Historians go back in time to rewrite name of this old house
June 17, 2005
One of Carson City’s grand dames now has a new name and a more accurate record of her past, thanks to some intrepid investigative work by local historians.
Prevailing folklore has always insisted that the Roberts House on North Carson Street had been cut into four sections and moved from Washoe City to Carson City aboard a Virginia & Truckee Railroad car in 1873.
Historian Jack Gibson of the Nevada State Museum didn’t buy it.
“Those tunnels were barely wide enough to fit a railroad coach, let alone a house,” he said. “Even cutting it in fourths. They had to come up with a better theory than that.”
Gibson said there was no evidence that the house had ever been cut into sections in the first place.
He enlisted the services of State Archivist Guy Rocha.
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Rocha, always one to enjoy a little myth-busting, dug deep into old newspapers and waybills listing all the freight that moved over the rails of the V&T during the era that Roberts supposedly had his home rolled into town piece-by-piece on the world’s most crooked short line.
While he found lots of orders tracking mining equipment, he found no evidence of any houses having ridden the storied rails.
“In those days they moved houses on rollers made of logs, pulled by teams of horses,” Gibson says. “There’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have done the same thing with the Roberts House. It was a pretty common practice. Some of the houses were moved down to Carson City in that very way.”
Another interesting detail soon surfaced. While a 1973 Historic American Building Survey put the construction of Roberts’ home at 1859 (before the existence of Washoe City), Rocha found documents that put the building of the structure closer to 1863 with yet another new detail emerging – Roberts didn’t even build the house.
It was constructed by a man named Solomon W. Foreman.
The Roberts House was actually the Foreman House. Or, to compromise, the Foreman-Roberts House.
“Roberts was the one who actually moved it from Washoe City to Carson City in 1874 and lived in it the longest,” says Rocha. “But there’s just no reason to believe he had it moved by railcar.”
Mella Harmon, curator of history at the Nevada Historical Society, filed an amendment with the National Register of Historic Places detailing the new information.
“It just goes to show how much myth and legend play a part in history,” says Rocha, who says the moving-by-railroad story probably came out as a secondhand tale told late in life from a Roberts family member.
Rocha blames the 1973 HABS survey for doing a “quick and dirty job” verifying the facts.
The James D. Roberts House is now officially known as the Foreman-Roberts House, and while the name has changed, the monthly teas haven’t.
– Contact reporter Peter Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1215.