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.


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