Since the California Gold Rush, cows have grazed the pastures of the Adams Ranch just north of this quaint town nestled against the Sierra Nevada.
Now, trophy homes could replace them; Nevada’s oldest ranch is for sale. With land in the fast-growing Carson Valley selling for up to $185,000 an acre, it’s hard to keep ‘em down on the farm anymore.
“It’s sad in a way, but I guess you have to face reality,” said Elsie Adams, 84, widow of a descendant of the ranch’s founders. “The world has changed and everything around us has changed.”
Her son, Wally, has put all but 20 acres of the 287-acre main ranch up for sale for $4.65 million. The family is also trying to sell an additional 1,018 acres in the Sierra foothills above the main ranch.
Douglas County residents are saddened but resigned. They note that the loss of ranchland is nothing new in the scenic valley 45 miles south of Reno.
Last year, voters approved a stringent growth-control measure for the valley, but it’s facing a legal challenge from developers.
“I really hate to see these big ranches sell and become an asphalt jungle and cemented over with homes,” said Billie Rightmire, a fourth-generation Genoa resident.
“It is sad, it’s really sad. But you don’t make money in ranching. You make more money by selling the land. It’s the logical thing to do, but it’s too bad,” she said.
American Farmland Trust spokeswoman Betsy Garside said the Nevada sale is part of a national trend that saw 1.2 million acres of ranch and farmland lost to development in 1997, the last year for which statistics are available.
“The rate of loss has only increased over the last 20 years,” she said. “Ranchers and farmers are getting squeezed out as communities fail to plan for growth with agriculture in mind.”
The Nevada Cattlemen’s Assn. hopes that shifting public attitudes and new programs will help save more ranches and farms.
For the first time, a land trust through the association is offering money to permanently protect ranchland under conservation easements.
“When you have houses crammed down on all four sides of you, what do you do?” asked Steve Boies, association president. “If we don’t stop and take a look at the problem, there will be nothing left.”
The Adams Ranch dates back to Sept. 1, 1853, when Rufus Adams of Illinois bought it only two years after Nevada was permanently settled, State Archives Manager Jeff Kintop said.
Adams eventually became a partner with his brother, John Quincy Adams -- grandfather of Elsie Adams’ husband, who died in 1997.
The Adams family figured prominently in early Carson Valley history, earning notice in Nevada’s first statewide history book.
The family is credited with making bricks to build many local buildings, including the old federal mint in Carson City. The family also played a role in making Genoa the birthplace of agriculture in Nevada.
“There’s no question it’s the longest continuously operated ranch in Nevada by one family,” Kintop said. “It’s a little sad it’s being sold because Nevada is the fastest changing and growing state, and all these reminders of the past are disappearing all the time.”
The Adams Ranch predates Nevada’s statehood by 11 years and the state’s longest continuously operated business -- Carson City’s Nevada Appeal newspaper -- by 12 years, Nevada State Archivist Guy Louis Rocha said.
“You can’t go back further as far as non-Indian history in Nevada,” Rocha said. “The Adams Ranch is one of the last physical remnants of 1850s history in Nevada.”
Plans are uncertain for the ranch property. The land is zoned for 19-acre executive estates or “ranchettes.”
Not for sale is the impressive two-story brick Adams House -- one of the state’s most historic buildings.
Built in the 1850s, the house doubled as a hotel on the trail used by California-bound pioneers and for later travelers heading to and from the rich silver mines of nearby Virginia City.
The 22-room house featured a bar and dining room downstairs, and a ballroom and six hotel rooms upstairs. Much of the old furniture has been preserved and remains in good condition.
Rightmire acknowledges that the family has a right to sell the land, although she hopes that the Adams House can be converted into a museum someday.
“It’s one of the most historic spots in Nevada,” said Rightmire, a trustee of the Carson Valley Historical Society. “Their house is in such tremendous shape, and it looks pretty much like it did back in the 1800s.”
Elsie Adams would also prefer that the house become a museum. Only the kitchen has been remodeled since the house was built, she noted.
“I’ve been here since I was married, and I want to live in the house until I die,” she said. “I don’t know what my three sons will do with it once I’m gone.”