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.
Any idea where to find that Sundown Town site? GeoCities is gone.
My Uncle George was one of the owners of Sundown Town and also owned the bull named Lightening. I would be curious of any pictures of the operation.
I have original advertising pamphlet, I am listing on ebay…
Easy..Just take 395 to where Cattlemans is.the road is there.
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!
I grew up in old Washoe Valley. I even went to Franktown School for awhile. I have a handful of old 35mm slides of Sundown Town. We used to fish Joy Lake years before the development. We might even know each other. I was in the first graduating class at Wooster High.
I think I know this guy….LOL
You do! Hi bro. How are you doing? Do you remember, when someone seeded some gold and start a short lived gold rush? The rumor was there was a huge vein of solid gold that had just been discovered. It had to be a publicity stunt but the locals took it serious. Richard took his deer rifle with him and started staking claims. He wouldn’t let me go with him because it was way too dangerous. It got really crazy really quick. It even made national news for a day or two. I can’t recall, but didn’t Cal also go with Richard to stake claims? There were a few who tried to jump claims, lots of anger and cussing and the rumor was that the main 3″ solid vein was found on the Sundown property itself. Does anyone remember this besides me? I’m betting we could find the video footage on CBS or NBC archives. Can’t remember which national news channel I watched it on as a teenager. We sure had good times growing up together in Old Washoe City! I have lots of my parents Kodachrome 35mm slides of Joy Lake before and after it was made into Sundown Town. Before Sundown Town, we’d go up now and then and catch a limit of fish each. Considering there were 5 of us, that was a lot of trout to clean and put into the freezer.
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, 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
I grew up in Sundown from 1965-1969.My step father was the caretaker. We loved it ..
My Grandparents were caretakers thru the 80s. I spent summers there, it was better than Disneyland.
I just have to ask..What happened to the Sheriffs office and jail?
Why was it so important to turn it into an upper class housing area??
Ya’all would do that to virginia City if you could.
Very sad..The Callahan ranch sits on back side of Sundown town.
Lets destroy history to build houses.
And for what??Oh..yeah thats right..
Money..The root of all evil
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! !!!
My father purchased the town in the early 60’s from Mr Talmage. Years later it was sold and a portion burned. Our family got it back shortly after and had to clean up from the fire.
I have fond memories of playing the piano in the saloon, riding our donkey, paddling around joy lake, and being locked in the jail by my bother.
I have many photos and keepsakes.
Was your Dad’s name Jacques?
Donkey’s name was Sandy? They remember the canoe and a aluminum boat and the small dock. I wonder when took the merry-go-round out.
I think my brother and i caught crawdads for your father and his friends for Dinner. This would have been early 80s. I was probably 12-13 years old. I remember the sign on the jail had bats living behind it.
Loved that place!
I would love copies of some of your photos!!
Renee I remember spending the weekend with you and your family. A magical place and fond memories!
My Grandparent were caretakers there thru the 80’s. They had a pony “Sandy” Goose “Peepers” Deer “Buzzy” and a dog named Romel. We fed the trout Purina Trout Chow and caught Crawdads for the owner. We caught brown trout in the creeks and the lake was loaded with rainbows. I remember they built and Inn on the property and the Jail had a carved wood Sheriff. It was a kids wonderland.
They left after being evacuated due to fire.
I was on the property on official business sometime in the mid to late 90s, definitely not in the 80s. There was an older couple living in the Inn who identified themselves as caretakers that told me the story of Sundown Town and gave me a tour. I do not remember their names. Based on descriptions given by all of you, I think the saloon and the jail were still there. I remember the lake, the dock, a boat, several other buildings, and an outdoor eating area. I think the Sheriff was still there. There were still fish in the lake at that time. I could see them jumping and the water was very, very clear.
I stumbled upon Sundown Town yesterday and met with the current owners. It is on an 80 acre gated private estate. The couple have owned the property which includes Sundown Town, Joy Lake and their private residence since 2000. Those that remember Sundown Town will be happy to learn that remaining buildings and site are well maintained.
I lived off Joy Lake Road back in the early 90s and heard about ST from whoever the caretakers were at that time. Thanks to all who posted here because I was really curious whatever happened to it. I moved out of state over 20 years ago and now live in Minnesota but asked on Facebook about Sundown Town. From there I found this site.
I remember going there in 1960. My grandparents who moved to this area in 1952 took me and my folks. My Grandpa worked for Mills slot machines on Plumb and Grove in Reno my grandma was an interpreter for the Polish ski team during Squaw Valley Olympics 1960. My parents took me there for fun. Went on the stagecoach ride and was robbed by “outlaws” I still have slides somewhere
Have lived in the village near this site for 20 years. Thanks for the history, I have visited the owners with a friend that we knew. The owners were very nice and considerate.