Remembering Johnson Lane’s namesakes |

Remembering Johnson Lane’s namesakes

In this edition of the Journal, I want to talk about how our little paradise came about. Most of the area was a mix of government land and cattle ranches. Through the decades the parcels of the ranches changed hands many times.

Our namesake is one Hans Johnson, who “came to the Valley in 1889 from Schleswig-Holstien.” According to an article in The Record-Courier, in 1980 he had Danish Friends at Lake Tahoe and spent three summers working in the Tallac area.

“Hans Johnson’s first wife died in childbirth and when one of her sisters came to take care of the baby, he married her.” In 1914, Hans bought a ranch of his own which would have been located at the southwest corner of what is now Johnson Lane and 395. Hans Johnson rented various farms and ranches, baled hay throughout the valley, worked at Walley’s Hot Springs and made milk runs for the Douglas County Creamery. I was also able to find were he was appointed as the Game Warden for the various gun clubs in the valley. A search of the archives reveals many entries for Hans or his sons. From what I have been able to gather the Johnson ranch ended where Heybourne meets Johnson Lane. At that time, it was just the driveway to Hans ranch. Our settlement didn’t come until much later when the government opened up the land for homesteads or purchase.

In the summer of 1950, Harry and Vivian “Dot” (Foley) Clapham became one of the first families to settle in what is now Johnson Lane. There were no phones, some electricity and no real streets only dirt roads. The Claphams built a house on an unnamed dirt road where Downs Street existed on 160 acres they purchased. Harry and Vivian homesteaded an additional 160 acres. Since homesteading required the owner to grow a crop, Harry and Vivian grew strawberries, peanuts, cantaloupe and watermelon. Additionally, Harry started up his own company, Carson Valley Concrete Products. Many homes in the Valley were built out of the cinder blocks from the business. Harry was also a teamster and worked on constructing Highway 50. Randy Slater, former in-law of Harry Clapham, tells me that Harry was the “Town Man” or deputy for Minden. His duties included doing fire watch, checking doors, settling any bar fights and according to one post in a 1957 newspaper picking up leaves at the curb. Harry had to provide his own patrol car which was a red 1947 Pontiac. Since Harry’s favorite color was red, so were all his vehicles.

According to Randy Slater, Harry didn’t intend on subdividing the property but “the Lake was booming and there was a need for affordable land.” In a 1980 Johnson Lane Journal by Penny Maple, Harry cut what would become Johnson Lane in 1951. It began at the cattle guard (remember this cattle guard) at Heybourne and Johnson Lane. The original road wasn’t straight and went around the area in different directions. Harry used his tractor and a drag to bring the road up along its current route and straighten Vicky to intersect the new Johnson Lane. In March 1960, Clapham subdivided the property into Idle Acres and it is located were Judy, Dennis and the initial part of Vicky begins. The names of the streets came from their children or grandchildren. Harry named the subdivision “Idle Acres” and according to the archives the county considered it an improvement district. In August 1961 a group of residents petitioned the county to pave the roads so telephone lines and mail service could begin. Although the county was deeded the roadway earlier, it wasn’t until 1964 that they actually accepted the road and began regular maintenance. The county was getting a lot of grief from the residents and the school district, who wanted to extend the school bus stops up into the subdivisions.

During 1961 and 1962 Harry sought approval for a trailer overlay in Idle Acres. In the beginning the planning commission approved the request but it was opposed by numerous residents in the area. On Feb. 8, 1962, it is reported that county commissioners denied the request. Harry continued to seek improvements in the area. In 1972 he sought permission to develop parcels for a fire station, post office and grocery store. By 1973 the request was approved but by 1974 the local volunteer fire department had not accepted the parcel Harry had offered up for the fire station. I couldn’t find any reference to the post office but it obviously never happened.

Harry Robert Clapham was certainly the pioneer who had a vision for “Banana Flats.” In her tribute to Harry in 1981 Maple quotes homesteader Andy Hofer “He started this place out here. I don’t think the place would have built up the way it has if it hadn’t been for him. He settled this place. We used to make blocks together. If you had a problem on machinery, tractors, well pumps or anything like that you could always count on Harry.” Harry also served in the Army during WWII. He served in Europe earning the Good Conduct Medal, Victory Medal, American Theatre Area Medal, and European-African-Middle Eastern Area Medal.

I often wonder if he could see the area today what he would think. I imagine he might be proud of his vision but also a bit disappointed because he began Idle acres as a place for affordable housing. Unfortunately, with the prices of a bare acre approaching $200k it is far from affordable today.

One last follow-up. In my discussions with Randy Slater and Bob Ellison I was able to confirm that the term Banana Flats originated with Bill Godecke, who was the postmaster at the time. Remember the cattle guard above? Well that location was central to the area. It was the meeting point, had an artesian well (that someone blew up with a stick of dynamite hoping to improve the flow, which is another story) and it was the location for the general delivery mailboxes. Postmaster Godecke would often refer to the area as Banana Flats or Banana belt. In The Record-Courier on Dec. 19, 1968, it states “In the area popularly known as Banana Flats – so nicknamed because winter temperatures are said to be higher than the balance of the Valley.”

A huge thank you goes out to both Randy Slater and Bob Ellison. They have given me much to write about and will hopefully continue to sit with me and share their experiences here in Banana Flats. I want to give another thank-you to all who have read the past articles and given me positive feedback and motivation to continue along this path. It helps keep me motivated to learn more and share it.

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