When Nevada Business Journal set out to find and honor the oldest companies in Nevada, we did it, not only to let our readers know about these hardy survivors, but also because we hoped we would learn something about how they survived through times much worse than the mild slump we are currently experiencing. One thing we found was that they provided essential products and services that never become obsolete. People who sold buggy whips, spats or console radios long ago had to look for another trade, but basics such as healthcare, legal services, electrical power and plumbing have remained in demand. And, of course, it seems likely that mortuaries will be the last businesses to close their doors. On the brighter side, people have always demanded entertainment and diversion, which means a well-run resort or saloon is assured of a long life.
Although some of these pioneer companies have changed hands many times, and may even be owned now by large corporations, it is surprising how many have stayed in family hands through the years. Many of Nevada’s ranches have passed down from generation to generation, and this link to their past has made the current owners stubbornly refuse to give up in the face of the challenges they face today.
It all starts with a sound business model and a good product or service, but persistence, determination and a willingness to roll with the punches have carried these pioneer businesses from the 19th century into the 21st.
Willy Webb, who owns the Genoa Bar along with his partners, is currently researching the establishment’s history to find out the exact date it opened, but there is no doubt about its claim to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the state. Records show Livingston’s Exchange, which was an all-purpose general store and bar, was sold to a Mr. Fettic in 1853. Fettic advertised it as “a gentlemen’s saloon, serving fine wines, liquors and cigars,” according to Webb, and the bar has been quenching Nevadans’ thirst ever since. The Genoa Bar even stayed open through Prohibition without breaking stride, apparently since it was too remote for the federal government to worry about. The wooden surface of the bar is original, and the only heat in the small room is provided by an old wood stove. The large mirror above the bar, made in Scotland in the 1840s and shipped around the Horn, owes its reflective power to a coating of diamond dust. The Genoa Bar has been popular with celebrities since its earliest days, with visitors ranging from Mark Twain, Ulysses S. Grant and Teddy Roosevelt to modern-day icons such as John Wayne and Willy Nelson. Webb claims each of Nevada’s governors since the founding of the state – some 12 years after the bar opened – has made it a point to visit the saloon. After 150 years (more or less) of operation, the small saloon cluttered with historic artifacts has developed a loyal following and a worldwide reputation, and has been used as the backdrop for several movies.
Nevada Ranches and Farms
The T Quarter Circle Ranch has been operating near Winnemucca since 1863, and Nancy Tipton’s family started raising cattle there in 1913. The future of this family-owned enterprise, and others like it, is in doubt, according to Nancy’s husband, Frosty Tipton, who said, “The continued drought and depressed cattle prices make it difficult to continue as we are.” Times are tough for farmers and ranchers in Nevada. Said Tipton, “Ranchers send their kids to college, but we need to study business, not animal science, if we’re going to survive. We already know how to take care of animals. We need to learn about banking and finance, range management and legal issues.”
David Fulstone’s family has been farming and ranching over a wide area of Western Nevada since 1858. Fulstone currently raises cattle and grows alfalfa at the 500-acre David Fulstone Ranch in Mason Valley, and his two uncles raise cattle and sheep in the Smith Valley, as well as on thousands of acres of land leased from the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service. The Fulstones have watched agriculture being pushed out of Western Nevada in favor of development, and they are currently joined in a battle over rights to Walker River water, which they claim is necessary to maintain their farms, but which the Walker Lake Paiute Tribe and others want to use to replenish drought-stricken Walker Lake. Meanwhile, the Fulstones are carrying on in the pioneer tradition, with Fulstone, his 80-year-old father and two teenage sons running the family business.
Healthcare in Northern Nevada
The origins of Saint Mary’s Health Network started in 1877, when seven Dominican Sisters made an unplanned stop in Reno on their train journey from California to Kentucky. At that time, Reno had 15 saloons and 12 lawyers, but few schools. The nuns stayed on in Reno to educate the children of the town’s silver miners and farmers. They built Mount Saint Mary’s Academy, and then a boarding school and convent, which were converted in 1908 into what was called Sisters’ Hospital. The hospital, renamed St. Mary’s, thrived and grew over the years, adding new wings, additional stories and a modern north tower. Today’s facility, Saint Mary’s Regional Medical Center, is a comprehensive medical and surgical facility that forms a key part of an even larger entity, Saint Mary’s Health Network – a fully integrated, healthcare delivery system with 10 facilities, a managed care division and a philanthropic foundation – all dedicated to serving the healthcare needs to Northern Nevadans and Northeastern Californians. The 367-bed, non-profit medical center is the network’s flagship facility, and it also owns and operates two indigent care clinics, an urgent care facility and an outpatient surgery center in Reno.
Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries
Gene and Anna Parks opened Palm Mortuary at First Street and Carson Avenue in downtown Las Vegas in 1926, and served the small desert community with four employees. When work began at Boulder Dam (now Hoover Dam) they rented a private residence in Boulder City to provide mortuary services to the government town.
In 1946, Jerry Woodbury and Don DeVoe purchased the mortuary from the Parks, and it was incorporated in 1956, with five partners. The following year, it moved to its current location at 1325 No. Main St. In 1959, when Charles Knauss bought out three of the five partners and became the major stockholder, the firm handled 317 cases. Today, his son Ken Knauss, who started out mowing lawns at the cemetery when he was 12 years old, runs Palm Mortuaries and Cemeteries, supervising more than 200 employees and seven locations throughout Southern Nevada. Palm handles over 5,000 cases per year in the growing community and has served over 80,000 families since its founding in 1926. Being located in the Entertainment Capital of the World can have advantages even for mortuaries, and the company’s Main Street and Henderson locations are memorialized in the James Bond film “Diamonds Are Forever”.