Sunday, July 08, 2007
Road into Lamoille Canyon
Few places in the West are as picturesque or historic as the town of Lamoille, which sits at the base of the Ruby Mountains, about 20 miles southeast of Elko.
The first residents of the Lamoille area were Shoshone, who lived in seasonal villages in lower Lamoille (near the site of modern day Halleck).
In 1865, John P. Wallace and Thomas A. Waterman, two miners from Austin, settled in the upper Lamoille Valley, near the Rubies. The two erected a crude log cabin, which they shared, and planted grain to sell to travelers heading to California.
Waterman is believed to be responsible for naming Lamoille. A native of Johnson in Lamoille County, Vermont, Waterman is said to have named the valley because it reminded him of his home in Vermont.
The word, Lamoille, is an anglicized version of the French word, La Moitte, which means gull or mew, a type of bird usually found at the mouth of a river.
By the late 1860s, the Lamoille Valley had several dozen small farms. A school was established in the early 1870s—the old Walker-Waterman cabin served as the first schoolhouse. A more formal school was finally constructed a few years later.
Historian and longtime Lamoille resident Edna Patterson, who lived there from 1927 to 1973, noted in an article in the Northeastern Nevada Quarterly that the first church service in Lamoille Valley was a Presbyterian service conducted in the school house in 1872.
In 1905, the Presbyterian congregation was responsible for constructing what must be considered Lamoille’s most recognizable landmark, the picturesque Lamoille Presbyterian Church. The impressive, high-steepled, whitewashed church, which originally cost $3,000, remains in use.
Patterson points out that while Lamoille was intially a grain-producing area, farmers soon branched into cattle and other agricultural products in order to meet the food demands of mining camps in the region.
The town of Lamoille traces its roots to John Walker, who built the Cottonwood Hotel in Lamoille in 1869. The hotel included not only rooms but a blacksmith shop and a saloon.
Walker erected his complex at a place called Lamoille Crossroads, a spot on one of the routes of the Humboldt Trail, which many pioneers traveled to reach California and Oregon.
Within a few years, other businesses cropped up near Walker’s hotel including the Lamoille Merchantile Co., which in addition to housing a store had a hotel and dance hall.
The owners of the Merchantile also erected a series of tent frames in a thick stand of cottonwood trees at the crossroads and set aside the grove of trees as a recreational area. The tents were rented on a weekly basis to vacationers from Elko, making it one of the area’s first tourist-related services.
In the early 20th century, Lamoille gained a flour mill and a creamery, which for many years produced butter and ice cream.
Additionally, in 1912 the Elko-Lamoille Power Company was formed and a year later installed a small hydro-electric generating plant on the stream that flowed out of Lamoille Canyon.
The road into Lamoille Canyon, which today is an official scenic byway and one of the loveliest drives in the state, was constructed in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal work program that during the Great Depression employed youths from economically-depressed parts of the country.
The road remained dirt until 1973, when it was converted into an oiled road. In the 1980s, the route was finally paved, which, according to Patterson, “opened up that scenic grandeur to the masses.”
In more recent years, the area between Elko and Lamoille has experienced tremendous growth. But, Patterson, notes, Lamoille remains a very special place.
“The Lamoille area, gateway to the Ruby Mountains, has been a garden since the lands of Nevada were opened for settlement ,” she writes. “Here people lead and enjoy free and uninhabited lives. The sun shines bright and clear, unfogged by city smoke.
“It is a domain where the tranquility of the land has survived beyond its time. May the the continuing years of this sheltered region be as good as those of the past.”
Amen to that.