Benham-Belz House

The oldest house on the original Reno townsite

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.

Images

The Benham House in 2021
The Benham House in 2021 Photographed in 2021, the Benham House sits just south of West 4th Street, with the high rise Sundowner Hotel on the other side of 4th Street visible just behind it. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2021
Front facade of the Benham House
Front facade of the Benham House A close view of the front facade of the Benham House shows the detailed ornamentation of the porch supports. The architecture of the house is best described as Folk Victorian. The house is wood frame although surfaced in asphalt siding to resemble brick. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2021
Map of the original Reno townsite
Map of the original Reno townsite The map of the original Reno townsite shows the lots that were offered for sale by the Central Pacific Railroad beginning in May of 1868. The Benham House is located on lot 8 of Block E, on the far left (west) side of the map. Now numbered 347 West Street, the parcel is on West Street between Third and Fourth Streets. Source: Philip Galbraith Date: 1868
Deed of sale to Linda Benham, 1868
Deed of sale to Linda Benham, 1868 A deed initiated on June 4, 1868 documents the sale of Block E, Lot 8 of the Reno townsite for $200 from Central Pacific Railroad executive Charles Crocker to Linda (Melinda) Benham, wife of I.T. Benham, who is also named on the document. Source: Washoe County Recorder's Office Date: 1868
1885 Sanborn map of Reno
1885 Sanborn map of Reno The house currently numbered 347 West Street appears on the 1885 Sanborn fire insurance map of Reno numbered 3 West Street (this map is oriented with east at the top). The public school that I.T. Benham designed (Reno Central School, later Reno High School) appears to the north, between West 4th and West 5th Streets. The street labeled Chestnut, to the west, was later renamed Arlington Avenue. Library of Congress image Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1885
The Benham-Belz house in 1986
The Benham-Belz house in 1986 A photograph taken in 1986 shows the Benham-Belz house and its lovely yard in the context of a growing city. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1986
A tale of two centuries
A tale of two centuries A view looking east from behind the Benham House shows its proximity to the Eldorado Casino Resort, which was built in the early 1970s, approximately 100 years after the house's construction. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2021

Location

347 West Street, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Benham-Belz House,” Reno Historical, accessed June 20, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/230.