Thursday, October 29, 2009

Dayton's Buildings Say Much About the Community

It’s been said that the old mining town of Dayton was the site of many Nevada firsts. It was reportedly the site of the state’s first marriage as well as its first recorded dance, which was apparently attended by nine girls or women—and 150 men.

The community traces its roots to the late 1840s, when gold was discovered in nearby Gold Canyon. A small group of miners began working the canyon, including James “Old Virginny” Finney, namesake for Virginia City, who is buried in the Dayton cemetery.

In addition to the prospectors, Dayton was a stop on the Emigrant Trail for travelers heading to California. An early trading post, known as Hall’s Station, after owner Spafford Hall, was one of the first businesses established in the area.

In 1861, the settlement officially became known as Dayton, after surveyor John Day, who plated the community.
Among its residents in those days was a fairly large population of Chinese, who were brought to the region to build a two-mile water ditch from the mouth of the Carson River Canyon to Gold Canyon. The Chinese also reworked placer gold tailings left behind by other miners.

Several mills were eventually built near Dayton, which became a thriving ore-processing region for Comstock mines. Ruins of one of them, the Rock Point Mill, can be found near the entrance to the Dayton State Park, east of town.

In 1866 and 1870, fire destroyed many of Dayton’s original buildings. Yet despite disasters, calamities, neglect, and the effects of time, you can still wander the narrow streets of Dayton and find a number of historically important buildings that help tell the town’s story.

Begin your tour on Main Street in Dayton’s historic downtown. One of the first buildings you see is the Union Market. Built in the 1860s, this one-story stone structure was a butcher shop until the 1940s.

Adjacent is Daniels Millinery, originally a brewery built in the 1870s. Later used as a general store, this building, which has a wooden overhang, was also used until the 1940s.

Probably the most prominent building on the block is the Union Hotel. This two-story brick structure near the intersection of Main and Pike streets was built in 1870 on the site of an earlier hotel of the same name.

Next to the Union Hotel is a building known as “Dutch's Antiques.” This tiny one-story wooden storefront was built in the late 1870s or early 1880s, and has housed a number of businesses over the years, including a post office and a restaurant.

Adjacent, is the distinctive two-story wood frame Fox Hotel building. Built in 1889, this business operated until 1907.

One of the most impressive historic buildings in Dayton, located on Pike Street (a half-block from the intersection of Pike and Main) is the Odeon Hall. Built in 1870 on the site of two earlier halls, this two-story red brick landmark has appeared in several movies and is now a restaurant and saloon.

A half block east of Odeon Hall, is the former jail and firehouse, a brick structure built in 1870 to house a new fire engine purchased after the 1870 fire.

Nearby is the tiny St. Anne's Catholic Church, built in the late 19th century. Originally located in Yerington, this petite church was moved to Dayton in 1937.

Adjacent to the church is the former Dayton High School, now a community center. Built in 1918 on the site of the former county courthouse, which burned in 1909, the school's designers incorporated the courthouse’s foundations.

The former Dayton Public School, built in 1865, is one of the oldest public school buildings still standing in the state. This solid stone building, which still looks like an old school house, was used as a school until 1959 and is now home of the Dayton Historic Society Museum.

Directly south on Shady Lane is the Bluestone Building (it has the distinctive "Tahoe Beer" sign painted on the side). Built in the 1870s, this stone structure was originally constructed by a mining company that produced copper sulfide or "bluestone," which was used in processing gold and silver ore. Today, it has been restored into county offices.

If you continue driving a half-mile west on Cemetery Road (the Bluestone Building is on the corner of Cemetery and Shady), you reach the Dayton Cemetery. In addition to offering a beautiful view of the surrounding valley, the cemetery features historic porcelain markers on some of the graves of early Italian settlers.

For more information, contact the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, 775-246-7909,

Monday, October 26, 2009

Explore Carson City's Overlooked East Side

Historic State Printing Office, constructed in 1885-86, is on Carson City's East Side.

When the historic Kit Carson Trail on Carson City’s west side was created a few decades ago, it gave the mistaken impression that there wasn’t much history east of Carson Street.

Fortunately, a booklet produced a few years ago, entitled “The Charles W. Friend Trail, An ‘East Side’ Historical Driving Tour of Carson City, Nevada,” sets the record straight.

The book describes more than two dozen government buildings, commercial structures, houses, and sites that are as historic as any found on the other side of the Capital City.

The tour, developed by the Carson City Preservation Coalition, honors Charles W. Friend, who was Nevada’s first weatherman.

In 1875-76, Friend built the state’s first weather observatory, which included a six-inch refracting telescope, on what is now the eastern corner of Stewart and E. King streets.

Friend also built a house adjacent to the domed observatory (today, the site of both buildings is known as the Charles W. Friend Park). After 1887, Friend served as Nevada’s first state weather service director and worked with the Army Signal Corps to set up weather stations throughout the state.

The tour begins at the Nevada State Capitol, which is located on the eastern side of Carson Street. Built in 1870 of native sandstone, the capitol houses a number of exhibits including portraits of all of the state’s governors and a display describing the early history of the state.

Other significant east side sites noted in the book include:

• The Nevada State Printing Office at 100 North Stewart Street was erected in 1885-86. Now incorporated into the Nevada State Library and Archives Complex, the historic two-story building was constructed, like the State Capitol, of sandstone quarried at the Nevada State Prison. Today, it houses the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office and a changing art gallery.

• The Old Armory Building at 406 East Second Street was built in 1882. Originally owned by the Dangberg Land and Livestock Company, it served as the Nevada State National Guard Armory (hence the name) from 1905 to 1978.

• Fred Snyder House at 214 South Pratt Street, built in the 1920s, is one of Carson City’s most interesting homes. Constructed of multi-colored stones, it incorporates the style and architecture of the buildings constructed at the Stewart Indian School. Of course, that’s not surprising since its original owner was Fred Snyder, superintendent of the school from 1919 to 1934. Stone used in the house came from quarries throughout the state.

• Vansickle-Lynch House at 311 Pratt Street is a lovely country Victorian that was constructed in 1906 on the site of a horse race track. Over the years, it has had only two owners, both of which took great pride in the home’s upkeep.

• Leport-Toupin House at 503 East Telegraph is one of only three Second Empire-style homes built in Carson City. Constructed in 1879, it boasts a distinctive mansard roof and projecting dormer windows. Original owner, Alexander Leport, was a prominent early Carson City merchant.

• The Railroad Car House at 708 North Walsh Street is just what the name says. Underneath a number of additions and remodels is an 1872 Virginia & Truckee Railroad baggage and mail car. The car was moved to this site in 1938 and converted into a home for the railroad’s railmaster. It continues to serve as a family home.

• The Paul Laxalt State Building at 401 North Carson Street was erected in 1891. The four-story red-brick Victorian was Nevada’s first federal building, originally housing a post office, federal court offices, U.S. Land office and the U.S. Weather Bureau. Among it’s most prominent features is a three-faced clock in a 106-foot tower. Today, the building houses the Nevada Commission on Tourism and Nevada Magazine.

• The Goni House at 108 E. John Street was built in 1883 and originally located on Minnesota Street. In 1896, it was moved to this location by Emanuel Goni, a prominent Spanish Basque sheep rancher. Still owned by the Goni family, it has been used by commercial businesses in recent years.

Copies of “The Charles W. Friend Trail, An East Side Historical Driving Tour of Carson City, Nevada,” can be purchased for $2.95 from the Nevada State Legislature gift shop.

Friday, October 09, 2009

California Had Several Capitals Before Sacramento

California took its time in deciding where to place its capitol. Before selecting Sacramento as its seat of government, California had a number of earlier capital cities.

For instance, while not technically ever designated the state capital, Monterey hosted the 1849 constitutional convention during which a state constitution was drafted and San Jose was selected as the capitol site.

San Jose held the distinction of being state capital for only two years, from November 13, 1849 to May 1, 1851. During that time, a two-story adobe hotel served as the capitol and two sessions of the state Legislature were held in the city.

Legislators, however, were not impressed with San Jose, which at the time was fairly small and had limited accommodations and services. In 1851, they voted to relocate the capitol to Vallejo.

Unfortunately, Vallejo was equally ill-equipped to serve the legislators—during the 1852 session a steam ship, Empire, served as a kind of floating hotel for many lawmakers. After holding portions of the Third and Fourth Sessions of the Legislature in Vallejo, in 1853 legislators voted to move the capitol to Benicia.

While Benicia, which had a grand new city hall building that doubled as the capitol, was an improvement over the previous capital cities, it was also too small for the growing machinery of state government. During the 1854 session, it was reported that “at least one hundred men had no place to sleep except barrooms of saloons.”

So legislators were relieved when a generous proposal to host the state capitol arrived from the city of Sacramento. The city offered free use of the Sacramento County Courthouse, rooms for state officers, fireproof vaults for records, free moving expenses, and free land for a future capitol building.

On February 25, 1854, Sacramento was officially selected as the state capital. During the next four months, the county courthouse served as the capitol.

On July 13, 1854, however, the courthouse was destroyed by fire. Within a short time, construction began on a new county courthouse, which was completed in January 1855.

This second courthouse served as the state capitol from 1855 to 1869 (with the exception of a four-month period in 1862, when the capitol was temporarily moved to San Francisco due to severe flooding in Sacramento).

Work on a permanent Capitol in Sacramento began in September 1860. Construction would take about 14 years because of funding problems and due to the fact that work had to cease during the wet winter months. Additionally, building materials were often scarce during the Civil War years (1860-65). Finally, in 1874, the Capitol building was completed at a cost of nearly $2.5 million.

Looking at it today, it’s easy to say that California’s State Capitol looks like a capitol. With its classic Roman Corinthian design, thick, granite foundation and 200-foot high golden cupola atop a dome, the building is a textbook image of a statehouse.

These days, the structure, which was restored from 1975-81, also serves as a kind of living history museum that offers an opportunity to learn a bit about our neighboring state.

Most of the building’s rooms, once offices for California state officials, have been lovingly restored with antique furnishings. The basement houses a small theater showing a film about the building of the Capitol, a tour office, historical exhibit rooms, gift shop and a restaurant.

The California State Capitol is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free guided tours are offered. The building is located between 10th and 12th streets and L and N streets in downtown Sacramento. For more information call 916-324-0333,

Friday, October 02, 2009

Ghost Town of Metropolis Continues to Fascinate

In the fall of 2008, visitors to the town of Almere, Netherlands, found a remarkable sight in a grassy lot in the town center—an exact replica of the Lincoln School archway found in the ghost town of Metropolis.

Constructed of plywood and high resolution photographs printed on self-adhesive vinyl, the duplicate arch, called “Reclamation,” was the work of American artist Kristin Posehn, who prepared it for the Museum de Paviljoens.

In addition to the full-scale image of the decaying arch—which included chipped bricks, cracks and bullet holes—Posehn’s exhibit featured reprints of front pages of the Metropolis Chronicle, newspaper advertisements and promotional pamphlets.

It also had contemporary and historic photos of the town as well as copies of the original architect’s drawing of the Lincoln School. The Metropolis arch art project was displayed for about three months before being dismantled.

Posehn’s project just goes to show that the community of Metropolis continues to fascinate people. Unlike most Nevada ghost towns, Metropolis wasn’t a town built from the proceeds of gold or silver mines that went bust but rather was an early 20th century land promotion.

In 1909, the Pacific Reclamation Company and the Metropolis Land Improvement Company were formed by Harvey Pierce of Leominster, Massachusetts, to develop 40,000 acres located about 17 miles northwest of Wells, Nevada in Elko County.

Pierce and his staff crafted a promotional campaign that was long on hyperbole and, perhaps, short on total honesty. Posters and brochures were filled with extravagant claims about the area’s fabulously fertile soil, lengthy growing season and abundant water.

The company boasted that the new planned community would house 7,500 people and have convenient rail transportation. At least the part about the rail service turned out to be true.

To further enhance the project, Pacific Reclamation constructed the Bishop Creek Dam on a tributary of the Humboldt River to provide a reliable source of water to the farming community.

As new residents flocked the community, which by the end of 1911 had 700 people, the company laid out a town site and began construction of several buildings including a wooden Meeting Hall that also served as a church, theater and gymnasium (and later as a school) as well as the three-story, 50-room Metropolis Hotel.

Coinciding with the hotel’s opening was the completion of the Southern Pacific Railroad eight-mile spur line between the town and the main rail line at nearby Tulasco.

In June of 1912, as the town was really starting to flower, the Pacific Reclamation Company received bad news. A group of downstream farmers in Lovelock had filed a lawsuit arguing that the company was illegally withholding water behind the Bishop Creek Dam that rightly belonged to them.

It turned out that Pacific Reclamation had neglected to file for proper water rights. A subsequent court decision sided with the Lovelock farmers and the company was ordered to lower the water levels behind the dam so that there was only enough to provide the town with water and to irrigate 4,000 acres.

The impact of the decision was devastating to Pacific Reclamation. The company went into receivership and the community lost its biggest developer and benefactor.

While the ornate Lincoln School, already under construction when the water rights issue flared up, was completed at a cost of $25,000, it was the last major construction project in the town. Before the year was over, the Metropolis Hotel had closed and the local newspaper had ceased publication.

And then came Mother Nature. In 1914, the region entered a prolonged drought, which, it turned out, was normal and typical for the area.

The dry conditions triggered twin disasters for the farmers: an invasion of wild jackrabbits that ate nearly all the crops coupled with an infestation of Mormon crickets, which are ravenous swarms of insects who eat everything, including paint on houses.

The dry spell continued for more than four years, which meant the rabbits and crickets returned every year.

By the early 1920s, only about 100 people still lived in Metropolis and the surrounding farms. The railroad gave up on the town in 1925 and ripped up the tracks.

In 1943, the magnificent Lincoln School was closed and three years later it was dismantled and the bricks sold off. All that remained was solid concrete floors and an elaborately decorated concrete arch entrance—the same one made famous in Posehn’s artwork halfway around the world.

Today, not much remains of Nevada’s first master-planned community. About a half dozen homesteads are still active in the area and trace their roots to the Metropolis development. There are also two cemeteries, one on a small hill east of the town center and a larger one west of the former site of the Lincoln School. Both are still tended by locals.