Martha Jackson House (site)

The remarkable story of one of Nevada's African American pioneers.

Martha Jackson only lived at 106 East Second Street for a short time, but in that period revealed herself to be a savvy businesswoman at a transformative moment in Reno’s development. Her experience illustrates the prosperity achieved by some of the earliest Black residents of Reno.

Born in Kentucky in 1849, Martha Jackson had lived in Nevada since at least 1866, when her daughter Mary was born. She presumably made her way west with her husband, but by 1880, was a widow living in Virginia City with three children. There, Martha worked as a washerwoman while her daughter Mary, just 14 years old, was already working in dressmaking. Her two younger children, Willie (10) and Laura (8) were still attending school.

By 1901, Jackson had made her way to Reno, where she purchased the eastern half of lots 5 and 6 in Block X of the original Reno townsite. The land was just east of the corner of East 2nd and Center Streets and already included a small wood frame house, with the Mill irrigation ditch running directly behind it. Reno’s central business district had not yet expanded that far to the southeast, and the block consisted of small wood frame structures. Neighboring Jackson’s property on the east side was Reno’s notorious Lovers Lane (see separate entry), a brothel-lined alley. Chinatown (see separate entry) was just one block further east, and Jackson’s neighbors to the west and south included two Chinese-operated laundries.

Jackson continued to take in washing, and in 1903 paid $50 to purchase a plot in Hillside Cemetery, a desirable resting place high on the hill west of the university where each plot was (and remains) individually deeded.

In 1905, Jackson was made aware of the high value of her property when the landowner to her west, a Chinese laundryman named Soo Wah, sold his parcel to a group of businessmen for the hefty sum of $12,000. The group was intent on building a new business building at the corner of Second and Center Streets. Soo Wah had bought the land just three years earlier for $3500 and had refused multiple offers before finally agreeing to sell.

The group next offered $10,000 to Jackson, who like Soo Wah initially demurred, saying she was holding out for at least $13,500, what she believed the property was worth. When interviewed by the paper, she explained, “Yes, I paid $1200 for my home [a later source said $700], but it certainly wouldn’t make a difference if I only paid $10 for it. It’s mine isn’t it? I am not anxious to sell it. I would have no place to go but the street if I sold it.” Just over six months later, she got what she was asking and more, selling the parcel for $14,000. As the papers reported, she insisted on receiving the entire amount in cash, which she counted and immediately deposited in the bank. She then purchased Lot 13 in Block 11 of the Newtown Tract in Sparks, where she lived for the rest of her life. She died in 1914 and was buried in her family plot at Hillside Cemetery. Preceded by her two daughters in death, she left everything to her son, William Jackson.

Images

Martha Jackson's house in 1906
Martha Jackson's house in 1906 On the 1906 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, Martha Jackson's house is at the top center, labeled 106. The code "D" stands for "Dwelling" and the color yellow indicates wood frame construction. The street across the top is E. Second Street, with Center Street running north-south on the left. The structures marked "Female Boarding" are brothels. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1906
Martha Jackson's grave
Martha Jackson's grave Martha Jackson had the means to purchase her own plot at Hillside Cemetery in 1903. She was buried there upon her death in 1914. Her daughters Mary and Laura, who preceded her in death, are reportedly also buried in the family plot. Source: findagrave.com
Reno's Original Townsite Map
Reno's Original Townsite Map On this map of Reno's original townsite, Martha Jackson's property, which she purchased in 1901, can be identified as the east half of lots 5 and 6 of Block X. The block is bordered by Center and Lake Streets, and by E. Second and Front (now First) Streets. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1868
Martha Jackson  makes a tidy profit, 1906
Martha Jackson makes a tidy profit, 1906 After initially refusing to sell her property, Martha Jackson agreed to accept $14,000 for the land in 1906 and moved to Sparks. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: June 6, 1906
Martha Jackson's death in 1914
Martha Jackson's death in 1914 Martha Jackson's death in 1914 was marked by several newspaper articles that acknowledged her longtime residence in the state and the success she had achieved. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: January 10, 1914
The site of Martha Jackson's house in 2019
The site of Martha Jackson's house in 2019 In 2019, the I.O.O.F. Building that replaced Martha Jackson's house had a much different appearance from its original 1908 look. The exterior was renovated in the early 1940s, and after a fire in 1945, the top two floors were removed. Jackson's house would have faced the street on the left. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2019
I.O.O.F. Building
I.O.O.F. Building After Martha Jackson sold her property in 1906, her house was demolished to make way for construction of a new I.O.O.F. (Odd Fellows) building, which was completed in 1908. This postcard view looks southeast toward the front of the building, which faces E. Second Street. Jackson's house would have faced the street on the left. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries

Location

106 E. Second Street, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Martha Jackson House (site),” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/261.