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
by: Henry Rogers
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.
Trained as an engineer, Jones decided to incorporate several unusual ideas into the house.
The 200 gallon Kerosene tank located in the attic that gravity-feeds kerosene to all of
the ceiling lamp fixtures in each room (on both floors) is one example. 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 wasn't
painted at all but, probably by 1880, it had been painted gray. There is also
other evidence that indicates that the house's original (or first) painted color
photo above: The 200 gallon Kerosene Tank located in the attic of the Parish House. The pipe above is the "fill pipe" and just visible at the bottom of the tank is the pipe to the manifold for distribution to the various ceiling lamps on both floors.
|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.||
photo above: "W.J. APR 20 1880" - Walter Jones' handiwork on the basement stair frame.
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. 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.
photo above: Ellie Patterson ca. 1875
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.
John McGrath, whose grocery-mercantile store was located close to the Washoe Club saloon, was a successful merchant. His store featured a set of ore tracks from the front boardwalk into the store to facilitate the loading and unloading merchandise. At one time, McGrath owned all four F Street lots which constitute the entire block between Washington Street and Taylor Street. The large McGrath family resided here for nearly 30 years before John Sr. succumbed to a liver disease, (June 1929.) His daughter, Jane (McGrath) Boyle inherited the house and eventually, in 1935, gave it (and Lot 1 & 2), to the Catholic Bishop of Reno, Thomas Gorman.
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
||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
The Catholic Church (the Catholic Bishop of Reno, Norman F. McFarland) decided to sell the Parish House in January 1977.
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." (Also see 1978 photo below.)
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 building on the right
side of the house no longer exists. It might have been the "St. Mary's
Museum" that housed some of the items removed from the church by Father Robert
Jelliffe as there was a small sign attached to the side of the house pointing
out the direction of "St. Mary's Museum" (ca. 1960.) It is also possible
that the building had some other purpose since it is not really visible in the
B&W photos from Father Jelliffe's time (above.) 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 and this small building may have
been part of that business. However, the Kolodziejs only owned the house from
1977 to 1978.
The Parish House has had various owners since 1977. Most of the questionable renovations to the Parish House have occurred over the past thirty years since the house has been in private ownership once again. In the early eighties, a garage and south-side sunroom were added 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. Shortly after 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.) 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.
21th Century History
The Parish House was the location of the Western Historic Radio Museum, open to the public from 1994 until 2012. We are the thirteenth owners and are 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 18+ years. Robert Patterson's widow, Ellie Patterson was a 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.
photo left: Winter 2005
Henry Rogers © May 2003
Additional Information added: May 2003, Aug. 2003, Sept. 2003, Feb. 2006, Apr.2007, June 2009, Sept.2009, June 2010
Revised and edited with new photos: Henry Rogers © June 2009
Thanks to Alan Kabat, who is Robert Patterson's great-great grandson, for the Patterson family history and photos of Robert and Ellie Patterson