The Marlette Water Company/
Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company
The Virginia and & Gold Hill Water Company (abbreviated as The Company or V&GHWC) was incorporated in Nevada Territory in May 1863 to supply water to the Virginia City and Gold Hill populations, mines, and mills. The first trustees were N.A.H. Mason, J.W. Gashwiler, John Skae, C.G. Funk, and Richard Rising. By 1865 the Trustees were Skae, Funk, Gashwiler, Mason and M.M.G. Ross. Gashwiler served as the first company superintendent. In this and subsequent corporate iterations, all shares of stock were owned by a very limited number of individuals who also served as members of the Board of Trustees.
Initially water was supplied to Virginia City and Gold Hill by natural springs and wells in the immediate area. As early as 1860 the Trustees began to buy and lease extensive lands and water rights around Virginia City and Gold Hill. One of the chief sources of water for The Company was Cedar Hill Spring on the north end of Virginia City. The Company built flumes and ditches to conduct water to large cisterns and from there water was carried by main water lines to customers. However by fall of most years the water supply was insufficient and the V&GHWC was forced to supplement the supply with water from the Ophir Mine shaft. Several other companies were in fierce competition to acquire and sell water; the Cole Company was its chief competitor and furnished most of the domestic water while V&GHWC supplied water to the mills.
By the late 1860s the V&GHWC was looking for new water sources outside the immediate Virginia City area but options were limited. To fund the planned expansion The Company reorganized in 1871; the new owners were John Skae, Walter S. Dean, W.S. Hobart, John W. Mackay, James G. Fair, James C. Flood, and W.S. O'Brien. Company directors focused on a new water source - the Carson Range between Washoe and Eagle Valleys and Lake Tahoe. As early as 1864 engineer Hermann Schussler suggested water could be brought from the Carson Range, across Washoe Valley, and up the eastern mountains to Virginia City. Schussler submitted a feasibility report to The Company Trustees in Oct. 1871 which designated a tentative route: from Hobart Creek (Hobart Reservoir) by flume and tunnel to Red House; by pipe from Franktown Creek below Red House to Lakeview; by inverted siphon pipe from Lakeview across the south end of Washoe Valley to a new reservoir on the east side of the Valley (later designated as Five Mile Reservoir); and thence by flume from Five Mile Reservoir to Virginia City. Schussler's specifications required 6 1/3 miles of pipe and 13 miles of flume. The pipe was to be made of iron sheets manufactured in San Francisco and assembled onsite into pipe.
The contract for fabricating the pipe was awarded to the Risdon Iron and Locomotive Iron Works of San Francisco. Iron manufacture began in March 1873 while flume and tunnel construction went forward. The iron was shipped on the newly completed Virginia and Truckee Railroad to its Lakeview station, and then formed into pipe onsite. The first water arrived in Virginia City August 1, 1873.
The plan worked because the initial source of the water, a diversion dam at Hobart Creek was higher in elevation (7,838') than Virginia City (6,525'). The 11" diameter pipe for the inverted siphon system was under 819 pounds of pressure per square inch, using gravity to force water down the west slope of Washoe Valley, up the east slope of Washoe Valley to Five Mile Reservoir, and then up the final climb to Virginia City.
To meet demands for an increased water supply The Company built two additional pipelines in 1877 and 1887 under the supervision of J.B. Overton, company superintendent. The 2nd pipe extended to Cedar Hill on the north end of Virginia City and was still in use in 1969. Both the 2nd and 3rd pipes roughly followed the route of the 1st pipe and lengthened the total water system to a total of 31 ½ miles. Pipe #2 originated at a newly heightened dam at Marlette Lake. A five-mile long flume conducted water from Marlette Lake along the mountain crest to a 3,994' long tunnel which emerged on the east side of the mountain. From there flumes carried the water to the Hobart Reservoir area. The 3rd pipe picked up water from additional water sources on the west side of the mountain crest, north of the tunnel - from Third or North Creek and others, and flumed the water to meet with the Marlette Lake flume at the west portal of the tunnel. The 1887 flume north of the tunnel was also used to transport logs for the Sierra Nevada Wood and Lumber Company, a company with close ties to operators of the V&GHWC.
In addition to providing domestic water in Virginia City and Gold Hill, The Company's water was used to generate power via a Pelton wheel owned by the joint California and Consolidated Virginia stamp and pan mills and at the C&C shaft where the water went through three additional Pelton wheels. Water from the system was also used by the Virginia City Electric Light Company which produced electricity for the mines and mills as early as 1887.
The system required constant supervision so maintenance stations were constructed along the route: Marlette Lake, Hobart Creek, Five Mile Reservoir, on the Divide between Virginia City and Gold Hill, and at the pump tanks in Virginia City. In addition there was a house for the company water master at Lakeview, built in 1873.
In addition to supplying water for Virginia City and Gold Hill, the V&GHWC utilized Five-Mile Reservoir to produce ice, sold commercially to the area mines and mills, as well as other Virginia City customers. Several lengthy pieces of correspondence from John McCauley to J.B. Overton in the company records provide a history of the Sierra Nevada ice making industry from 1870-1898 (from McCauley's perspective) and are included in the Overton Correspondence series in this collection (WATER-0001, files 24-26).
Over The Company's 100 year existence only four superintendents attended to business and technical operations:
-1865-1873: J.W. Gashwiler
-1873-1906: J.B. (John Bear) Overton
-1906-1959: James Leonard (related by marriage to W.S. Hobart; he died in 1959)
-1959-1963: Hobart Leonard, son of James M. Leonard
-1963-present: Nevada Division of Buildings and Grounds
The water company's fortunes were subject to the fluctuation in the mining industry's health, resulting in diminished demands for (and income from) water after the decline of the Big Bonanza. By 1895 the company was noted on deeds as "a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of California" (from 1895 deeds for property at Lakeview) and all of the trustees lived in and around San Francisco or in New York (the Mackays) although the operations office of Superintendent Overton remained in Virginia City. A 1901 letter from water company board member Walter E. Dean authorized Overton to begin selling V&GH Water Company mining claims upon the best terms Overton could obtain.
The 1872 Nevada Corporation had a 50 year time limit as a corporation; at the expiration of its Nevada corporate life the company filed as a California corporation on March 16, 1922 and was renamed "The Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company" with headquarters in San Francisco (the difference in the company name is the article "The" in front of "Virginia).
Under the new corporation there were seven stockholders, each holding one share purchased for $20 for a total capitalization of $140.00. The company operated as a public utility until April 21, 1933 when the company's properties were sold in their entirety to The Virginia City Water Company, a new corporation organized under the laws of the State of Nevada. See letters attached to the company's 1933-1935 (Federal Income Tax) Returns of Capital-Stock Tax for an explanation of this part of the corporate history.
According to Federal Income Tax returns in the records, The Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company was no longer doing any business by 1934 and the Commissioner of Internal Revenue stated the corporation had completely abandoned its business and disposed of its assets; therefore no capital stock tax returns were required.
Despite the Commissioner's statement, the entity that had been The Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company was still supplying water to Virginia City as well as parts of Carson City but with little money for maintenance. Under Superintendent Hobart Leonard The Company began removing the first and third pipelines of the inverted siphon system, using pipe to replace the wooden flume line from Five Mile Reservoir to Virginia City. This project was initiated in about 1941 and completed in the mid-1950s.
In 1957 the Curtis-Wright Corporation purchased the system from its Sierra origins to a point just north of Five Mile Reservoir. They proposed to use it to service the industrial areas Curtis-Wright planned to develop; they also purchased thousands of acres of Storey County lands and some decreed water rights on the Truckee River for that purpose. However, the planned development did not take place and on Dec. 2, 1957 the Curtis-Wright Company deeded all its rights in the water system to the Marlette Lake Company (MLC), a wholly-owned subsidiary.
The Marlette Lake Company initiated a series of improvements: it raised Marlette Lake Dam by 15', repaired flood damage at Hobart Creek Reservoir, and replaced the last box flume with pipe from the outlet of the siphon to Five Mile Reservoir.
In 1959 the State of Nevada and the Carson City Water Company entered into a contract with MLC to purchase up to 3 million gallons of water per day - two million gallons for the State of Nevada and one million for the Carson City Water Company; the Virginia City Water Company contracted to purchase up to 300,000 gallons per day.
In Feb. 1963 the President of the MLC offered to sell all assets to the State of Nevada for $2 million; after negotiations a final price of $1,650,000 was agreed upon. The State Legislature financed the purchase with a general obligation bond and the agreement was signed June 12, 1963. Included were all water rights; 5,378 acres of land, including the 80 acres at Five Mile Reservoir; and the 1873 caretakers house on 3.1 acres at Lakeview Saddle. The system is now under the care and management of the Nevada Division of Buildings and Grounds and continues to provide water to Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Carson City.
Throughout the history of the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company a limited number of people played key roles. Biographical information about the following people is included in the description of these records to provide a better understanding of the collection. Use the link below for "Records of the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company."
John (Johnnie) William Skae
S. [Sean] H. Marlette or Marlett
Sam (Samuel) Longabaugh
William E. Price
Records of the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company
All photographs are from the Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company records, Nevada State Archives.
Top: Outside face of Hobart Dam, 1938. H2O-0042
2nd from top: Box flume going from Marlette Lake to the tunnel, showing an especially rocky, narrow section overlooking Lake Tahoe, 1913. H2O-0006.
3rd from top: Five-Mile Reservoir and the ice house on the eastern slope of Washoe Valley, 1913. H2O-0016.
4th from top: West portal of the tunnel above Lake Tahoe, 1913. H2O-0010.
Bottom: Marlette Lake, 1928. H2O-0040.
Doten, Alfred. Journals of Alfred Doten, 1849-1903, edited by Walter Van Tilburg Clark. University of Nevada Press, 1973.
History of Masonry in Virginia City website: www.nvmasons.org/history/torrence/torr3457.html
Legislative Commission of the [Nevada] Legislative Counsel Bureau. The Marlette Lake Water System: a Report on the Feasibility and Desirability of its Retention, 1969.
Nevada Census records, 1860-1900.
Newspaper articles from the Nevada State Journal, Reno Evening Gazette, Territorial Enterprise, The Californian, Daily Nevada State Journal, and the Weekly Nevada State Journal.
Ormsby County District Court (2nd Judicial District) case files, Nevada State Archives.
Nevada State Supreme Court case files, Nevada State Archives.
Shamberber, Hugh A. The Story of the Water Supply for the Comstock. Geological Survey Professional Paper 779, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the U.S. Geological Survey, 1969.
Thompson and West. History of Nevada, 1881, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. Reprinted by Howell-North, 1958.
Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company incorporation file, May 12, 1863. Nevada State Archives, TERR-0090, file #24.
Virginia and Gold Hill Water Company records in the Nevada State Archives.