Sundown Town

WashoeValley.org has a story on the “town” of Sundown Town. Sundown was an Old West amusement park that was built in the hills above Old Washoe City in 1960. It was built on the shores of Joy Lake and included a saloon, a jail, a blacksmith shop, and a livery stable. They had stagecoach rides, gunfights, and a trained bull. It was all the brainchild of Buster Keaton, Jr., son of the silent film star. He and a couple of partners envisioned Sundown Town as an Old West getaway for visitors to Reno, and they saw it becoming very popular and growing over the decades, kind of like Disneyland. It was kind of unfortunately-named, though, since a “sundown town” is more commonly used to describe a place where Blacks or Indians had to leave town after the sun set. Minden, reportedly, was a sundown town, and that’s where the tradition of blowing the town whistle at 6pm started.

I doubt that the name contributed to Sundown Town’s downfall, though. By 1963 the park was closed and sold, probably just because they weren’t able to attract the crowds they needed to keep such a place open. A few years later the Ponderosa Ranch took the same concept and made it fly at Lake Tahoe, but even that park ended up closing recently.

Sundown Town went through several owners after closing, each of which promised to reopen the park bigger and better, but nothing ever came of it. Many of the buildings burned in 1966, and today the site is in private hands and closed to the public. Joy Lake is located to the northwest of Old Washoe City. To get there you take the road by the Chocolate Nugget that goes under the new freeway underpass. But I think the whole lake is privately owned, and trespassing is not allowed.


Satellite view of the site of Sundown Town. Joy Lake is to the south (left).

WashoeValley.org also links to an in-depth site about Sundown Town, written by someone whose mother was a co-owner of the park. If you’re interested, you need to go read the whole thing.

8 comments

  1. I lived in Washoe Valley w/my family from 1957-58 through 1963. I also worked as a “shotgun” guard on the stagecoach in Sundown Town by Joy Lake in the summer. I used to ride a burro from our house up the old dirt rd about 2-21/2 miles to the town. i know many things about the valley during those years!

  2. First of all it was not owned by Buster Keaton, Jr. There was no Jr. That name was used in one film. It was owned by his second son Robert or Bobby Talmadge. I believe today it is in a gated community but there is a trail just outside the gate and a panel telling about the site. Looking for any additional pictures however.

    Harry Keaton

    • Harry, should you come across any other pictures please keep me in the loop. I assume by the name that you are related to Robert … as I am to George. …. Thanks, Randy

  3. I wish I had pictures ..The state has destroyed the town.None if the structures remain. IT makes me sick..My step father was Harvey Klitzke SR..we lived there and attended pleasant valley school..I will always remember that place.my mother loved it so much…Try story!!!I really am sad that that part if history is gone..Did you know that there was an old cabin that stood right off the highway, it was Mark Twain’s..Now gone! !!!

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