R-C Neighborhoods: Ruhenstroth dates back to the 1800s
It seems like the middle of nowhere, but Ruhenstroth is actually rich in history with vital contributions to the development of Douglas County.
One of the first owners of the property was 18-year-old Jacob “Jake” Rodenbaugh. Rodenbaugh came to the Carson Valley in 1860 after two years of unsuccessfully trying his luck in the gold fields of California. Life in the Valley must have been more rewarding for Rodenbaugh because he was soon operating a profitable charcoal business. The kilns were located on the western fringe of the Pinenut Mountains were the pinon trees were abundant, and he supplied all of the charcoal to the Carson City Mint from 1870 until it closed.
By 1877 the traffic moving through Rodenbaugh’s property was peaking because of teamsters hauling freight to the Esmeralda mining district. Rodenbaugh took advantage of the circumstances and built a way station, a place where men and horses could rest before the steep climb up “Jake’s Hill.”
The station flourished until the mining activity petered out. The way station remained open, but Rodenbaugh spent more time developing his 800-acre ranch. Water was a problem, so he turned to the closest source, the Carson River. Since the elevation of the river was 90 feet lower than the ranch, Rodenbaugh installed a turbine and a pump at the base of what used to be the old power dam. The water was pumped up from the river so that it could gravity feed 100 acres that Rodenbaugh had under cultivation.
Rodenbaugh died in 1913 and his wife Delilah Carter Rodenbaugh operated the way station and ranch until it was sold in 1916 to Louis Ruhenstroth for $20,000.
Ruhenstroth immediately began construction of the two-story brick home that is still a focal point in the community. He expanded the ranch, placing more than 400 acres under cultivation, and raised sheep. Ruhenstroth died in 1935 at the age of 78. Yet his legacy lives on with his name gracing the sleepy little community that still honors that pioneer spirit.
“Ruhenstroth has an independence. People come here for the elbow room,” said Jack Pirtle who works at Bently Nevada. “It has it’s own unique atmosphere.”
Pirtle bought a house in Ruhenstroth 17 years ago when he and his wife, Klaire, and their four children moved up from Tucson, Ariz.. Pirtle laughed, perhaps a little sheepishly, when he retold the story.
“My dad and I flew up here to look around. We were going to rent in the Johnson Lane area, but the house ended up selling. Then I found this one. The house was too small for a family of six, but we had already sold our home is Tucson. I bought it anyway with the plan of fixing it up.”
“Jack bough it because it was a good price,” said Klaire, who is the principal at Minden Elementary School. “The family moved up here sight unseen, and there was nothing but the house – no fixtures, no yard. We could barely get in the door with the weeds, but we sucked in our breaths and went in.”
A lot has changed at the Pirtles house since that day, 17 years ago. And a lot has changed at Ruhenstroth. The streets are no longer dirt roads and houses are filling in the open-space gaps. There is a sense of community, where neighbors wave at neighbors, and friends watch out for each other.
Michelle and Steve Lewis moved to Ruhenstroth in 1991.
“Originally we bought five acres in Fish Springs,” said Michelle. “It was beautiful and we were eventually going to build. But we needed a place to live in the meantime. We’ve come to love Ruhenstroth. It is a wholesome neighborhood. It has a great location and it has lots of kids.”
“We ended up selling the land at Fish Springs,” said Steve. “We learned to really love the neighborhood. It’s a rural atmosphere with lots of space between houses. Plus it has a lot of attributes that contribute to a feeling of safety. And that’s what a neighborhood is all about, feeling safe.”
Recently Lewis, who is an educator for Cooperative Extension, prepared a study of neighborhoods in Douglas County. He said that Ruhenstroth has many of the characteristics that make community members feel safe.
“There is a strong relationship between safety and how well the neighbors know each other,” said Lewis. “Ruhenstroth residents that responded to the survey said that they know most of their neighbors well.”
Lewis also said that there is a high correlation between the perception of safety and being a victim of crime. Only 5 percent of Ruhenstroth residents (who responded to the survey) had been a victim of some type of crime in their neighborhood.
“This is the lowest percentage of any of the neighborhoods in the study,” said Lewis. “And on a scale of 1 to 10, respondents rated Ruhenstroth as an 8 in overall safety.”
Topping the list of factors that can lead to a sense of safety and well-being are a rural atmosphere, the caliber of paid and volunteer firefighter and the distance of the fire station from a residence.
Terry Hughes is the chief of the Ruhenstroth Volunteer Fire Department. He said that the department is a strong unit with over 20 volunteers. He also feels that the fire station is part of what identifies Ruhenstroth.
“We have one fund-raiser per year, this year it will be July 18, and it ends up being like a big block party with real strong support from the community,” said Hughes. He also stated that renovations to the station included adding a classroom that can be used by the community for a meeting room.
“It’s their (the community’s) building,” said Hughes. “It’s time for them to be able to use it.”
Ruhenstroth’s remote location south of Gardnerville also helps to make it a cohesive community. But the effects of the location generate both positive and negative comments.
“Within 5 minutes we can be at the end of Palomino on a dirt road with all of the mountains in front of us. We’re right across the road from the river with swimming and fishing, and we’re a few minutes closer to Topaz than most people. We’re water people, and Topaz is like our second home,” said Hughes. “But with three boys in baseball, it gets hectic. We can live with that though because of everything else that is favorable with Ruhenstroth. Plus, the way the town is growing we won’t be that far out pretty soon.”
“I can’t count the number of trips we made into town when our children were growing up,” said Pirtle. “But in two minutes we can be in the Pinenuts or on BLM land. We have fresh air and elbow room.”
“Sure, the distance from town can be a drawback,” said Lewis. “Back and forth with the kids can drive you crazy. But there is the trade off. No street lights – we can see the stars at night. Room for our kids, room for horses and other animals. No sidewalks. Because we live out of town, that’s what makes Ruhenstroth special.”
The Lewis’ are the parents of two boys. Hughes and his wife, April are the parents of three. Pirtle’s four children are grown and out of the house, but their grandchild often visits. It seems as though children are the common thread that binds the community.
“The kids that my boys like to get together with go to the river to go fishing, they play in the hills. With the openness there are so many good things for kids to do,” said Michelle.
“This neighborhood is family oriented with a lot of kids,” said Hughes. “And this is a great place to raise kids.”
“The kids are the conduit that brings the community together,” said Steve Lewis. “They go out and play, they meet people. They are the ones that turn our neighbors into friends and our houses into a neighborhood.”
Jack Pirtle: “I can’t think of another place in the valley I’d rather live. Klaire and I are happier than we’ve ever been.”
Michelle Lewis: “We’re like a neighborhood, but out in the country. It’s family.”
Terry Hughes: “For being a little community, it’s just perfect. There really isn’t anything I don’t like about Ruhenstroth. It grows on you.”
Steve Lewis: “There is a connectivity between neighbors. And the better you know your neighbors the safer you feel. Ruhenstroth is safe, it’s close knit, it’s home.”
Klaire Pirtle: “At first it was lonely. I wanted to clap when the phone rang. But now, when we ask ourselves where we want to be in our golden years, we realize how much we love it here.”