The Benham-Belz House at 347 West Street sits on Lot 8 of Block E on the original Reno townsite. There is persuasive evidence that it was constructed in Reno’s founding year of 1868 or early 1869, making it the oldest known house constructed in Reno (not counting older houses that were later moved to Reno, or ranch houses originally located outside of town).
The Benham family purchased the lot for $200 in August 1868. The deed of sale, initiated June 4, 1868--less than a month after Reno's original land auction--documents the transfer of the property from Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific Railroad to Linda Benham, wife of I.T. Benham, who is also named in the document.
I.T. (Isaac Theodore) Benham was a professional stone mason by trade and became one of Reno’s founding builders. The family had moved from Michigan to Nevada sometime between 1860 and 1868. Having purchased the Reno townsite parcel in 1868, it is reasonable to assume that Benham immediately constructed their house and that the family began to live there. The 1870 U.S. census of Reno does not indicate street addresses (which were not yet being used) but does list the entire family: I.T., Melinda, and their four children.
Benham worked for many years in Reno as a builder and contractor, constructing many of the first generation of Reno buildings and other prominent Nevada buildings like the Belmont Courthouse. In 1879-1880, Benham built the Central School, which was located just a block north of the family’s house on West Street between 4th and 5th Streets (the building later became the first Reno High School).
The Benham family began a gradual move to Spokane around 1880, and their house on West Street was purchased by Reno barber John Belz in 1883. John died in 1900, leaving behind his wife, Lizzie, and four children. Lizzie lived in the house until her death in 1953 at the age of 93. Her daughter Florence continued to live in the house until her own death in 1981 at the age of 87. The house remains in private hands.