Monday, February 28, 2011

Where to Find Out about Lyon County's Rich History

The Lyon County Museum might best be described as the region’s attic. Where else could a visitor find a portrait made of human hair or a seven-million-year-old mastodon tusk or a couple of intact early 20th century schoolhouses?

Located in the peaceful town of Yerington, the Lyon County Museum is also one of rural Nevada’s most comprehensive regional museums.

The main portion of the museum is housed inside the former Mason Community Church, a Baptist house of worship that was built in 1911 and used as a church until 1930. It was later relocated from the Mason Valley to Yerington and has served as the museum’s quarters since 1978.

Once inside the museum, the first impression is that nearly every space is filled with something. Display cases line the floor of the building and nearly every wall contains some type of exhibit.

The museum is devoted to telling the story of Lyon County and does a good job of fulfilling that task. For instance, mining was long a mainstay of the regional economy and the museum has an Anaconda Room containing displays describing the substantial copper mining that happened in the county.

In addition to historic mining photos (the copper mine at nearby Weed Heights was active from 1932 to 1978), there are rock samples showing native copper, malachite, and other minerals from local mines.

Another wall display shows handmade quilts, some from the late 1800s, when the region was first settled. The museum also tells about the area’s Native Americans and exhibits a handful of ornate baskets, cradleboards and arrowheads.

Wandering through the room, you can spot displays devoted to the history of gambling in the area (there is a wooden roulette wheel and a Mills nickel slot machine) as well as vintage toys and firearms.

There are also reconstructions of a 19th century sitting room with an 1860s organ and a 19th century Grand Piano (and Eilley Orrum Bowers’ original rocker, which once was in the Bowers Mansion) as well as a re-creation of an early 20th century kitchen.

You can also find “Mac’s Barber Shop,” a re-creation of a 20th century men’s barber shop, the telephone switchboard once used in the nearby Smith and Mason valleys and a railroading exhibit with historic Virginia & Truckee Railroad and Nevada Copper Belt Railroad artifacts.

If you look on one of the walls, you’ll see the museum’s most unique item——a picture of flowers that was handmade of human hair. Scottish-born Margaret Nichol, a Smith Valley pioneer, created the hirsute heirloom in 1860.

Outside of the main building are a half-dozen other historic structures from around the county that have been relocated and now serve as additional display space.

For instance, the former East Walker School, a classic one-room school has been moved to the museum grounds and set up as it once was with desks, wall-size chalkboard, wood stove and books. In this building, visitors are invited to ring the old school bell.

Another building on the grounds in the former Thompson school, originally located in the mining town of Thompson. Inside, visitors can find vintage medical equipment and newspaper machinery.

Adjacent is the former Gallager School Building, constructed in 1880, which was used as a school until 1941. Inside, exhibits describe the region’s natural history and include displays of antelope, chukar, muskrats and other local species.

The museum’s oldest artifact can also be found here—a 7.5 million-year-old mastodon tusk discovered in the Smith Valley.

Next to that is the Country Store, once a residence in Yerington, which has been set up to resemble a turn-of-the-century general store, complete with old time scales, counters, cash register, tins, and other period products.

One of the most popular exhibits for children at the museum is the model railroad display, built by the Yerington Model Railroad Club. And for those wanting to see the real thing, the museum houses the restored Engine #6 from the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad, which once ran in the area.

The Lyon County Museum is located at 215 South Main Street in Yerington. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation. For more information, call 775-463-6576 or go to www.yerington.net.

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