History of The Parish House (1876)

aka: The Old Catholic Rectory

Virginia City, Nevada

National Registry of Historic Places  NRHP #93000688

The Real 19th Century Owners
The True Story About Catholic Rectory Use

Location of Western Historic Radio Museum from 1994 to 2012

by: Henry Rogers (owner of the Parish House from 1993 to 2014)

 

drawing left: "Parish House - Virginia City" by Thelma Davis Calhoun

19th Century History

Goodwin Jones - Before there was a Parish House, there was an empty property lot on the south-east corner of Taylor Street and F Street. The lot was owned by W. S. Hobart, famous lumber and water owner-businessman of the Sierra. Hobart had supplied the water system for Virginia City in 1873. In 1874, he split a property lot he owned in Virginia City and gave the half-lots as Christmas presents to his two sisters. In 1876, Goodwin Jones (born 1840,) who was married to Hobart's sister, Martha, built his house on his wife's (half) lot. Jones was the Chief Engineer for the Caledonia Mine, smallest of the original Comstock mines.

 

photo right: This is an enlargement of a section of a larger photo (located at the Delta Saloon in Virginia City) that shows St. Mary's Catholic Church still under reconstruction after the Oct. 1875 fire. Note that St. Mary's has a roof but not a complete steeple. This was the case only for the month of October, 1876. In the center of the photo, the Parish House can be seen fully built thus proving that it was built after Oct. 1875's fire but before Oct. 1876.

1878house1.jpg (17280 bytes)
 

Trained as an engineer, Jones decided to incorporate several unusual ideas into the house. The 200 gallon water tank located in the attic that was a fire fighting device has piping to all ceiling kerosene lamp fixtures. A trigger device allowed dowsing the flames if a fire started at or near the lamps and kerosene.* Mining timbers mounted on brick piers support the center of the house. Jones had the house built in the then popular Italianate style with tall windows and a fairly flat roof. Other unusual features include external clapboard siding that is entirely redwood and all external trim is also redwood. All framing structure is built with rough-cut fir. The front parlor has an elaborate running plaster cornice. The hall is given a similar cornice though not as elaborate. Double doors allowed a wide access through the front entrance. The single brick flue for venting the wood-burning heating allowed for five wood stoves which included a basement stove, a back parlor stove, the kitchen stove and two upstairs stoves. There are two sets of pocket doors, one set divides the down-stairs parlor from the back dining room while the other set divides the upstairs setting room from the main bedroom. Within a couple of years, Martha's sister (Mary) gave her half-lot to her sister and the property became a complete lot, (Lot 1.) The Jones' had two sons, Walter and George. In 1880, the boys got into some gray paint found in the basement. Walter painted his initials (W.J.) and date on the basement stairs and "Jones Bros." over the basement door. Many other "signs" and "tic-tac-toe" paintings are throughout the basement (see photo below.) It seems likely that Jones had used the gray paint for the house. Initially, it appears that the house might not have been painted at all but, probably by 1880, it had been painted gray. There is also other evidence that indicates that the house's original (first) painted color was gray.


Photo left and enlargement right:  This is a stereo-photo of the Parish House when it was owned by Goodwin Jones. The image is from a stereo-view card by Carlton E. Watkins, (Episcopal Church, Virginia City - #4183.) Watkins photographed Virginia City sites between 1875 and 1880. Of particular interest is the board-fence down Taylor Street which is topped with elaborate finials every so often. Note that the house appears to be not painted.  See photos below same angle taken in 1936.

1878house.jpg (9521 bytes)


photo above: The 200 gallon water (probably) tank. It's possible that this tank may have been some sort of fire prevention apparatus that was filled with water. After all, Goodwin Jones was a mining engineer and Virginia City was recovering for the devastation of the 1875 fire when the house was built. He may have designed this contraption and had it installed in the attic. Since the most likely source of a fire would be from the kerosene lamps the routing of the tank output pipes to the various ceiling lamps would make sense. There probably was some sort of trigger device at each lamp that is now missing - along with all the original ceiling lamps! The large pipe is for filling the tank from downstairs in the kitchen using a hand pump. How the "pumper" knew when the tank was full is a mystery. Maybe one of the Jones' boys stood watch in the attic and yelled down when the tank was full.
 An 1880 article ran in the Territorial Enterprise that told of the famous "Pie Theft from the Jones' House."  The article related that the Jones had noticed  two pies had been stolen from their pantry. An inspection of the lock on the outside basement door revealed that it had been tampered with to gain entry into the basement and then up the stairs into the pantry. Jones had a new lock installed but the next morning noted that it too had been tampered with. He hired a guard for the next evening. The guard surprised the "pie thief" in the act of attempting another break-in and gave chase, firing a pistol near the corner of Washington and F Street, causing the "thief" to drop his pry-bar as he escaped, jumping a fence down F Street. The article concludes with the Virginia City Police stating that the "prize evidence" was to be put into their "collection" of "crook's tools."  Goodwin Jones was a longtime resident of the Comstock having arrived here in the 1860s but, like most of the mine owners and mining engineers, the ultimate goal was to make enough money to afford the move to San Francisco. The Jones' family lived in the house until 1884, then moving to San Francisco. Martha Jones and the children moved to San Francisco ahead of Goodwin, who apparently joined them after he had sold the house to Andrew Patterson in 1884.
*At the time I first wrote up the Parish House History in 1993 I thought this tank was for kerosene since the pipes went to each ceiling lamp fixture. In talking to various kerosene lamp experts, none of them had ever heard of a ceiling lamp that had a font that could be filled from pipe from a tank source in the attic. Also, the danger of storing 200 gal. of kerosene in an attic would have certainly been known to a mining engineer like Jones.


photo above:
"W.J. APR 20 1880" - Walter Jones' handiwork on the basement stair frame. There are many more "x" and "o" marks from "tic-tac-toe" games are all over the basement floor joists.  More than likely the children got into the paint that was used to paint the house exterior. Original house color was gray although Jones actually didn't paint the house until 1879-80.

 



photo above: Robert Patterson ca. 1875

Andrew and Robert Patterson - Goodwin Jones sold the house to Andrew Patterson, one of the twin brothers, Andrew and Robert Patterson. Andrew had owned a restaurant called "The Georgia" in Macon, Georgia. During the Civil War he invested heavily in Confederate currency which left him bankrupt at the end of the war. His brother, Robert, born in 1830, had come to California with the "49ers" (1849) and worked many of the mining camps in the Sierra. He eventually moved on to Virginia City where he prospered. Andrew came to live with Robert's family in the early 1880s. Andrew bought the Jones' house in 1884 for $600 in gold coin. Within 11 months he had sold the house for $1 to his brother, Robert and the two families lived together until Andrew's death in 1887. Andrew could not be buried immediately because the harsh winter weather had frozen the ground. The actual location for the storage of Andrew's body has three commonly heard variations. First was the Ice House south of town, then some say Andrew was kept in a cold storage room in the house and finally, some say his body was kept in the shed in the backyard. Within two months, Andrew was buried in Carson City.

Robert Patterson owned the Club Rooms and the Saloon located at the International Hotel. He was a prominent figure in Virginia City business in the late nineteenth century. Patterson also acquired the adjacent lot (Lot 2) in the early 1890s. Robert had married Ellie Purcell Calhoun in 1874. The photographs show the well-attired Robert and Ellie shortly after their wedding and is the work of Virginia City photographers "Noe & Lee." The couple led a "high society" life in Virginia City, attending the theatre and helping with civic projects and charity work.  The Patterson's equipped the Parish House with a flush toilet while residing here. The couple also owned another house in Carson City that they used to escape the harsh winters of Virginia City. Ellie Patterson was known for raising canaries.



photo above: Ellie Patterson ca. 1875

Patterson (cont.) - When Robert died suddenly of pneumonia in 1893, a business partner looted Robert's safe and left town leaving Ellie to settle the outstanding bills. She continued to keep the Virginia City house for several more years but eventually sold it to the wife of  Dr. Thomas McDonald in 1897 and took up full-time residence in Carson City.

 

Dr. Thomas McDonald - Dr. McDonald's family lived here from 1897 up to 1901. The house was purchased by Dr. McDonald's wife for a small sum in gold. Dr. McDonald and his family moved in 1901, then selling the property to local merchant, John McGrath Sr., whose grocery business was located on C Street. Dr. McDonald himself did not survive much longer. He died in 1907 and is buried in Virginia City.


 

photo left: St. Paul's taken by Robert Kerrigan in May 1936. This is almost the same angle that Watkins shot from in the late 1870s. It's interesting that the picket fence is still standing in front of the house and some of the finials are still in place on the side. Also, the street level is much higher in 1936 (when compared to the 1870s photo) and is almost up to the bottom of the pickets. Note that the house has been wired for electricity. Also, note that the house appears to have at some time been given a coat of paint, although it was very weathered by 1936.

photo above: Close-up of the fence and side of the house in 1936

20th Century History

 

John McGrath, whose grocery-mercantile store was located close to the Washoe Club saloon, was a successful merchant in Virginia City. He was well-known and was well-liked. He initially worked in a store in Virginia City before becoming partners with a fellow businessman. Eventually, McGrath was able to buy the store and become sole-owner. His store featured a set of ore-cart tracks from the front boardwalk into the store to facilitate the loading and unloading merchandise. McGrath bought the house on the corner of F Street and Taylor Street in 1901. It was considered a "grand house" at that time. McGrath continued to be successful and eventually owned all four F Street lots which constitute the entire block between Washington Street and Taylor Street. The large McGrath family resided in the same house for nearly 30 years before John Sr. succumbed to a liver disease, (June 1929.) His daughter, Jane (McGrath) Boyle inherited the large house (which by this time was beginning to show its age.) Jane Boyle and her husband had a successful accounting business in Reno and didn't want to live in Virginia City. Eventually, in 1935, the Boyles gave the house (and Lot 1 & 2), to the Catholic Bishop of Reno, Thomas Gorman.

 

 

 

 

photo left: John McGrath - from History of Nevada



photo above:
The Parish House as it looked in the 1940s. Note that, as mentioned elsewhere in this history, the Parish House was originally painted gray. Thelma Davis Calhoon, who lived in the Parish House from 1944-45, stated that, "what paint was left on the house was gray." The belief that the original color was vanilla stems from most VC residents only remembering back to the 1950s when the Catholic Church did paint the Parish House a vanilla-cream color.

Bishop Thomas Gorman and the Catholic Church - Bishop Gorman first used the house as a part-time rectory and also as a place to hold meetings for various clubs associated with the church. The Boyles continued to pay the property taxes. Later, in 1939, Rt. Rev. Harrigan had a new set of papers drawn up - perhaps trying to establish that the Catholic Church owned the house - however Bishop Gorman continued to be listed as co-owner and continued to pay the property taxes. There is ample evidence that the house was rented to parishioners at various times.

From 1944 through 1945, famous Nevada artist, Thelma Davis Calhoun lived in the house (which she rented from the church.) Thelma let the Dollie Sisters spend a night in the house when their vaudeville act was stranded in Virginia City in 1944. Thelma was in the process of moving to Carson City when VJ Day happened. Thelma remembered that the house "didn't have any paint left on it, or it might have been gray." In 1948, the Catholic Church acquired full ownership and property tax records cease. The house was sometimes rented out after that but more often was used just for church offices and a sometimes Sunday school.

In the late fifties, the house was called "St. Mary's Ministry" and was probably a combination of offices and rectory for use by a group of Cistercian monks headed by Father Robert Jelliffe, founder of the Damascus Foundation and controversial "modernizer" of St Mary's in the Mountains Catholic Church. Cistercians don't believe in an ornate church and Father Jelliffe removed much of the interior decorations of St. Mary's. Although some of the decor was scattered around town and stored by various people over the years, Father Joseph (who set up the St. Mary's Western Catholicism Museum in St. Mary's basement) found much of the decor had been actually walled-up in a basement catacomb in the west-front section of St. Mary's basement. These pieces (and others) were used in the 2009 restoration of St. Mary's.

After Father Meineke's death in 1974, the Catholic Bishop of Reno decided that the church didn't really want the expense of maintaining the Parish House and that it should be sold. There was an attempt by local (Virginia City) parishioners to convince the church officials to restore the Parish House instead of proceeding with the sale. The proposed renovation work was to be performed by volunteers and the cost of materials was estimated at $10,000, at the time (1976.) The Bishop of Reno decided that selling the Parish House would allow the church to buy a smaller Rectory house on D Street that would be easier to maintain. The Catholic Church (the Catholic Bishop of Reno, Norman F. McFarland) decided to sell the Parish House in January 1977. The proposed selling price was $44,000 however it is doubtful this was the actual selling price. The Parish House was purchased by George Kolodziej and his wife in 1977.

1955house.jpg (22092 bytes)
photo above:
 This is an enlargement of a portion of a Kelso photo of St. Mary's in the Mountains Catholic Church that happened to also include the Parish House in the background. The photo is dated June 1955 and shows a placard over the center bay window that states, "Sunday School." This photo is probably the earliest showing the cream color scheme that the house has had since the 1950s.

 

photo above: This photo is from the late fifties or early sixties and shows the Parish House when it was "St. Mary's Ministries." Note the changes from the Kelso photo to the left. In a very short time the addition of modern signage under the top bay windows and the bell mounted on the portico with the modern multiple "Cross Motif" for the mounting show that the Cistersian Monks had made exterior changes to the house. The interior changes are difficult to assign to any particular resident during the house's ownership by the Catholic Church. It is likely that the linoleum floor covering was installed by the church in the forties. An unprofessional ceiling repair upstairs in the setting room may have also been work done by the church.



photo above: This photo was taken at the same time as the photo to the left and shows more detail of the "Cross Motif" structure of the bell mounting on the portico. Also, note the small sign mounted on the side of the house showing directions to "St. Mary's Museum." It is unknown where this particular sign is directing the viewer.

Photo Left:  This is a rather out of focus snap-shot shown to the left that was taken in 1978 just after the Catholic Church sold the Parish House. The appearance of a small house next door is a camera optical illusion. Close examination reveals that the combination of a shadow on the fence and then snow on the porch roof makes the house on G Street appear much closer than it really is. The Parish House when owned by the Kolodziejs at the time.   

Various Owners from 1977 to 1993 - The Kolodziejs, who purchased the Parish House from the Catholic Church (Bishop of Reno) in 1977, had planned to operate an antique shop out of the house. However, the Kolodziejs only owned the house from 1977 to 1978. Apparently, the Kolodziejs had a tempestuous relationship that ended abruptly in a fusillade upon the stairs inside the house. George K. survived the onslaught but the house was afterward put on the market. In 1978, the Parish House was purchased by three different families together, the Newmans, the Greckos and Anita Furby. Most of the interior restoration, such as ceiling repairs, roof repairs, wall papering, etc., was done by these individuals. When the exterior of the house was painted white with dark blue trim a conflict between these owners and some of the Catholic residents of Virginia City developed that ended with the Newmans, Greckos and Furby selling the house (in 1979) to Robert Langman of Reno. Langman repainted the house to a vanilla-cream color that had been the house's color since the 1950s (original 19th century color was gray) which seemed to placate the VC residents. Langman also added a garage and south-side sunroom to the property. Fortunately, the garish sunroom addition is mostly hidden from the front view by the two large cedar trees planted on the west-side of the addition (see photos below.) Health issues due to the high altitude forced Langman to sell the house in 1987. Langman sold the house to Ken Foose Jr. who did an upstairs bathroom renovation. Ken Foose Jr. claimed to be a herpetologist and owned many snakes and other types of reptiles (which were kept in the basement in glassed cages.) For a time, he also had a Reptile Museum in Virginia City during the late-1980s or early 1990s located on C Street. Foose sold the house to Henry and Sharon Rogers in January 1993. 

Henry & Sharon Rogers - 1993 to 2014 - Shortly after our purchase, in 1993, we did all of the research on the house's history and had it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places, late in 1993 (NRHP #93000688 - Parish House.) In order to keep track of the history and document-preserve it, we created this webpage in 2003. The Parish House was the location of the Western Historic Radio Museum, open to the public from 1994 until 2012. We rebuilt the basement foundation as there was substantial damage to the NW corner due to water ingression. We added a ceiling to the basement and built our own display cases to custom-fit into the area. At the peak of operation, we had about 200 different types of radio apparatus on display including a complete 1912 Wireless Station, the AM Broadcast transmitter for Lake Tahoe radio station KOWL, over 150 photographs of radio personalities, besides literally hundreds of items of radio memorabilia going back to before 1900. The Western Historic Radio Museum won the "Doc Herrold Award" for 2001 from the California Historical Radio Society for our role in the preservation of radio history.

21th Century History

Rogers cont. - We (Rogers) continued to live in the Parish House and operate the Western Historic Radio Museum as the 21st century began. Even though the Parish House is over 130 years old, it is a sound structure that was built with high quality materials that have been well preserved by Nevada's usually dry climate. We were the thirteenth owners of the Parish House and were the third longest residents. The Catholic Church/Bishop Gorman et al were owners for 42 years, John McGrath was an owner for 28 years and then us, at 21 years. Robert Patterson's widow, Ellie Patterson was the fourth longest resident from 1884 to 1897, for 13 years, though she may have also resided at their Carson City house from time to time. All other owners were residents for less than 10 years.   >>>

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photo above: Winter 2005
 

>>>  By 2012, we were ready to retire and closed the Western Historic Radio Museum in October 2012. We moved to Dayton, Nevada and slowly moved out of the Parish House over the course of the next year or so. The Parish House was essentially "unlived in" after late-Nov. 2012 although it couldn't really have been called vacant since there was so much stuff that still needed to be moved out. All radios and museum items were moved to Dayton through 2012-13. In the summer of 2013, Glenn Praiss expressed an interest to buy the Parish House and, as of March 2014, Glenn became the fourteenth owner of the Parish House.

photo above: Summer 1999

Glenn Praiss - As of March 1, 2014, the Parish House has a new owner, Glenn Praiss, who also owns property in Goldfield, NV, Austin, NV and Belmont, NV. By 2016, Glenn has done extensive work to the kitchen and the downstairs parlors to return their appearance to something more like the nineteenth century. Glenn has also repainted some of the front and south side exteriors of the house. Glenn is well-known for his unique restorations that put his houses back to as original in appearance as possible - both inside and out.
About this Web-article - Update September 2016 - Since we were no longer the owners of the Parish House, I decided to take down this web-article from the Radio Boulevard-WHRM website in 2014. Since that time, there has been no interest from anyone in Virginia City (or actually even from the state of Nevada) to make use of the information that I have collected and used to create this web-article that details the various owners and some of the history of an important home in the state of Nevada. The Parish House is one of a handful of surviving 19th century "grand houses" in Virginia City and its history reveals that its former owners were important merchants, a mining engineer, a doctor and others that contributed to the commerce and success of the Comstock during its heyday. I've put the "Parish House -1876" back up on Radio Boulevard-WHRM for those who would be interested in reading about the various historic owners of a genuine Victorian-era home in Virginia City, Nevada. I hope those who enjoy this "sort of non-radio" diversion will let me know via e-mail. Thanks! H.Rogers Sept. 2016    for e-mail:  PARISH HOUSE ARTICLE
 

Henry Rogers © May 2003 - 2016

Additional Information added: May 2003, Aug. 2003, Sept. 2003, Feb. 2006, Apr.2007, June 2009, Sept.2009, June 2010, March 2014

Revised and edited with new photos:  Henry Rogers © June 2009-2016

Thanks to Alan Kabat, who is Robert Patterson's great-great grandson, for the Patterson family history and photos of Robert and Ellie Patterson

Web-article re-installed on Radio Boulevard-WHRM website - October 2016, also re-edits on 200 gallon attic tank and other details

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