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Close up of Valley’s historic barns

by Jo Rafferty

Eleven years ago Roger and Gail Teig came to Genoa and moved into the historic Van Sickle Station, with a barn that will be part of the Douglas County Historical Society’s historic barn tour and barbecue in May.

The couple, who originally relocated to the Lake Tahoe area from Monterey, Calif., found that although they missed that old salt air, this is the place to get over it.

“We were living at Lake Tahoe and everyone said you should go see Genoa,” said Gail Teig. “They sent us down here and we fell in love with it. We thought, ‘What are we doing? We’re supposed to be retired.’ So that’s kind of how we got to where we got.”

Teig stood inside the roomy old barn – two stories, 5,000-square-feet each – touching the pillars as she explained what she has learned about how it was put together more than a century and a half ago.

“These posts are about a foot by 8 to 10 inches (around),” she said, while standing on the upper level.

The barn is almost completely original, except for some support beams up high in the ceiling peak that may have been put there for insurance purposes. The roof has blown off and been replaced since the Teigs have lived there.

The expanse of the floor was made from a combination of old boards with trap door feeding holes leading downstairs. A barn owl circled the ceiling before escaping its intruders out a window. Teig walked through a trap door down some short wooden steps.

“You can see those beams upstairs,” Teig said, pointing out the pillars in the belly of the building. “Some of them come down here.”

Teig stood in the underground room, a labyrinth of stables. The floor is coated with age-old manure, the musty scent still hanging in the air. Support piers were 5-foot high blocks made of Genoa granite pieces cemented together, the sides about 4-feet wide. Stone foundation walls are on the lower level.

“We’re curious how much manure is down here, it could be a couple feet,” she said. “I think once we get this restored, this will be just incredible down here.”

The existing 600-acre ranch consists of two houses, a large hay shelter, several outdoor corrals and the barn. The “big house,” where the Teigs reside, was once a tavern and a blacksmith shop. They were built in 1851 by Henry Van Sickle and became the Van Sickle Station. The station had a two-story hotel that Roger Teig said was torn down in 1916.

“This is where they liveried Pony Express horses,” said Roger Teig. “The emigrants headed for gold fields in California. This was their last stop after crossing the desert. Henry Van Sickle repaired their wagons.

“It’s said that up to 600 teams of horses and oxen were liveried here a night. They were taking in $1,000 in gold coins a night. It was one of the first ranches that was established in the Valley in the early 1850s.”

By the 1940s, the ranch had fallen to disrepair.

“In 1944, Fritz Ruppel came from California. He had done restoration on California missions,” said Roger Teig.

Margaret and Fritz Ruppel restored the buildings, including connecting the tavern and blacksmith shop, converting it into the ranch home.

The barn is reportedly the oldest working barn in Nevada.

“The most interesting thing about it is it’s still structurally sound. It’s been in working condition for the last 160 years or so,” said Teig.

The barn’s history is sketchy.

“We heard one story that it was originally built in Virginia City in the 1850s,” said Teig. “Also we heard it was originally set on the east side of the road, but they found it was too swampy and moved it here.”

A recognizable trait of the barn are the supporting pillars.

“The bones of it are all tongue and groove,” said Gail Teig.

“No bolts, no nails, all peg and groove, with hand-hewn timbers,” said Roger Teig. “There’s a 40-foot beam in there as straight and true as the day it was cut. There are initials in some of the beams, probably from the 1800s.”

University of Nevada, Reno, barn experts told the Teigs that the barn’s joints – cross timbers cut to fit together without nails – were a trademark of a particular Pennsylvania Dutch architect.

The barn is on 12 acres that is on long-term lease to the Tahoe Ridge Winery & Marketplace. The winery produced the first wine pressed from grapes grown in Nevada in October 2005. Gail Teig said plans are in place to plant these cold-weather wine grape vines in front of the barn, along Foothill Road. A corral on the north end used by the Uhart family for their cattle will make way for a courtyard, where the barn blocks the Valley winds. The barn would house a tasting room and deli.

“We still have high hopes that this will be open as part of Tahoe Ridge Winery in the next few years,” said Gail Teig. “Then it can be open to the public.”

The Van Sickle Station barn is one of 10 on one of two barn tours that the Douglas County Historical Society has set for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 5. The Stetson tour includes the Holden, Scossa, Sozzi, Van Sickle and Trimmer barns. The Maverick tour includes the Anderson, Jacobs, Henningsen, Jubilee and Trimmer barns. The tours will culminate in a barbecue lunch hosted by the Douglas County Farm Bureau with live entertainment at Mormon Station State Historic Park. Tickets include admission to the Genoa Court House Museum and the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center. All proceeds benefit the historical society.

Tickets are $40 per person, and can be purchsed at the Carson Valley Museum & Cultural Center, 1477 Highway 395 in Gardnerville or the Tahoe Ridge Winery & Marketplace, 2285 Main St. in Genoa. For more information call 782-2555.

— Jo Rafferty can be reached at jrafferty@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.