Rancho San Rafael History

Rancho San Rafael, as the name implies, was once a working ranch. It began in the late 1890's with a cattle operation owned by the Pincolini brothers. The brothers used the land only for grazing and built no structures on the property.

The property was purchased about 1920 by Russell C. Jensen and his wife. The Jensens built the first buildings on the ranch. One of these
Rancho Sign

structures, referred to as the ranch manager's house, is the building which now houses our Ranger offices.

The Visitor Center portion was added after the house was moved to its present location.

The Jensens operated a sheep ranch for a few years until Mr. Jensen was killed in an automobile accident near Truckee in 1925. Mrs. Jensen sold the ranch in 1935 to Dr. Raphael Herman, his brother Norman and sister-in-law Marianna Herman.

The Hermans developed the ranch as many people remember it. In fact, the ranch bears the name of Dr. Raphael Herman, although the spelling is different. The beautiful Main Ranch House along with many barns, sheds, corrals and other outbuildings were the base of operation on the Herman's cattle ranch.

Today, only the Main Ranch House and the original ranch house built by the Jensens remain.

After the deaths of Dr. Herman and his brother Norman, Mrs. Marianna Herman moved back to southern California and the land was leased for grazing. Mrs. Herman placed the property for sale in the mid-1970's. There was much interest in this beautiful property, one of the largest single owner parcels left in the Truckee Meadows. After much speculation as to the fate of this land, public sentiment emerged in favor of making the land a public park. The land had a high price tag, however, and in 1979 the State Public Employees Retirement System purchased the property. This action was taken to allow Washoe County the time to raise funds to buy the land from PERS and make the initial improvements for a park.

The public wholeheartedly embraced the idea of Rancho San Rafael becoming a park and in June 1979 passed a bond issue allowing Washoe County to purchase the land from PERS.

In the following months, many donations, grants and gifts were received to start the first phase of construction which included the playground, picnic areas, a restroom and a picnic shelter.

In the spring of 1994, Mr. William Thornton donated approximately 120 acres to the Washoe County Parks Foundation. In turn, the land was deeded to the Washoe County Parks & Recreation Department and incorporated into Rancho San Rafael. This property is located in the Evans Creek Canyon on the north side of the park.

In 1999, Washoe County Parks & Recreation traded 5 acres to University Family Fellowship Church for 47 acres in Keystone Canyon.

The park encompasses approximately 570 acres of pastureland and natural sage community features. About 25 acres is manicured turf and 80 acres is pasture.

Much of the land is as it was when the Pincolini brothers first saw it. Most of the land is on the north side of McCarran Boulevard where the Evans Creek drainage off Peavine Mountain supplies an intermittent water source to the wetland area to the north and to the pond located near the May Center.

The park is home to the the Wilbur D. May Museum and the Wilbur D. May Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Wilbur D. May was a resident of Reno for many years. He was a philanthropist as well as a rancher and world traveler. He left much of his collections from his many trips around the world to the people of Washoe County.

May had no connection to this ranch except that his collections are housed here. His ranch, the Double Diamond, was located south of Reno on Rt. 395.


The park and its history has been featured in various videos & articles. Click the links below to view them: