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Walley’s history is long, colorful

by Linda Hiller

It’s hard to say who the first human was to set foot in the hot

mineral waters at what is now David Walley’s Resort, Hot Springs

and Spa, but it must have been an exhilarating discovery.

Perhaps the steam rising from the geothermally-heated waters on

a white winter day attracted the traveler from afar.

Surely the flocks of birds who had already come to know the place

rose in large, squawking clouds as the stranger approached.

Undoubtedly, when this spring was encountered, it must have became

a permanent resource for not only water warm enough to heat a

body to the bones, but for gathering abundant food and perhaps

some solace as well.

Since that time, the hot springs located a few miles south of

Genoa on Foothill Road has had a dynamic existence.

In 1860, David and Harriet Walley, former New Yorkers, discovered

the hot springs and at one point a tent was erected on site and

travelers were charged 50 cents for a bath.

In 1864, the Walleys received a land grant deed from President

Andrew Jackson and construction of the luxurious resort was in

full swing.

The resort, built around the many thermal pools, had a hotel with

40 bedrooms and 11 bathrooms, a livery stable, saloon and wine

cellar, a ballroom and beautiful flower and vegetable gardens.

A reputed $100,000 was to have been spent on the project, no small

amount of money since a good ranch at the time, with 800 acres

of land and buildings, could have been valued at $15,000.

Once called a “medicinal springs,” Walley’s was, early on, considered

an effective treatment for the cure of “rheumatic and scrofulous

affectations,” not to mention syphilis, dropsy, gout, Bright’s

disease of the kidneys, dispepsia and “hundreds” more diseases.

One writer in 1881 described Walley’s Hot Springs: “The location

is extremely pleasant, the scenery grand and the climate in summer

invigorating and healthful.”

Mark Twain and Ulysses S. Grant visited the resort during its

heyday and many a Comstock miner found a soak in the geothermal

waters a brief respite from the grind of underground mining in

Virginia City.

After David’s death in 1875, Harriet ran the resort, then called

Genoa Hot Springs. Following her death in 1896, Walley’s was sold

by heirs within the year to John and Richard Raycraft for $5,000.

For the next century, Walley’s changed hands approximately eight

times. Owners had visions for the resort as varied as their own

personalities.

In 1920, a fire destroyed many of the buildings and in 1935, the

hotel burned in another fire of unknown origin.

Ron James, Nevada state historic preservation officer said that

Walley’s has been altered too much over the years, attributable

to the fires, to be on the National Register of Historic Places.

“Although the site itself is old, there’s not a lot of original

fabric there,” he said. “It has had a dynamic existence, though.”

Notable owners over the years were Blake and Mary Lou Darling,

who bought Walley’s in 1952 and leased it to Ginny and Halvor

Smedsrud, who operated a renowned gourmet restaurant, the Bonanza

Inn.

In 1958, and Helen Johnson bought the resort and continued to

offer fine dining.

In 1962, trial hydro-thermal power holes were drilled and the

water was measured at a high of 181 degrees.

In 1979 Mike Filing bought the resort and employed Carson Valley

native Howard Godecke as his project manager.

Godecke, 75, said he recalls his mother, Ester, who was born in

1897, speaking of going to Walley’s Hot Springs with friends.

“My mother used to tell of how fun it was to go there to swim

and splash,” he said. “It was a nice place to go in the Carson

Valley and it was free.”

Another Valley native, Lois (Dangberg) Colburn, 66, remembered

taking preschool swimming lessons at Walley’s with her younger

siblings.

“They had an old tin shed near the pool and they’d fill the pool

with water from the springs – so hot we couldn’t stand it,” she

said.

Even though the water was allowed to cool, swimming lessons were

taxing for little energetic bodies, Colburn recalled.

“The hot water wore us out in a hurry,” she said.

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