Monday, November 16, 2009
Visit Winnemucca's Humboldt County Museum
People in Winnemucca like to say their town was the crossroads of early Nevada—-and they’re not wrong.
Winnemucca was founded in the late 1850s by a Frenchman named Joe Ginacca who settled on the banks of the Humboldt River and traded with pioneers heading west on the Emigrant Trail to California and Oregon.
Ginacca also operated a ferry service and transported wagons across the Humboldt. In time, the settlement became known as French Ford, after Ginacca.
By the mid-1860s, French Ford had a small hotel and a bridge over the river. The town began to grow rapidly after gold and silver were discovered in the region, at places like Unionville, and the settlement became the supply center for local mines.
In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad reached the community, which was renamed Winnemucca in honor of a famous Paiute chief. The railroad brought additional jobs (switching crews were stationed in the town) and linked the town to the rest of the country.
While Unionville was named the first seat of Humboldt County in the mid-1860s, the mining camp’s decline resulted in the county seat being moved to Winnemucca in 1872.
One of the best places to learn about Winnemucca’s role in the development of Nevada is the Humboldt Historical Museum on Jungo Road, just north of downtown Winnemucca.
Established in the 1970s, the museum consists of several buildings housing exhibits detailing various aspects of the region’s history. It hosts nearly 8,000 visitors per year.
The museum’s centerpiece is the historic St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a quaint whitewashed, one-room church built in 1907. The building—the oldest church in Winnemucca—is jammed with displays ranging from historic Native American objects to vintage furniture.
Wandering through the old church, you can find a large collection of arrowheads and spear points from the area, some more than 5,000 years old. Adjacent is a display describing the Lovelock Cave, an archaeological site that has yielded hundreds of prehistoric Indian artifacts including net fragments, shells and duck decoys made from tule reeds.
Other items displayed in the church include: a nice rock collection with petrified wood and fossils; a 19th century oak desk with an antique Remington typewriter, both of which were used by the railroad for more than 60 years; and a display about Edna Purviance, a silent movie star who hailed from Humboldt County.
One exhibit details the last Indian battle in the U.S., which occurred north of Winnemucca. The event occurred in January 1911 and involved a local Native American known as Shoshone Mike, who, with a handful of family members and friends, attempted to avoid living on an Indian reservation. After being unjustly accused of a crime, Shoshone Mike and most of his band were hunted down and killed during a shoot-out.
The former church altar now contains historic furniture such as an ornate, hand-carved chair made by a Chinese laborer who came to Winnemucca while working on construction of the railroad. It was built for the Episcopalian minister, who added elaborate tapestry cushioning.
Behind the church building is a modern brick structure that houses the museum’s vintage automobile collection. Among the vehicles on display is a red 1901 Merry Oldsmobile, the first auto in Humboldt County.
Other cars in the collection include a 1911 Fearless Cycle Car, a compact car made with a motorcycle engine, 1907 Schacht and a 1910 Brush truck. There is also a large black horse buggy, which dates to the 1860s. A large mural behind the autos depicts Winnemucca in 1912.
Other historical items on display include the first organ in Humboldt County, which was manufactured in the mid-1860s, and an antique Melodian, which was the first musical instrument in the old mining camp of Unionville.
The museum grounds also contain a picturesque 19th century grain shop, which was the first store in the community. Today, the wooden building, which has a classic frontier false front, houses the museum thrift shop.
The Humboldt County Historic Museum is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m. (May through October). There is no admission charge but donations are accepted. For more information, call the museum at 775-623-2912.