William Ritchford was bound and determined to be a hotel owner. In March, 1893 he purchased the Gardnerville Hotel at the southwest corner of Main and Eddy Streets from Hans C. Jepsen. Here at his “fine hotel and saloon,” the accommodating new owner offered board and lodging by the day, week, or month. Patrons of his saloon were promised not only “good wines, liquors and cigars,” but also an opportunity to try their luck at the card tables.
Ritchford had a partner in this new endeavor, Hans Nelson. And for a time, things went swimmingly. In June of 1893, the pair were already planning to build an addition to their hotel to “accommodate the transient custom that nightly make this a stopping point,” said the Genoa Weekly Courier. But by March of 1894, Ritchford had sold out his interest to Nelson for a bit more than $5,000, and was moving to Antelope Valley with his family.
They weren’t gone long, however. By October of 1896, the Ritchfords were back in Gardnerville, renting the lower floor of Pete Wilder’s house. By 1897, Bill Ritchford was operating a livery and feed business in town. But he still had heart set on another hotel.
About 1898, Ritchford purchased a parcel on the west side of today’s “S”-curve, then the south end of Gardnerville. An early blacksmith shop occupied the south corner of the property (opened by Chris Nelson and later operated by Fred Fricke). By March that same year, carpenters and stone masons were hard at work erecting a new hotel for Ritchford at the north end of his property.
Things didn’t get off to a terribly auspicious start. First, carpenter Henry Beste took a nasty fall at the under-construction hotel, confining him to bed rest for a day or two. Then the following week stone mason Henry Mathews, who’d been hired to lay the building’s foundation, suddenly passed away.
But by mid-July, Ritchford and his family were able to move into their new hotel. The building was finished enough that the newspaper was able to report on its “imposing appearance,” with a cornice painted a patriotic red, white and blue. In November, 1898 Ritchford added a tall water tank to the property, bringing gravity-fed water to the new building. Genuine “horsepower” of the old-fashioned kind was used to lift the large tank into place.
That September, 1898, a “Grand House Warming” celebration and dance was advertised to celebrate the new hotel. In deference to the size of the expected crowd, festivities were held just up the street at Valhalla Hall. Tickets for the event cost $2, but thoughtfully included not only supper for attendees but also “horse feed.”
Even so, however, it appears the new hotel building was not quite finished. In June the following year, the Courier reported plans under way to “immediately finish” the third story of the hotel, “owing to the throng of people in Gardnerville.” A Sanborn Fire Insurance map drawn that year shows a two-and-a-half story “boarding house” on the property. Ritchford finally had his own hotel.
Advertisements in the Genoa Courier in late 1899 cheerfully informed the traveling public that Ritchford’s new hotel was open for business. He had picked an auspicious official name for it, too: “The Latest.” Guests could stable their horses at the livery just 38 feet to the south (possibly a new incarnation of the former blacksmith shop). And Ritchford wasn’t done yet. By early 1900, carpenter Henry Dixon was “finishing up” what may have been more of the third story of the Ritchford.
When finally completed, the Ritchford Hotel featured 20 “first-class” rooms. Mrs. Ritchford charmed guests with her cooking, including “sumptuous” turkey dinners. The livery business did so well that in 1902 a “large addition” was made to the stable. And in 1903, in keeping with the hotel’s name, “The Latest,” Ritchford had his hotel electrified — a significant improvement over the original gas lighting.
“Word of the Ritchford Hotel spread around the state, and anyone traveling through the valley wanted to stay there,” noted Scott Schrantz in a 2006 blog, Around Carson. “Even in San Francisco they spoke of its elegance and luxury.”
And even more improvements were yet to come. In the fall of 1905, Bill Ritchford added an “ice house” to the hotel and a “rustic front” to his stable. This latter change, the Record-Courier noted approvingly, “greatly add[ed] to [the stable’s] appearance.”
Ritchford worked hard to ensure a steady stream of patrons to his hotel. After the V&T opened its Minden depot in 1906, Ritchford drove his team to meet the train every day to pick up “drummers” (traveling salesmen) needing a place to spend the night.
By 1907, the Sanborn maps show that another narrow addition had been made to the livery stable, pushing the building even farther south. And by 1912, almost the entire southern corner of the property had been covered with various extensions to the livery building.
Among other amenities for guests, it seems medical help was close at hand for anyone who needed it. As early as 1899, a patient was said to be “undergoing treatment at Ritchford’s hotel.” Advertisements from 1908 indicate that Dr. E.H. Hawkins kept both his medical office and his residence in the hotel. Another physican named Dr. Marotz had a convenient office nearby, and “at night [he] can be found at [a] cottage adjoining Ritchford hotel,” according to Marotz’s ad.
But at the age 0f 75, after more than two decades in the hotel business, Bill Ritchford passed away in a tragic accident. It was February of 1922. Despite his years, Ritchford was hauling hay from Minden to Gardnerville on a sled being pulled by a four-horse team. The load of hay slid forward, spooking the horses. Ritchford fell off and was dragged for several hundred feet, and the sled ran over his body. His chest was crushed. Ritchford died the following day.
Son Bill Ritchford, Jr. continued to carry on the hotel business for the next two years. But not long after Bill’s death, his wife Anna’s health began to fail. She passed away in August, 1924, and was buried beside Bill in Carson City’s Lone Mountain Cemetery.
A few months after his mother’s passing, son Bill, Jr. sold the old Ritchford Hotel to the Aja family. It was still quite a place, featuring “stove heat,” electric lights; a parlor, two offices, a soft drink concession, dining room and kitchen, according to a 1923 Sanborn map. With automobiles now taking the place of horses, the former livery stable by now had been converted to a painting shop and “temporary fire headquarters.”
Today, a portion of the gracious three-story Ritchford Hotel still stands. The current wooden structure is now just two stories tall, thanks to a fire that broke out on the third floor in January, 1937. Although the lower floors were saved, the top floor of the hotel was never rebuilt.
Next time you pass by, remember the tall water tower that once stood beside the Ritchford, boosted into place using old-fashioned horse-power. Think of the many smiling guests who crossed its threshold to enjoy Bill’s hospitality and Anna’s home-cooked dinners. And imagine Gardnerville’s early days when the gracious Ritchford Hotel was known as far away as San Francisco.