The Long Reach of Memory

I was on Facebook the other day, scrolling past political arguments, pictures of cute dogs, homes being made ready for the holidays. It’s funny how you can be brought up short, suddenly frozen in the moment by an image from your past.

It was a photo of a barn in Washoe Valley not far from where I had grown up in Reno. The barn was red, not an uncommon color, the steeply pitched roofline common for the area’s barns which were designed to hold bales of hay thru the winter. It’s nestled up against the mountains and set off by striking gold leafed trees, made even more pronounced by the early dusting of snow. A small fence can be seen in the foreground. (Photo by Sharon Voss, from Facebook group “Only in Nevada”)

I had seen similar barns on a recent vacation in central Virginia. Similar, but not the same. A beautiful horse barn on the Montpelier mansion property had caught my attention and we stopped to get a few pictures of it and the unusual green color of the siding. The barn shape reminded me of buildings I had seen out West, not at all like the many dairy barns we have here in Loudoun County. 

Later that day we found our way to the 1804 Inn at Barboursville Vineyards, our home base for the weekend as we explored the area and vineyards near Charlottesville VA. As we settled in, the afternoon sun was spectacular on the trees and really set off the red siding of the farm equipment structure across the lawn from us. Trees with brilliant tones of gold and orange contrasted with dark limbs. A white fence lead the eye through the idyllic composition. Again, the scene was oddly familiar. 


My stepmother Dorathy and my Dad both passed away within weeks of one another in 2007. He was 81 and had slowly succumbed to the effects of Alzheimer’s. She had predeceased him by a mere three weeks, a victim of respiratory failure. She would have been 97 this year on the 18th of November. We flew out for their memorial service, and later gathered with my brothers and their wives to go through what remained of my folks’ belongings at the home they had lived in for 38 years. I brought back a painting of the Sierra Nevada mountains that I had grown up enjoying. As a young artist it had been a goal of mine to be able to paint as well. There were other paintings of their’s but those must must have gone into storage. 

When I saw the photo on Facebook of the Washoe Valley barn, it all fell into place. The barns we had seen on our recent vacation, and then the photo of the Nevada barn, all reminded me of a painting which had hung in my parents’ home for years. A red barn. Set against the mountains. Trees in autumn, a rail fence. Though strangely enough, a lake curiously close to the barn reflecting the scene. 

And as I remembered it all, the painting had been done by Maxine Peters, my stepmother’s sister, of a red barn in Washoe Valley back in the 1960s. She loved the site but had painted it with Washoe Lake (or perhaps a pond) coming right up to the barn in order to maximize the color in the scene. An artist’s vision had altered the landscape to create something that only existed in her mind, but which had lived on for years in our home. She had some repute as a genre painter, exhibiting at local galleries and art shows, and we were quite proud to have one of her paintings hanging in the living room. 

Dad and Dorathy at the Lake cabin

They are a tricky thing, memories. There are times when I feel I have completely forgotten everything that happened before last week. When I talk with my 92-year-old mother, I am always surprised at how much she can still recall of her childhood. I’ve relied on photos of people and events to jog my memory, and that only recently. I’ve become the family photographer and archivist in part to ward off the eventual dimming of memory. We often say in jest, “if I didn’t take a picture, it didn’t happen.” Some truth to that, though as I found out this week, it can be surprising how long the reach of memory can be.

Celebrating 100 Years of Rodeo

Last summer we flew out to Las Vegas and drove out to visit the Grand Canyon. On February 26, 2019, the Grand Canyon National Park celebrated 100 years since it’s designation as a national park with events and activities scheduled all year long. When I discovered this year that 2019 was also the centennial of the Reno Rodeo, I nearly had a heart attack. We could have celebrated two centennials in one year! It wasn’t until this year, long after we had canceled plans to visit Reno, that I found an online article outlining last year’s events for the centennial of the Reno Rodeo.

It was over the July 4th weekend, July 3-5, 1919 that local promoters had scheduled the first Reno Round-up. The community celebration was led by the Commercial Club at the time, which merged with the Reno Business League in 1919 to form the Reno Chamber of Commerce. 

Nevada Round-up, from The Yerington Times, Yerington NV 1919

In 1937 the Reno Rodeo and Livestock Association was formed to manage the event. In 1987, they celebrated their 50th anniversary and reorganized as the Reno Rodeo Association. Reno Rodeo Association has led this signature event which has grown into a 10-day romp entertaining 140,000 fans each year. https://renorodeo.com/about/history/

But going back to the beginning of it all, The Silver State newspaper of Winnemucca, NV published an article in July of 1919 in which they mentioned that the Round-up would “mark the first representative gathering of Wild West riders, buckaroos and range experts since the beginning of the war nearly five years ago.” 

The first rodeo advertised $5000 in prize money. During last year’s rodeo, June 21 thru June 29, contestants were expecting to  compete for their chance at nearly $500,000 in prize money. Wow. That’s some growth!

The annual rodeo was a major event when I grew up in Reno. My pals and I attended as much for the adjacent carnival as we did to watch the bull riding and calf roping events. But it’s been decades since I’ve seen a rodeo in person. 

When I learned that last year was the centennial, I decided to create my own commemorative poster. That, and the hand painted frame to showcase my Nevada roots, became my most recent project.

A vintage frame, a silver dollar and two bucks in mercury dimes from my Dad’s estate, turquoise cabochons I cut back in my college years, red coral cabochons I found on Etsy along with cowhide from an outlet in Texas to serve as a backdrop for my state: all found there way into my mini memorial. An Ode to Cowboys!

I was given a vintage picture frame several years ago and have waited to find just the right project to use it on. I decided to go with a whimsical western-style frame decked out in red coral cabochons, silver to commemorate Nevada’s position as the Silver State, and several of the turquoise gemstones I’ve had stashed away in a box for the past 40-some-odd years.

One of the outstanding features of Nevada, at least to those in the Northern part of the state, are the beautiful high-mountain waters of Lake Tahoe. Using another piece of turquoise to represent the lake, it is set on a cowhide background featuring the silhouette of Nevada.

The completed project will find it’s home in our guest bedroom along with a number of other graphics, books on the area, and memorabilia I’ve collected thru the years. I might have missed out on last year’s celebration, but I’ve at least got my own souvenir of the celebration, and it’s definitely one of a kind!

Home Means Nevada!

Looking Back At 50

Wooster High School Home of the Colts

June 4, 1970—It was a Thursday and the celebration that evening would be at the Centennial Coliseum, built in 1965 and the go-to venue for Reno’s large gatherings. Concerts, square dancing conventions, and high school graduations all made use of the Coliseum’s cavernous spaces.

But just a month before, on May 4 at Kent State in Ohio, the National Guard was called out to control student demonstrations. By the end of the day, four students were dead and nine others were wounded, marking the first time that students in the US had been killed during an anti-war rally. It was a shocking introduction to adulthood for us graduates.

Reno calls itself “The Biggest Little City in the World.” We might have been small, but by no means were we unaffected by events that were occurring at the end of the 60s. Looking back 50 years, I’m still surprised at what all we had seen, or participated in, during our years at Wooster High School. It’s as if our time in high school had been marked with confrontation and upheaval that we were too young to even recognize, though with lasting effects.

Summer of Love, dancing in the park. Image from Goldenstate.is

Express Yourself

Most of my graduating class entered school in the fall of 1967 not realizing the depth of change our country would soon embark upon. 1967 has been remembered as the “Summer of Love.” San Francisco, especially the Haight-Ashbury District, became the center of a special moment in time. Hippies and the 60’s provide plenty of material for retro parities today, and many of us look back on those embroidered bell bottoms, beaded necklaces and tie-dyed tshirts with a certain nostalgia now, I suppose. The love didn’t last long.

Our Junior Year—August 1968 the evening television was filled with video of protests in Chicago surrounding the Democratic Convention. Thousands of anti-war demonstrators took to the streets in what was to become a common occurrence. The next year, on October 15, 1969 the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam saw students from local high schools as well as the University of Nevada join thousands of others in cities across the US, many of us protesting for the first time.

Walking on the Moon

Our time in school was not just marked by protest or social upheaval. There were other events that drew us together, celebrating triumph and accomplishment. On July 20, 1969, the world watched as Neil Armstrong stepped out onto the moon, fulfilling a promise President Kennedy had made in 1961 to safely land an American on the surface of the moon before the end of the decade. To this day, I can’t think of that moment without hearing Sting and the Police singing, “Walking on the moon.”

Astronaut Neil A. Armstrong, Mission Commander, works at the Lunar Module (LM). Image taken at Tranquility Base during the Apollo 11 Mission. https://catalog.archives.gov/id/16685088

Draft Day

Perhaps the single greatest event of our high school years, at least for the men, occurred in December 1969. A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1 at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Dates and numbers were called out and posted on a large board. You can watch the CBS video on YouTube here. “Mayberry RFD” was preempted to show the lottery and I’m sure many of us would rather have been watching it. A Wooster graduate whose birthday fell on September 14, number 001, was the first draftee from Reno. (https://www.sss.gov/history-and-records/vietnam-lotteries/). Not compelling reality TV by today’s standards, but it certainly had our attention.

Earth Day, April 22, 1970

Though there was plenty to divide us, many of us were brought together when we participated in the first Earth Day. On April 22 protests, rallies, and activities across America helped to bring awareness to and spearhead change in environmental practices. The Earth day website notes that “By the end of 1970, the first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of other first of their kind environmental laws, including the National Environmental Education Act,  the Occupational Safety and Health Act, and the Clean Air Act.”

Having the voting age lowered to 18 by President Nixon in 1970 had huge repercussions. “To close his statement on the Voting Rights Act (of 1965) Amendments, RN turned back to the issue of the 18-year-old vote. Anticipating that the court test would rule the provision in question unconstitutional, President Nixon called for an immediate constitutional amendment lowering the voting age to 18. In July 1971, Congress passed the Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which set the minimum voting age for all Federal, State, and local elections at eighteen years of age.” Nixon Foundation

I’m not sure if there is one singular event or act that could summarize our three years in school. Certainly the deaths of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert Kennedy shocked all of us and brought an awareness to politics and the civil rights movement that had not existed in our young lives before then. Weekends spent attending, or playing in football games, high school dances, first cars and rock concerts are seemingly shared by every graduating class, each generation. But missing out on your prom and graduation ceremony this year? Well I think that’s one that will go down in the books.

From Farmwell to Ashburn Farm

A year ago we sold our home and moved out to Loudoun County. As we have begun to learn more about our new community, I was surprised to learn that I had a connection to the area that stretched back more than a century.

Nevada, my home state, was admitted to the Union in 1864. Our first Senator from Nevada, William Morris Stewart, served for nearly thirty years and, nearing the end of his time in Congress and heeding the advice of his physician to take some time in the country, bought a dairy farm in Farmwell, Virginia. So where is this Farmwell today? For the answer to that, we need to go back nearly 124 years.

By the 1980s, dairy farms in Ashburn were being replaced by subdivisions.

When we moved out to Ashburn Farm last year, I was overwhelmed at how much the area had been developed. Ashburn, Ashburn Village, Ashburn Farm, Broadlands, Belmont: the development had vastly overtaken the dairy and turf farms I remembered from the 1990s when, for a time, I had lived in Sterling.

Senator Stewart Buys a Virginia Farm

Nevada Senator William Morris Stewart (from his biography)

Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada has bought a fine farm in Virginia, not far from Washington. The senator is largely interested in breeding fine horses, and in order to more fully carry out his plans he has purchased a fine old property near Farmville, VA. The farm consists of 586 acres of splendld land in the vicinity of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and is said to be fully equal to the Kentucky Blue Grass Region for stock raising.” November 25, 1895 The Evening Times

A Local Name Change

In the Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, in an announcement from a page of the paper dated May 5, 1896 we read: “at the request of Senator Stewart, who has bought a farm near Farmwell, Loudoun County, Virginia, the name of the post office at that place has been changed to Ashburn. It is said that mail for Farmwell was frequently delivered to Farmville.”

Much was written about the dairy farm over the several years he owned it. Glowing reviews of the state-of-the-art machinery for milking, separating, sterilizing and cooling, along with the cleanliness of the barns, were featured in local newspapers. The descriptive language verged on paid endorsement, if that were possible.

Again from The Evening Star, December 28, 1901, the following article trumpets:

PURE MILK FOR WASHINGTON

A Thousand Families to be Supplied With Ashburn Milk
2,000 Acre Milk Farm in Virginia

“Clean milk from clean cows, fed on clean food, drinking clean water, milked by clean men in clean barns, sent to Washington in clean cans and delivered to families in sealed bottles.”

Whew! Pretty hyperbolic language for a dairy farm!

It seems the existing farmhouse was also quite modern, boasting “an abundance of room, surrounded by spacious verandas which look out on green lawns, beyond which on all sides are rolling fields and woodland.” The Evening Star, June 4, 1900.

In a related article, the home was described as having “more bathrooms in it than most city mansions.” As the senator had a mansion in Dupont Circle (Stewart’s Castle, no longer standing), this was again high praise for the area.

Start the New Year with clean milk
Clean milk for 8 cents a quart

Speaking of milk production, the author goes on about the cleanliness of the operation, how the fresh milk was transported to the dairy via a small railroad system, where it was then separated, pasteurized, and bottled. “Every detail is expensive,” writes the author, “and the wonder is that the company should offer its milk at 8 cents a quart, the same as any other milk.”

It would seem that even with all the qualities of superior milk, the Ashburn Dairy Company couldn’t make a profit. In July 1903 Stewart sold his dairy on 14th Street in Washington, DC. For sometime the farm was used to raise stock. The following year, the dairy farm in Ashburn was sold to Judge James Yeomans. At the age of 77, the senator sold the farm at a loss, having purchased and invested over $140,00, selling for $30,000. 

Senator Stewart sells his Ashburn property, The Evening Star, June 4, 1904.

In a twist that would have sent today’s style magazines into a headspin, in 1903 the then 76-year-old widowed senator married a second time. After having seen a photograph of Mrs. May Agnes Cone, 44, Stewart invited her to be a guest at his country place, Ashburn Farm. Three months later, wedding bells. (The first Mrs. Stewart had died in an automobile accident in September 1902).

In looking back over his long and varied career, Senator Stewart writes in his 1908 memoirs, The Reminiscences of Senator William M. Stewart of Nevada,” of the many legal cases he took part in, fights won, laws passed. Nowhere does he mention his Ashburn dairy farm or the time spent in the Virginia countryside recovering his health. 

But one item he notes in passing, devoting barely eight pages to the subject, was his authorship of the Fifteenth Amendment, passed by Congress February 26, 1869, and ratified February 3, 1870. The Fifteenth Amendment granted African American men the right to vote. Rewriting a resolution offered to the Senate Judiciary Committee by Senator Henderson of Missouri ( No state shall deny or abridge the right of its citizens to vote or hold office, on account of race, color, or previous condition), Stewart offered his own reading:

“The right of citizens of the United States to vote or hold office, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

The final adopted language left out “or hold office.”

The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that continued to prevent African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Credit: https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/voting-rights-act

It’s a strange thing to be remembered for trying to bring clean milk to the citizens of Washington, DC and yet be forgotten for his efforts to ensure all citizens were represented thru their vote.

Farmwell? The name is memorialized as a one mile strip of road here in Ashburn, from Smith Switch Road to Ashburn Road. The three names for 625 to 640 (Waxpool Road, Farmwell Road, and Ashburn Farm Road) are certainly confusing!

Map of N. Eastern Virginia and Vacinity of Washington, 1862 Library of Congress
Image from “Map of N. Eastern Virginia and Vicinity of Washington, 1862” showing Farmwell. Library of Congress

Note: the Library of Congress website, Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov has a wealth of newspapers from across the US, dated 1789 to 1963 and fully searchable. Quotes and images are taken from their website.