Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Kit Carson Trail - Part 1

Bliss Mansion

Several years ago, the Carson City Convention and Visitors Authority developed the Kit Carson Trail to promote the Capital City's rich history. The 2.5 mile walking tour through Carson City's west side passes dozens of notable historic homes and buildings.

Emulating Boston's Freedom Trail, which is marked by a brick trail through that historic community, the Kit Carson Trail's path is a bright, blue line painted on sidewalks through the city's most historic neighborhoods.

A walking tour map, available from the convention and visitors bureau office, describes the trail.

Additionally, several of the houses tell their stories. When you stand or park your car in front of any of them and tune a radio to AM 1020 or AM 1040 you can hear recordings telling the history of the two closest homes. The map indicates "talking" houses.

The first 13 places listed in the Kit Carson Trail brochure include the city's most historic government buildings and landmarks including the State Capitol, built between 1870-71, the former State Printing Building, built in 1885-86, the former U.S. Mint (now the Nevada State Museum), built in 1869 and the Governor's Mansion, completed in 1909.

From the state government complex of buildings, the blue line leads to the city's historic churches, largely clustered in the vicinity of Division Street, between King and Telegraph.

These include St. Teresa of Avila Catholic Church (completed in 1871), St. Peter's Episcopal Church (opened in 1868), the First United Methodist Church (1865) and the First Presbyterian Church (1864). The latter is considered the oldest church building still in service in the state while the Methodist Church is the state's oldest religious congregation, established in 1859.

From the churches, the blue line leads into the city's historic residential neighborhoods. The houses range from the modest—such as the 1862 Smail House (512 N. Curry), which is considered a fine example of Greek revival architecture—to the elaborate, like Henry M. Yerington's Victorian home, built in 1863, once home of the superintendent of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

Other noteworthy abodes on the trail include: the Alfred Chartz House (412 N. Nevada), built in 1876, and named for a renowned 19th century Nevada lawyer; the Abe Curry House, an unusual sandstone home built in 1871 by the city's founder (using stone from the state prison quarry); and the Frank Norcross House, built in 1906 by a former Nevada Supreme Court Justice (and later owned by former U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt).

One of the most historically significant buildings is the Orion Clemens house (502 N. Division), built in 1863 by the first and only secretary of the Nevada Territorial.
Orion Clemens was the brother of Samuel Clemens, better known as writer Mark Twain. The latter began his writing career at Virginia City's legendary "Territorial Enterprise" newspaper and occasionally stayed in the house in 1864.

The 1886 William Stewart House (503 W. Robinson), named for Nevada's first U.S. Senator, was actually the second home he had constructed in Carson City. It later served as a hospital.

A more recent structure that is architecturally significant is the Dr. William Cavell House (402 W. Robinson). Built by a local dentist in 1907, the house was one of the first in the city to have indoor gas and electricity.

Another striking home is the Bender House (707 W. Robinson), a white, two-story structure with a wonderful round porch. The home was built in 1867 and is named for David A. Bender, a V & T Railroad official, who owned it from 1873 to 1901.

Across the street is the magnificent Bliss Mansion (710 W. Robinson), a 15-room home built in 1879 by lumber magnate Duane L. Bliss. The house is now a bed and breakfast inn.

More about the trail in the next posting.

(For more information about the Kit Carson Trail, contact the Carson City Visitors & Convention Authority, 1-800-NEVADA-1).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Churchill County Museum Has the Goods

It’s amazing how much of Nevada’s history is associated with the Fallon region.

Within a few miles of the community are such historically significant places as Hidden Cave, the Pony Express route, the 40-Mile Desert and the Newlands Water Project.

Fortunately, the Churchill County Museum in Fallon tells the stories of these places and the role each played in the state’s development.

For instance, prior to the arrival of white settlers in the late 19th century, there was a plethora of prehistoric activity in the area. Displays in the 14,000 square-foot building describe these early people as well as the landscape, which was considerably different from today.

Until about 12,000 years ago, much of the region was covered by an ancient inland sea, now called Lake Lahontan. Archaeologists at Hidden Cave have uncovered fossils and artifacts dating as far back as 21,000 years.

The museum offers exhibits detailing excavations of Hidden Cave and offers guided tours of the site on the second and fourth Saturday of each month.

A related children’s exhibit allows kids to dig in sand for hidden artifacts such as arrowheads, spear points, an axe head, and other items.

Adjacent displays focus on the Native American culture of the area with special emphasis on the art of making tule baskets and duck decoys. Some baskets in the museum’s collection were woven more than a century ago.

Additionally, a large hut constructed of tule reeds has been carefully reconstructed to show the traditional Paiute lifestyle.

Wandering through the museum’s main building (the complex consists of several structures), you pass other exhibits describing other important historical events.

One large display is filled with relics from the dreaded 40-mile Desert, a stretch of the Emigrant Trail that was considered the hardest portion of the entire journey because of the lack of water and vegetation.

If you look closely, you can find wagon parts, a rusting waffle iron, horseshoes, wooden roller skates, pans, cow skulls and an assortment of other things left in the desert by pioneers struggling to make the trek.

Fallon was also located on the famed Pony Express route (although the mail trail predates the town by a half-century) and there are displays describing Pony Express stations in the region as well as the development of the Overland Telegraph (which replaced the riders).

The Churchill County Telephone and Telegraph System, which remains the nation’s only county-owned telephone company, eventually absorbed the old telegraph lines.

The museum also contains a display telling the history of the Newlands Water Project, the first federal reclamation project in 1902. This irrigation system created the nearby Lahontan Reservoir, which provides the water for area farmers.

In another part of the museum, visitors can wander by various rooms that recreate early Fallon home life. For example, there is a replica of a typical turn-of-the-century kitchen complete with period stove, table, pots, pans and canned goods.

Glass display cases scattered throughout the building contain a wide variety of antiques such as an extensive old-time camera collection, carnival glass (popular from 1905-30), firearms, rare purple glass, quilts and office equipment.

Outside the main museum building, you can find a number of unique displays that further illustrate the area's history.

There are samples of ancient Indian petroglyphs (rock writings) and the restored Woodliff Novelty Store, once a well-known Fallon business that served the local community over a century ago.

Upon request, docents will open the old store, which has been reconstructed to include portions of the original Hazen post office as well as items preserved from the Kolhoss Store, a general store that operated for many years in Fallon.

Reflecting the area's abundant agricultural roots, there is also a large collection of farming equipment, including a 1903 Case Steam Traction engine.

The museum annex contains a large assortment of horse buggies as well as a replica of a 19th century blacksmith shop, a saddle collection, fire engines and a 1909 steam road roller that was used to build Lahontan Dam.

The museum has a small gift shop that offers postcards, maps, historic photos and a nice collection of historic books about Nevada.

The Churchill County Museum is located at 1050 S. Maine Street in Fallon. The museum is open daily (except Thursday). Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 775-423-3677.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lahontan Dam Transformed Nevada

Near the start of the 20th century, the Lahontan Reservoir was looked upon as the way to transform the dry Nevada landscape into a paradise.

Lahontan’s story begins in 1889, when the United States Geological Survey conducted several studies to determine the practicality of irrigating large portions of the American West. One of the regions considered was Western Nevada, near the location of modern-day Fallon.

In 1902, the United State Bureau of Reclamation was created expressly to build projects that would transport water to dry and dusty parts of the West, including Nevada.

Among the first five projects selected for construction by the new agency was the Truckee-Carson Project, which later became known as the Newlands Reclamation Project, in honor of U.S. Senator Francis G. Newlands of Nevada, author of the 1902 National Reclamation Act.

The project was grand in scope, involving the construction of 104 miles of canals, 504 miles of laterals and 335 miles of open ditches—all designed to move water from the Truckee and Carson rivers to a dry spot in the desert that would be transformed into an oasis.

Work began on the project in 1903 with the building of the Truckee Canal and the Derby Diversion Dam, which divert water from the Truckee River (at a point about 32 miles east of Reno) to Fallon.

Construction continued for nearly 15 years, with other elements added such as the Carson River Diversion Dam (1905), the Lahontan Power Plant (1911), the Lake Tahoe Dam sluiceway (1913) and the Lahontan Dam, completed in 1914.

The latter was the most impressive single structure. It is an earthen dam measuring about 120 feet high and 1,300 feet wide. Curving concrete spillways, which look like giant steps, were built at each end and a massive concrete outlet tower was built in front of the dam.

Water from the spillways flows into a 220-foot pool on the opposite side of the reservoir and from there the water falls back into the Carson River, with a portion diverted to a small electrical powerhouse.

Both the dam and the powerhouse haven’t changed much in the past 80 years. The dam has many unique early 20th century architectural touches, such as the row of old-fashion light posts lining the top of the dam and the intricate concrete arch and metalwork on the suspension footbridge leading to the outlet tower.

The powerhouse is a substantial stone and concrete structure on the river’s edge that houses three generators. Completed before the dam, it supplied hydroelectric power for the machinery used to build the dam. Today, it provides power to the surrounding area.

The original supporters of the Newlands Project were extremely bullish about its prospects, predicting that when completed it would irrigate more than 400,000 acres. The estimates proved overly optimistic as only about 70,000 acres are irrigated by the project.

The 100,000-acre reservoir, however, surpassed expectations in terms of recreational uses. At 23 miles long, it has about 70 miles of shoreline and can retain 320,000 acre-feet of water (an acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land with a foot of water).

Operated by the Nevada Division of State Parks, the reservoir regularly accommodated nearly a half-million people each year—and most of them seemed to be there on the July 4 weekend. It has more than two dozen beaches with picnicking and swimming as well as 50 camping sites with a dump stations, drinking water and boating launching facilities.

The name, Lahontan, is derived from the name given to the prehistoric lake that once covered much of Nevada and honors Baron de Lahontan, a famous 19th century French explorer.

The Lahontan Recreation Area is located nine miles west of Fallon (or about 45 miles east of Carson City via U.S. 50).

For more information, check out www.state.nv.us/parks/.