The Big Yellow House
Have you ever driven by the two-story Yellow House at the “S” Bend in Gardnerville? It’s not quite a mansion. Technically, according to the plaque out front, the style is “Vernacular with Eastlake Details.” Well, whatever. For Gardnerville, it’s a mansion!
We’ve always been curious about the history of this beautiful house. So we started to dig a bit. And, lucky us, we came up (figuratively) with gold!
Back in December, 1895, the local paper noted builder Tom Browne was “erecting a residence on his lot in Gardnerville.” Turns out Browne had a darn good reason to be hurrying a new house along: he had just gotten married that October to Miss Jenette S. Van Sickle, the daughter of Peter Van Sickle. (Exactly how the couple met is unclear, but we do know Browne had built a “fine wagon” for Van Sickle in August, 1889!)
Browne was well-known as a carpenter, and he was a good one. And he didn’t just build houses, either. He built lots of things! During the late 1880s and 1890s his work included a new dam for Joe Jones and a huge, 6-foot by 18-foot by 2-foot water tank for the front of Fettic’s Exchange. He erected a 36 x 86-foot creamery at Fredericksburg, and a similar one in Smith Valley; a school in Yerington (plus a bridge across Walker River); and a two-story house on the J.H. Hickey ranch. In 1890, he helped add a new addition to the beautiful Fred Bruns house in Fredericksburg. And he made repairs to the St. Charles Hotel and the Genoa courthouse.
The new home in Gardnerville that Browne created for his bride was huge — 3,800 square feet! And it was assembled with a craftsman’s pride. Some sixty years later, the floors were still as level as the day the home was built. It was painted yellow back then, too, the same signature color it’s worn in recent years. But Browne and his new wife owned their beautiful new home for only about a decade.
In October, 1906, H.C. (“Chris”) Dangberg purchased the “palatial” house, intending it as his retirement home. According to the Record-Courier, Dangberg planned to “enjoy the remainder of his days [there,] away from the strenuous duties of farm life.” It’s possible that Dangberg was still mourning the death of his son, William, who had been shot and killed in September, 1899. Dangberg seemed excited about his move, however; the paper reported he went to Reno in December, 1906, to buy furniture for his new home.
The property eventually passed to son George P. Dangberg (likely after his father died, in March, 1920). And for a time, it seems to have been rented out. Tenants may have included Ralph Springmeyer and A.Y. Werner; it was described as the “Springmeyer-Werner residence” when George P. Dangberg finally sold the property to Dr. R.J. Sewell in August, 1929.
Sewell was a medical doctor who had practiced briefly in Carson Valley in the 1920s, before moving west to Ojai, California. But he evidently kept an eye on local real estate. According to the newspaper, Dr. Sewell was purchasing the large house from George Dangberg for use as an “emergency hospital,” and later owners think it served in that capacity for a few years.
In May, 1935, the property was snapped up by Lois Stewart, probably thanks to a loan from her grandmother, Harriet Grover. Lois had to work hard to make ends meet for herself and her three children. She drove the mail stage to Markleeville for thirty years, using a wagon or riding a horse in the early years. As time went by, she bought a four-wheel-drive Jeep. She added a trailer park in back of her home to bring in extra income, and kept chickens, a cow, and horses on her property. And she also raised bummer lambs to sell, and did odd jobs. Not long after purchasing the Yellow House, Lois remarried for a short time, but divorced her second husband, Red Buck, in 1943.
About 1948, Lois’s daughter, Edith, her husband and their two children moved into the Yellow House, too. They created two separate apartments inside: one upstairs for Lois, and one downstairs for the younger generations. Lois’s grandchildren still fondly remember living with their grandmother “Loisy” (as they called her) in the big yellow house.
After 24 years, Lois Buck finally sold the big yellow house to Barton and Greta DeHart in June 1959. The DeHarts lived in and loved this special home for over 42 years, finally selling it in December, 1999.
Greta DeHart still fondly remembers all the work she and her husband put into renovating the gracious turn-of-the-century home. “There was no insulation in the house when we bought it,” she remembers. “We insulated the whole big attic ourselves, and we moved the kitchen back to where the kitchen originally had been. I stripped all the woodwork, and where there had been wallpaper, we resurfaced it with drywall.” Other improvements made by the DeHarts included adding beautiful Exminster carpet and repainting the outside in three shades of yellow, carefully matching the color to a bit of yellow paint they discovered from its earliest days.
And just as you would expect, the gracious old home comes with its own share of ghost tales! Former owners describe an “energy” in the northeast corner of the living room. Visitors report they have seen a little girl, who only appears in the wee morning hours. One guest reportedly encountered a strange man in the hall one night, dressed in a long overcoat and cowboy hat. And a former owner was startled to see a bright light zip through the room, while everyone else was asleep.
Perhaps the most special of all, the house still carries a special legacy from its original builder. During the renovation process, Greta discovered the signature of the original builder, Thomas J. Browne, hidden away on a board inside a wall. He’d left his name there for posterity — just like an artist, signing his masterpiece.
Story by Karen Dustman, a local author who shares her passion for history through her fun books, blog, and free history newsletter. Contact her at www.Clairitage.com.
Discover more history from early Carson Valley, available at Douglas County Historical Society & Museum, Dangberg Home Ranch State Park, Mormon Station State Park, and Amazon.com.