Tyson House

Ellen McNamara's Rooming House

This stately Queen Anne-style building and a small carriage house behind it were built around 1905. Though it was probably built as a single family residence, from as early as 1907 the carriage house served as a rental cottage. By 1921, the house itself had been divided into flats and was advertised regularly in the local newspapers.

What makes this house especially interesting is its association with Ellen McNamara, who typifies the rooming house manager during Reno’s divorce heyday. Ellen McNamara was born in Ireland and sent to Eureka, Nevada to find work to help support her family back home. She married in Eureka and with her husband lived on the Hot Creek Ranch east of Tonopah. At the onset of Tonopah's mining boom, industrious Ellen sold apples and water to the miners, while her husband established a general merchandise store. Soon thereafter, Ellen’s husband died, leaving her with three young children. To support her family, she built a rooming house behind the famous Mizpah Hotel, which she named the Golden Eagle. She married again, but was soon divorced. By the 1920s, Tonopah’s boom had passed and Ellen moved to Reno, where opportunities abounded for an experienced rooming house manager.

Ellen McNamara bought the Queen Anne at 242 W. Liberty Street in 1928. At that time, there were two apartments on the ground floor, five bedrooms upstairs, and the little cottage/carriage house behind. One bathroom served the entire main house. Ellen did not provide meals to her tenants, and she preferred to rent only to men, considering them to be less emotional than women and far less trouble. Ellen also served as the resident witness when her tenants’ cases went to court.

Ellen McNamara was among a group of women boarding house managers who had been widowed during the Tonopah mining boom and had come to Reno for the opportunity to run their own boarding houses. A number of these women were set up in business by the wealthy and powerful George Wingfield, who had made a name for himself in Tonopah before taking over Reno. Ellen had enough of her own money (reportedly bolstered by a partnership in a gold mine outside of Tonopah) to set up her Reno house. Others, such as the three Hill sisters, were bankrolled by Wingfield. Wingfield’s act of generosity was a means of compensating the women for their husbands’ deaths in Wingfield’s mines.

Ellen McNamara operated her rooming house until her death in 1948. When the divorce trade ended in the late 1960s, the house was converted to commercial use. Today it serves as a day spa and salon.

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242 West Liberty Street, Reno, NV