic church in Genoa at the time. Her granddaughter was Lillian Virgin Finnegan, who founded the Candy Dance.

Hellwinkel will be wearing Lillian Finnegan’s hat, skirt and cape. She first portrayed her husband’s ancestor during the Genoa Cemetery Tour.

“We needed some living history,” she said, “and I decided to do it – I had some information to use. I enjoyed doing it.”

She also portrayed Ellen Raycraft at the cemetery tour held at the Garden Cemetery last fall. The living history presentations are offered free to the public as a way to introduce Valley history to residents and acquaint them with the society’s various educational programs.

Hellwinkel as Raycraft will walk among the visitors and will talk to groups of people as they tour the museum and partake of refreshments.

She will answer questions about Raycraft’s life and early-day Genoa.

“People are invited to tour the museum,” Hellwinkel said. “We have a lot of new and exciting exhibits.”

Also planned next week is the open house and reception honoring Glenn Logan, who recently stepped down as president of the historical society after 10 years. He guided the renovation of the old Douglas County High School which is now the museum and cultural center.

The reception will be held March 15, 2-4 p.m., at the center.

Two other Women’s History Month events are planned.

On March 22, Pat Cardinal will portray Grace Dangberg, 2-4 p.m.

Dangberg was the granddaughter of H.F. Dangberg, the man who came from Germany in the last century and set up the first of the prosperous Dangberg ranches, which later evolved into the Dangberg Land and Livestock Co. H.F. Dangberg Jr. established Minden.

Dangberg herself was a respected scholar and historian and one of the founders of the historical society.

On March 29, Cathy Simpson will portray Eilly Orrum Bowers, 2-4 p.m.

Bowers was married to Sandy Bowers, who struck it rich in the Comstock the 1860s. He and she built Bowers Mansion in Washoe Valley before losing all of their fortune.

Refreshments will be served. All performances will be at the Carson Valley Museum and Cultural Center, 1477 Highway 395, Gardnerville.

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