Friday’s Station-Lake Tahoe’s Pony Express History
By: David Woodruff
Within sight of the hustle and bustle of the gaming action at Stateline, Nevada, stands a little-known but extraordinary piece of Lake Tahoe area history. The two-and-one-half story, white, wood frame building is known as Friday’s Station. It has sat in an alpine clearing just a bit northeast of the current Stateline casino area for over 160 years. The stately building features eight white columns supporting a two-tiered veranda. Architects consider it a western adaptation of Greek Revival design. The beautiful structure is in excellent condition and has been expertly maintained over the years.
Originally built about 1858 by Friday Burke and James Small as a stage station on the Placerville-Carson City Road, Friday’s became an important home station for the Pony Express when the fabled outfit began carrying the U.S. Mail in April of 1860. This was the first home station on the Pony Express route for riders coming from Sacramento heading east. Friday’s eastbound relay rider was Robert (Pony Bob) Halsam. He is credited with having made the longest uninterrupted ride during the brief duration of the Pony Express (18 months).
Pony Bob’s route would take him east 75 miles to Buckland Station on the Carson River (near current day Silver Springs, NV). Hostilities between local Paiute and Washoe Native Americans, and Euro-settlers had broken out in the region shortly after the Pony Express began. Signal fires were blazing and when Pony Bob rode into a relay station 60 miles away, settlers had seized all of the horses at the station for use in the campaign against the Native Americans. And when Bob arrived at Buckland’s 15 miles further, the relief rider was so frightened, he refused to take the mail.
Pony Bob changed mounts and within ten minutes, rode on, often over long dry stretches. Finally, after 190 miles in the saddle, Bob turned the mail pouches over to J.G. Kelly at Smith Creek. In less than nine hours, Bob was headed back west. He made his way to Friday’s Station without a mishap, after a hard 380-mile round trip ride. He was only four hours off schedule when he arrived.
The transcontinental telegraph line put an end to the Pony Express by October 1861. During the 1870s through the 1880s, Fridays operated as a resort under the name Buttermilk Bonanza Ranch, offering “the finest hunting, fishing, and general well-being to be found in the Tahoe Region.”
Bob eventually relocated to Idaho and continued as an express rider and later, a stage driver. He worked for a time as an Army scout, and a U.S. Marshall. Bob became friends with Buffalo Bill Cody and is said to have helped arrange the surrender of Sitting Bull.
In the 1890s, David Brooks Park acquired Friday’s Station, as well as several hundred acres of prime land at Nevada Stateline. Fridays was used as the summer headquarters for the family’s cattle business, grazing up to 200 head on the beautiful Sierra pastureland up until the 1960s. Park also built an icehouse and butcher shop where the Harvey’s Casino parking structure sits today. The Park family still owns a substantial amount of property in the Stateline area, including the magnificent five-start Edgewood Resort.
Today, Friday’s Station is the only fully intact, original Pony Express Station in Nevada and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.