Welcome to an exploration of the captivating history of Carson City, Nevada, and its remarkable historical buildings and attractions. Nestled amidst the breathtaking landscapes of the American West, Carson City is a city steeped in rich heritage and timeless charm.
From its humble beginnings as a bustling frontier town to its present-day status as the vibrant capital of Nevada, Carson City holds a treasure trove of stories waiting to be discovered.
Throughout this article, we will delve into the intriguing past of Carson City, tracing its origins and development over the years. We will unravel the tales behind its iconic historical buildings, each standing as a testament to the city’s evolution and architectural prowess. From the elegant Victorian mansions to the stately government structures, these edifices embody the spirit of a bygone era.
Join us on this journey as we uncover the fascinating history, preserved in the very foundations and facades of Carson City’s notable landmarks. Prepare to be captivated by the stories of pioneers, visionaries, and the events that shaped this remarkable city, leaving an indelible mark on its landscape and the hearts of its inhabitants.
A brief history of Carson City
The Washoe people have inhabited the valley and surrounding areas for thousands of years. European Americans, led by John C. Frémont, arrived in what is now Eagle Valley in 1843. The area was named Carson Valley after Kit Carson, and later the settlement became known as Washoe. By 1851, the Eagle Station ranch had become a trading post along the Carson River, serving travelers on the California Trail’s Carson Branch.
As part of the Utah Territory, the area was governed from Salt Lake City, which led to tensions among settlers who desired a separate Nevada territory. Abraham Curry and influential settlers sought a site for the capital city, and in 1858, Curry purchased Eagle Station and renamed it Carson City.
The discovery of gold and silver in nearby Comstock Lode spurred the city’s growth, and it became the territorial capital when Nevada gained statehood in 1864.
Carson City thrived as a commercial center, with the Virginia and Truckee Railroad connecting it to Virginia City. The city’s development was not solely reliant on mining, and it became the permanent capital of Nevada. The construction of the current capitol building took place between 1870 and 1871, and the Carson City Mint operated from 1870 to 1893, striking gold and silver coins.
The city experienced a decline in population and transportation traffic due to the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad through Donner Pass. However, mining booms in Tonopah and Goldfield brought some revitalization.
In the late 1940s, discussions began about merging Ormsby County and Carson City, which culminated in a successful merger in 1969, creating the Consolidated Municipality of Carson City.
Carson City implemented a downtown master plan in 1991, which restricted building heights within 500 feet of the capitol. The Ormsby House stands as the tallest building in downtown Carson City, completed in 1972.
Today, Carson City stands as one of America’s largest state capitals, encompassing 146 square miles of city limits. It has preserved its historical significance while embracing its growth and development.
Nevada State Capitol
The Nevada State Capitol, situated at 101 North Carson Street in Carson City, serves as the capitol building of Nevada. Constructed between 1869 and 1871, it showcases the elegant Neoclassical Italianate style and is recognized as a National Register of Historic Places site, as well as Nevada Historical Marker number 25.
The original building featured a cruciform design, with a central rectangle measuring 76 feet wide by 85 feet deep, and two wings each spanning 35 feet wide by 52 feet deep. Remarkably, the windows boasted 26-ounce French crystal panes, while the floors and wainscoting displayed Alaskan marble.
Notable elements within the capitol include a bronze statue of Sarah Winnemucca, a revered Paiute educator and author, prominently displayed in the lobby. Additionally, portraits of Nevada governors and other esteemed Nevadans adorn the space.
The first floor housed essential offices interconnected by central halls, while the second floor wings accommodated the Assembly and Senate chambers. The octagonal dome with a cupola allowed natural light into the second story. In 1906, an octagonal Annex was added to the rear of the capitol to house the State Library.
To address the legislature’s growing needs, architect Frederic DeLongchamps designed northern and southern legislative wing-annexes, which were completed in time for the 1915 session. These additions harmoniously incorporated stone from the same quarry as the original capitol, expanding office space and the legislative chambers.
Initially, all three branches of state government operated from the Capitol. However, the Supreme Court relocated to a nearby building in 1937, and the Nevada Legislature moved to the new Legislative Building south of the Capitol in 1971. Nonetheless, the Governor’s office remains in the Capitol, which also houses historical exhibits on its second floor.
Nevada State Museum and the former Carson City Mint
The Nevada State Museum in Carson City, operated by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, is housed in the former Carson City Mint. It showcases a range of exhibits that highlight the natural and cultural heritage of Nevada.
Notable exhibits include the world’s largest exhibited Columbian Mammoth discovered in the Black Rock Desert and the silver service from the USS Nevada battleship. The museum offers insights into Nevada’s history, from its prehistoric era and geological formations to the days of silver mining and American Indian culture.
Among the featured exhibits are the Historic Carson City Mint, showcasing Coin Press No. 1 and CC-marked Comstock silver dollars; Nevada’s Changing Earth, which explores the state’s geological transformations; Nevada: A People and Place through Time, where the USS Nevada battleship’s silver service takes center stage; and Under One Sky, which delves into Native American culture and artifacts dating back 10,000 years.
The museum, established in 1941, holds significant collections related to the history of the American West, including Great Basin Native American basketry, the Fey Slot Machine Collection, Old West firearms, Chinatown cultural materials, and the exquisite silver service set created for the USS Nevada battleship.
Designed by Alfred B. Mullett, the building that housed the mint boasts a simple Renaissance Revival-style stone facade, featuring round-headed windows and a central portico. The mint’s coin press, Coin Press No. 1, remains operational and continues to produce medallions with the renowned CC mint mark.
The Nevada State Museum in Carson City preserves the legacy of the Carson City Mint while captivating visitors with its rich historical collections and engaging exhibits.
Nevada Governor’s Mansion
Designed by Reno architect George A. Ferris, the Nevada Governor’s Mansion serves as the official residence for the governor and their family. This Classical Revival (Neoclassical) style mansion holds a place on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.
Construction of the Governor’s Mansion took place from 1908 to 1909 after the passing of State Assembly Bill 10, also known as the “Mansion Bill.” Previously, Nevada’s governors and their families sought accommodations near Carson City, the capital.
The land where the mansion now stands was purchased from Mrs. T.B. Rickey for $10, and George A. Ferris, the architect, incorporated Classical Revival features along with Georgian and Jeffersonian motifs into his design. The construction bid was awarded for $22,700.
Acting Governor Denver S. Dickerson and his family became the first residents in July 1909. The mansion was opened to the public for the first time on New Year’s Day in 1910, and it holds the distinction of being the birthplace of the governor’s daughter, June Dickerson, born on September 2, 1909.
The Nevada Governor’s Mansion front entrance showcases a stunning two-story pedimented portico, adorned with four fluted Ionic columns that support a balustraded second-story porch enveloping the mansion’s facade. Greek Revival elements grace the window moldings, adding to its grandeur.
Inside the mansion’s first floor, visitors are greeted by a grand entry hall leading to the reception room, formal dining room, governor’s study, luncheon room, and kitchen. The mansion underwent structural reinforcement, renovation to code, and redecoration in 1967-1968. Notable additions in 1969 included a circular pergola, curved front stairs, and metal balustrades. Furthermore, auxiliary buildings were constructed on the grounds in 1998 to cater to facility requirements.
St. Charles-Muller’s Hotel
The St. Charles-Muller’s Hotel, located at 302-304-310 S. Carson St. in Carson City, Nevada, is a historic establishment with a rich history. Constructed in 1862, it has been alternatively known as the St. Charles Hotel and the Pony Express Hotel. The hotel’s architecture showcases vernacular Italianate elements and is the oldest surviving brick building on Main Street, facing the Nevada State Capitol across Carson Street.
Notably, it holds the distinction of being the longest continuously operating hotel in the State of Nevada. Recognized for its historical significance, the St. Charles-Muller’s Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Originally founded by George Remington and Albert Muller, the hotel was named after Saint Charles, drawing inspiration from distinguished hotels on the East coast. Albert J. Muller, a French-born entrepreneur, transitioned from a professional baker to a hotel proprietor and oversaw the hotel’s success. Initially catering to French-Canadian wood choppers, the St. Charles became a popular venue for social gatherings in Carson City.
Architecturally, the hotel exhibits characteristics common to late-nineteenth-century commercial buildings, featuring a low-pitched roof, decorative brackets beneath a cornice, and tall narrow windows.
Originally consisting of two separate buildings, construction began on the northern section, the St. Charles, in April 1862, followed by the southern section, the Muller Hotel, the following month. Over the years, the hotel underwent numerous alterations, resulting in its distinctive appearance that does not align with a specific architectural period. However, its architectural style is closest to Italianate, which was prevalent in many American main-street commercial buildings.
Throughout its history, the hotel experienced multiple changes in names and ownership. It was known as the Briggs’ House in 1895 when Gilbert and Dorcas Briggs owned it and later became the Golden West Hotel in 1910.
Subsequent name changes included the Travelers Hotel, Hotel Page, and the Pony Express Hotel when it reached its largest room count, before finally reverting to St. Charles Muller’s Hotel. Over a span of 142 years, the hotel changed ownership sixteen times, and its premises accommodated various businesses such as a stagecoach office, saloon, restaurant, retail shops, and even a grammar school classroom.
While much of the original structure has been altered, the building bears evidence of its evolving purposes, names, and owners. Today, the St. Charles-Muller’s Hotel features an attractive red and gold exterior and offers modern, well-appointed rooms for booking through Airbnb. Although there were periods when the hotel was inaccessible, it is now open and caters to contemporary methods of reserving accommodations.
Nevada State Railroad Museum
The Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City is dedicated to preserving the railroad heritage of Nevada, particularly the famous Virginia and Truckee Railroad. Operated by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, the museum’s collection includes locomotives and cars obtained from Hollywood studios that were featured in movies and TV shows.
The museum offers a range of activities, including train rides, handcar rides, lectures, symposiums, changing exhibits, and special events. It also conducts ongoing research and restoration programs.
Currently, the museum has an exhibit commemorating the 150th anniversary of the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad, featuring V&T Coach No. 17, which carried Leland Stanford to the Golden Spike ceremony.
Inside the museum, visitors can explore interpretive displays about the transcontinental railroad, the history of the V&T Railroad, and other railroading artifacts in northern Nevada.
Notable exhibits include the operational Baldwin steam locomotive “Inyo,” built in 1875, which has appeared in numerous films. Outside, visitors can visit Wabuska Station, observe restoration projects, and view a variety of cars and equipment from the V&T Railroad’s heyday. There’s even an opportunity to try handcar rides on a short section of track with the assistance of knowledgeable volunteers.
A unique highlight of the museum is the operational McKeen Motor Car, the only one of its kind in the world. Visitors can explore the car and even enjoy excursion rides on select dates. The steam locomotive “Glenbrook,” restored after many years of work, adds to the museum’s historical significance as it served the lumber and tourism industries at Lake Tahoe in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
On the museum grounds, the Wabuska Depot, a historic station from Wabuska, Nevada, has been relocated and serves as a working railroad station where visitors can purchase tickets for train rides.
The Stewart Indian School
The Stewart Indian School, operational from 1890 to 1980, was a renowned off-reservation boarding school in Nevada. It gained recognition for its student apprentices’ skilled masonry work using colored native stone to construct vernacular-style buildings.
The school, part of the Native American boarding schools project, received funding from William M. Stewart, Nevada’s first senator, and opened on December 17, 1890, under his name. Over its history, it was also known as Stewart Institute, Carson Industrial School, and Carson Indian School.
Initially, Native American children from Nevada and the Western region were compelled to attend the Stewart Institute, where they were subjected to strict discipline and unpaid labor. The school aimed to eradicate indigenous language and culture, providing trade skills and promoting assimilation. In 1919, Frederick Snyder assumed leadership and transformed the struggling institution into an architectural and horticultural showplace.
Despite assimilation policies prohibiting native language and culture until about 1934, efforts to preserve Indian culture were supported by Alida Cynthia Bowler, the Director of Carson Indian School and Reservations following the Indian Reorganization Act.
The Stewart Indian School Museum, constructed by Indian students in 1930, is located in superintendent Snyder’s former home. The museum offers visitors a glimpse into the Native land occupied by Stewart, showcases the language groups of Nevada, and features changing exhibits of class photos and student artwork.
The Research Room provides access to archival documents, photographs, publications, and exhibits on Hopi stonemasonry. The Wa-Pai-Shone Gallery highlights the work of contemporary Great Basin Native artists through the Great Basin Native Artist Association.
In 1980, the federal government ceased funding for Indian boarding schools, leading to the closure of the campus. Throughout its 90-year existence, the Stewart Indian School provided education to an estimated 30,000 students. The surviving buildings, including over 63 structures, a large swimming pool, and a railroad platform, were primarily constructed between 1922 and the start of World War II.
The Sears–Ferris House
The Sears-Ferris House, located at 311 W Third Street in Carson City, Nevada, is a historic house built in 1863. It was originally constructed by Gregory A. Sears, a pioneer businessman in Carson City.
The house became the property of George Washington Gale Ferris Sr. from 1868 to 1890. George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., the future inventor of the Ferris wheel, was his son. The house is also known as the G.W.G. Ferris House. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places for Carson City in 1979.
Featuring Colonial Revival and Georgian Revival architecture, the square-shaped house measures roughly sixty by sixty feet. Currently under private ownership, it is not open to the public.
George Washington Gale Ferris Sr. arrived in Nevada in 1864 and engaged in farming activities, introducing various Eastern ornamental plants to Carson City. His son, George Washington Gale Ferris Jr., who was born in 1859, spent part of his childhood in the house. He later achieved fame for inventing the Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.
In 1881, George Washington Gale Ferris Sr. and his wife Martha moved to Riverside, California, and sold the house to their daughter Mary Ferris Ardery in 1890. The residence underwent changes over the years, including alterations to the front porch.
In the twentieth century, the house had several owners, including the Mahers in 1922, Thurman Cross in 1956, Ferdinand Hirzy in 1968, and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Herron in July 1968.
The Rinckel Mansion
The Rinckel Mansion, located at 102 North Curry Street in Carson City, Nevada, is a historic house listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). Built in 1872, it was designed and constructed by architect Charles H. Jones, who had trained at the Ecole de Beaux Arts.
The mansion served as the residence of Mathias Rinckel, a prominent merchant in Carson City. It is regarded as one of the finest and most well-preserved examples of French Victorian architecture in the American West.
The mansion’s construction showcases High Victorian Italianate architecture, utilizing pressed brick sourced from Carson Valley and sandstone from the Nevada State Prison quarry. The lumber used in the mansion’s construction was knot-free and obtained from the pine forests of Lake Tahoe.
Mathias Rinckel, a German immigrant, amassed wealth in the gold fields of the Feather River District in California from 1849 to 1859. He further increased his fortune through mining ventures in Virginia City. In 1863, Rinckel settled in Carson City, engaging in livestock raising and butchering. As a successful merchant, he supplied meat to the mining and timber districts surrounding Eagle Valley.
The Rinckel Mansion was officially listed on the NRHP on November 20, 1975. In 2000, it came under the ownership of the Nevada Press Foundation, serving as the offices for the Nevada Press Association.
The Foreman–Roberts House
The Foreman-Roberts House, also known as the James D. Roberts House and the Thurman Roberts House, is a historic house and museum located at 1217 N. Carson St. in Carson City, Nevada.
Built in 1859, the house was later moved to its current location in 1873. It holds significance as the oldest surviving house in Carson City and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
This fine example of Gothic Revival architecture is the only remaining one of its kind in Carson City and one of the few in Nevada. It was documented by drawings in the Historic American Buildings Survey program in 1973. The Foreman-Roberts House Museum serves as the headquarters of the Carson City Historical Society and is open to the public by appointment and for special events.
The house’s relocation to Carson City occurred in 1873, where it was assembled near one of two artesian wells. From its front porch, one can enjoy views of the State Capitol, much like other homes and buildings of that time.
James Doane Roberts, co-owner of Roberts and Corbett’s Saloon, had ties to the property, and his granddaughter Hattie was a former employee of the State of Nevada and descended from American patriot Nathan Hale.
Thurman Roberts, the last surviving child of the Roberts family, bequeathed the property to the children of Nevada, and it became the possession of Carson City. Initially slated for demolition to create a small park, the outcry from the community led to the formation of the Nevada Landmark’s Society, now known as the Carson City Historical Society.
Through the efforts of volunteers, including state prison inmates, the house was restored and stabilized, with a stone foundation installed. Although damaged by fire in 2016, it was subsequently restored in 2018.
The Carson City Historical Society conducts yard sales at the Foreman-Roberts House Museum from May through October. Typically, the museum is open to the public on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 1:00-3:00 p.m., but it’s advisable to confirm with the Carson City Historical Society for specific hours.
Additionally, the museum can be booked by appointment for weddings and other special events. The property surrounding the museum encompasses a 1/4 acre park area featuring picnic tables, mature trees, and grass, providing a pleasant outdoor space.
The Carson City Post Office
The Carson City Post Office is a historic building in Carson City, constructed from 1888 to 1891. It holds significance as the second federal building in Nevada, featuring Richardsonian Romanesque architectural style, and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
The construction process involved multiple architects, including Mifflin E. Bell, Will Frost, and James Windrum, who oversaw its completion as Supervising Architects of the Treasury Department.
The allocation of funds for the public building in Carson City was authorized by a bill passed by the United States Senate in 1885. This prevented the conversion of the Mint into a public building and led to the construction of the present Government Building. The selection process for the building site involved a panel of citizens from Carson City, which eventually settled on a location in Reno. Construction began approximately three years later.
The completed building accommodated the United States District Court, Land Office, Weather Bureau, and Carson City Post Office, occupying a total of 16 rooms. It featured a clock tower, the earliest and only one in Carson City, standing at approximately 106 feet high.
From 1891 to 1965, it served as the courthouse for the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. In 1999, the building was renamed the Paul Laxalt State Building in honor of former Nevada Governor Paul Laxalt. Currently, it houses the Nevada Commission on Tourism.
Various modifications were made over the years, including customizing the washrooms in 1908 and installing Carson City’s first elevator in 1935. In 1955, upgrades included the removal of the chimney, the addition of a brick loading dock, and the expansion of the lobby.
The Post Office ceased operations in the building in 1971 and relocated to a new establishment nearby. Since 1972, minimal changes have been made to the building, preserving its appearance from a century ago.