For many years Carson City was America’s smallest capital city. Far from lamenting the situation, civic boosters boasted about the town’s status as the population hovered around 1,500 in the 1920s and 1930s.
Such was not always Carson City’s lot in life. When optimistic pioneer Abraham Curry was laying out streets for his new town in 1858 he set aside ten acres specifically for a capitol - and Nevada wasn’t even a territory yet. But the next year the richest silver strike in the history of the country was made in the nearby Comstock and Carson City took on the importance of its namesake - frontier legend Christopher “Kit” Carson.
The town became a transportation hub and processor of the timber needed to build the Comstock mines. When the Nevada Territory was formed out of the Utah Territory in 1861 Carson City was designated as the capital city and when Abraham Lincoln created the 36th state in the Union on October 31, 1864 Carson City continued as the state capital. The population soared over 5,000 and as many as 36 trains a day rumbled through town.
By the 1880s the silver had played out in the Comstock and the Southern Pacific Railroad had built its line north of town. The population dwindled and would not reach its boom 1860s boom town levels for almost 100 years. In 1969 Ormsby County was dissolved and Carson City assumed control of 146 square miles of land and its people making Carson City is one of America’s largest seats of government physically. Today the city has more people than nine other capitals.
Few state capitals have retained as human a scale as Carson City. The original statehouse is still in use, shrouded in trees planted at the time of its construction, and most of the surrounding streets are residential. A 1991 ordinance specifies that no building within 500 feet can be built taller than its octagonal dome so there will be plenty of sky above when we begin our walking tour in the capitol’s shadow...
Nevada State Capitol
101 North Carson Street
Mark Twain described the Nevada state capitol site in his semi-autographical travel book Roughing It, as “a large, unfenced, level vacancy, with a liberty pole in it, and very useful as a place for public auctions, horse trades, mass meetings, and likewise for teamsters to camp in.” In 1869 the Nevada Legislature authorized $100,000 for construction of a capitol building here. San Francisco architect Joseph Gosling collected a $250 commission for his plans of a two-story Italian Renaissance Revival structure laid out in a cruciform footprint. His design was topped by an octagonal dome over an open cupola. Sandstone was carted from the Nevada State Prison quarry just outside of town at no charge to construct the capitol. When celebrated Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps was called in the early 1900s to build legislative wings the sandstone was used again. Until 1937 all branches of the Nevada government worked here but today just the Executive branch uses the Capitol.
WITH YOUR BACK TO THE STATE CAPITOL TAKE THE CROSSWALK ACROSS NORTH CARSON STREET TO THE WEST SIDE. TO YOUR LEFT AND RIGHT ARE...
Heroes Memorial Building - Orsmby County Courthouse
west side of 100 block of North Carson Street
Frederic Joseph DeLongchamps was born in Reno, graduated from Reno High School and earned a degree in mining engineering from the University of Nevada in 1904. Nothing in his background included training in architecture yet at the age of 25 he was working in a design practice with Ira W. Tesch. In a career that would stretch into the 1960s, DeLongchamps was one of Nevada’s most prolific architects, designing nine county courthouses in the Silver State and in California, including the Ormsby County Courthouse constructed between 1920 and 1922. With its projecting central pediment supported by a quartet of monumental Doric columns, the courthouse is a twin of the Heroes Memorial Building at the south end of the block, erected to honor fallen Nevada Soldiers in World War I.
Nevada Supreme Court
100 North Carson Street
Directly across from the Capitol is the state Supreme Court, built in 1937 and sandwiched between the Neoclassical twins. During the Great Depression government building favored the stripped-down classicism of the Art Deco style and Frederic DeLongchamps delivered a geometrically-influenced home for the high court, which up to that time had made due in a single room in the State Capitol. Out front is a granite drinking fountain given to Carson City in 1909 by the National Humane Alliance that dispensed fresh water for horses in the large bowl and dogs and cats near the bottom.
WALK NORTH ON NORTH CARSON STREET (THE CAPITOL WILL BE ON YOUR RIGHT).
Kitzmeyer Furniture Factory
319 North Carson Street
In the mid-19th century downtown American streets were filled with two-story, Italianate-style brick buildings like this one. Carson City was no different and this is the oldest souvenir of the form in town, raised in 1873 by George W. Kitzmeyer. The German-born Kitzmeyer and two brothers made harnesses during the Comstock boom of the 1860s although George never stopped making furniture, the trade in which he was trained. When he constructed this building he set up a furniture factory on the second floor and used the ground level as a showroom. One of a furniture maker’s most reliable money makers in the 1800s was coffins and after George Kitmeyer died in 1898 at the age of 62 his son, an undertaker, took over the furniture business as well, adding mortuary to the building’s roster of uses.
Carson City Post Office
401 North Carson Street at northeast corner of Telegraph Street
In America in 1890 the architectural style of choice for large-scale government buildings took its lead from the works of Henry Hobson Richardson, the most influential architect of the post-Civil War era. This red brick federal building from 1891 featured such hallmarks of the brawny Richardsonian Romanesque style as powerful entrance arches, triangular gables and a corner tower. When it opened the offices of the post office, land office, the weather bureau and the federal courts all operated here. The post office lingered until 1970 and today the building is state-owned; there is no other Richardsonian-flavored building like it in Nevada.
TURN LEFT ON SPEAR STREET.
204 West Spear Street at northwest corner of Curry Street
Wilson Brougher arrived in Nevada without a dime to his name, as they like to say. He cut wood for charcoal and won a reputation for integrity in the region which got him elected Sheriff in Nye County in 1876. He would eventually serve twelve years as county auditor before moving to Carson City where he purchased the Arlington Hotel and won a campaign for state senator. His political tentacles helped Brougher obtain a start-up stake in the Tonopah silver strike of Jim Butler that became the second-richest silver strike in Nevada history. With his profits rolling in Brougher constructed this eye-catching Queen Anne residence in 1903, dominated by a two-story circular porch and cylindrical corner turret.
TURN RIGHT ON CURRYSTREET. TURN RIGHT ON ROBINSON STREET.
507 North Carson Street at southeast corner of Robinson Street
Carson City was never viewed as prime gambling ground but in the 1950s when Richard Graves was opening Nugget casinos in Sparks and Reno and Yerington he also put a gambling joint in the capital. It was a humble beginning in 1954, wholly contained in a space equivalent to a modern casino coffee shop but business was brisk and additions were begun before the year was out. Today the Nugget is Carson City’s oldest continuously running casino, a full-service operation spilling over 30,000 square feet.
TURN LEFT ON NORTH CARSON STREET.
United States Mint
600 North Carson Street at northeast corner of Robinson Street
American coins have been minted primarily in three cities: Philadelphia (no mint mark), Denver (mint mark “D”) and San Francisco (mint mark “S”). But so much silver was being hauled out of the Comstock Lode that the Carson City Mint was opened in December of 1869. Supervising architect of the U.S. Treasury Alfred Mullett blended classical Greek and Italianate elements to create the mint building that was put together with native sandstone and brick molded at the Adams Brick Works in Genoa, Nevada, an operation helmed by a grandson of John Quincy Adams. Nearly $50 million of gold and silver churned out coins bearing the mint mark “CC” here until the mint was de-commissioned in 1899. After that the building did duty as an assay office and since 1941 has been the home of the Nevada State Museum.
Virginia and Truckee Railroad Depot
729 North Carson Street
As the vast wealth of the Comstock Lode revealed itself in the 1860s it became apparent a railroad was needed to move the vast quantities of ore from the hillsides of Virginia City to the mills along the Carson River. The first 14-mile section of the line was completed in 1869 with a 2.2% grade down a 1,600-foot elevation drop. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad would eventually extend to Reno and connect with the Central Pacific Railroad. By 1872, when Carson City was anointed the headquarters for the Virginia and Truckee and this bracketed frame depot was constructed, the 52-mile railroad was earning a profit of over $100,000 per month and was one of the most famous short-line railroads in America. The Virginia & Truckee was abandoned in 1950 after years of declining revenue and today operates as a heritage tourist railroad. In 1952 the old station was converted into the home of the Carson City Freemasons Masonic Lodge #1 and then commercial space.
Carson City Civic Auditorium
813 North Carson Street at southeast corner of Ann Street
In 1938 Carson City received matching Public Works Administration stimulus funds to build a city auditorium where the Carson City Armory had recently burnt to the ground. Architect Lehman Ferris reached back a half-century for the Romanesque Revival style for his brick creation. His father George had come to Nevada in 1908 with no formal architectural training but nonetheless quickly built a busy design practice which his son eventually joined. Lehman Ferris would go on to receive Nevada Architectural License No.1 in the 1940s and enjoy a career of more than six decades in Nevada construction. Ferris also designed all the furnishings for the Auditorium whose exterior features three shades of brick. Today the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada is found here.
TURN LEFT ON ANN STREET.
904 North Nevada Street at northwest corner of Ann Street
John Cavell came to Carson City in 1861 as a painter and constructed this frame house around 1875 before moving on to Modesto, California. His son William Henry Cavell would come back and become the town’s leading dentist.
David Smaill House
313 West Ann Street
Gothic Revival was one of the most popular architectural styles among early Carson City house builders. This one from 1876is distinguished by its fancy jig-sawn vergeboards with a circular motif that is carried to the porch columns. The house carries the name of builder David Smaill but he moved his family out by the end of the following year.
CONTINUE ON ANN STREET TO ITS END AT MINNESOTA STREET. TURN RIGHT AND WALK A FEW STEPS TO SEE...
990 North Minnesota Street
This 1922 house stands as a fine representative of a Craftsman bungalow in Nevada. DeWitt Adams, a South Carolina native who worked his way across the country and settled in Carson City as a store clerk, pieceed the building together from a catalog kit. Save for the interior plastering and the wiring, Adams did all the work on the house himself. He also operated a small house farm on the premises and raised chickens - White Leghorns, Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds among them.
TURN AND RETRACE YOUR STEPS ON MINNESOTA STREET, CROSSING OVER ANN STREET. AT WASHINGTON STREET TURN RIGHT AND CONTINUE THREE SHORT BLOCKS TO MOUNTAIN STREET AND TURN LEFT.
606 Mountain Street at northwest corner of Robinson Street
After almost fifty years of having its chief executive make do with whatever housing could be found this governor’s mansion was completed in 1909. Architect George A. Ferris of Reno drew up the plans for the sprawling Neoclassical structure that is dominated by a two-story Ionic portico. The State paid $10 for the donated land and the tab for the construction was $22,700.
TURN LEFT ON ROBINSON STREET.
710 Robinson Street at northwest corner of Elizabeth Street
This was said to be the largest house in Nevada at the time of its construction in 1879. Duane Leroy Bliss was born in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts in 1835 but was working as a cabin boy on a ship sailing to South America by the time he was 13 years old. Like thousands of young men he made his way to the gold fields of California but instead of prospecting he found his calling in a local bank. In Nevada, Bliss founded the Carson and Tahoe Lumber and Fluming Company in 1871 and gradually integrated the operation so he controlled everything from the land to the ships and railroads used to move the timber. Bliss was among the first to realize the potential of tourism at Lake Tahoe, converting his logging trains to passenger conveyances.
408 Robinson Street at northeast corner of Minnesota Street
This Arts and Crafts showpiece was created in 1914 for John MacGregor Chartz, an Ormsby County District Attorney and city attorney for Carson City. Canadian-born Alfred Jean Chartz came with his family to California as a young boy but ran away to Nevada where he carved a career out of newspapering while he studied law, becoming expert in mining and water rights litigation. In his 92 years Chartz held several mining claims and ranches and organized the Farmers Bank in nearby Minden. This house stayed in the Chartz family through the 1990s before being converted to an inn.
402 West Robinson Street at northwest corner of Division Street
This is an architect-designed house, one of several that began appearing on Carson City’s West Side in the early years of the 20th century. Oakland, California architect John Conant blended the Colonial Revival and Shingle styles to create this composition for dentist William Henry Cavell in 1907. It remained in the Cavell family until 1951.
TURN RIGHT ON DIVISION STREET.
Orion Clemens House
502 North Division Street at northwest corner of Spear Street
Orion Clemens was the oldest of seven siblings, only three of whom lived into adulthood. As a young man Clemens tried his hand at journalism and studied a bit of law. When Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860, the 34-year old Clemens was appointed Secretary to the new government of the Territory of Nevada. His brother Sam, ten years younger, accompanied him to Nevada where he tried mining for awhile and then found work with the Territorial Enterprise in Virginia City and adopted a pen name of Mark Twain. Orion Clemens lived in this house from 1864 until 1866 when he couldn’t find enough lawyering jobs to sustain a living. He left Nevada for Keokuk, Iowa where he lived out his life taking the occasional law case, raising chickens and dabbling as an inventor.
TURN LEFT ON SPEAR STREET. TURN RIGHT ON NEVADA STREET.
Abraham Curry House
406 North Nevada Street at northwest corner of Telegraph Street
Abraham Van Santvoord Curry founded Carson City in 1858 with three other pioneers, all of whom soon sold or outright gave their land claims to Curry and skedaddled. One of the first things Curry did was to begin quarrying sandstone which would build most of the important early structures in town and this house around 1869 as well. The sandstone was hacked into blocks with picks and chisels. In addition to the Greek Revival style windows that can still be seen, Curry’s house originally sported an octagonal cupola and building-wide porch that were removed in the 1930s. The enterprising Curry constructed a stone hotel that hosted the first Territorial Legislature in October 1861 and when the Nevada territorial prison was established Curry became the first warden. In 1869 he was also appointed the first Superintendent of the United States Mint. Abraham Curry died of a stroke in 1873 at the age of 58, precipitating the largest funeral ever held in Carson City. The house left the the family in 1919 but is said to still be presided over by the spirit of Abraham Curry and his funeral procession is reenacted each year as part of Carson City’s annual Ghost Walk event.
TURN RIGHT ON TELEGRAPH STREET. TURN LEFT ON DIVISION STREET.
St. Peters Episcopal Church
300 North Division Street at southwest corner of Telegraph Street
The first Episcopal services were held in Carson City in 1862 and just five years later the congregation was able to raise this Gothic Revival house of worship at a cost of $5,500. The oldest standing Episcopal church in Nevada, St. Peter’s draws heavily on New England ecclesiastical influences; inside the barrel-shaped sanctuary the central aisle is forsaken for two side aisles - an arrangement common in New England churches but seldom seen in Episcopal churches in the West.
First United Methodist Church
212 North Division Street at northwest corner of Musser Street
The “Cradle of Nevada Methodism” began in 1859 and in 1867 this Gothic-influenced church was dedicated. The building, another of the town’s historic landmarks constructed with sandstone from the Nevada State Prison, has been altered extensively through the decades.
TURN LEFT ON MUSSER STREET. TURN RIGHT ON NEVADA STREET.
First Presbyterian Church
306 West Nevada Street at northwest corner of King Street
The town’s Presbyterians began assembling in 1861 and work began on this sanctuary in 1864, making it Nevada’s oldest existing church building. Orion Clemens was a founding member of the congregation and was instrumental in getting this Italianate-styled church built (the gable-fronted section on the northern end is the core of the original church that has expanded several times through the years). The building was used for services until 2001.
214 West King Street at northeast corner of Nevada Street
The Olcoviches, five immigrant brothers from Prussia, were a well-known Carson City merchant family who came to be trusted for their high quality supplies. Joseph Olcovich constructed this house in 1874; look up to see some of the town’s best-preserved Gothic Revival detailing on the cross-gabled roof and bargeboards. In the 1880s another mercantile man, George H. Meyers purchased the property and added Victorian elements to the porch and bay windows then currently in vogue.
TURN RIGHT ON KING STREET. TURN LEFT ON DIVISION STREET.
Carson Brewing Company
449 West King Street at southwest corner of Division streets
One of the first businesses to get going in Carson City in 1860 was a brewery set up by John Wagner to quench the thirsts of Comstock Lode miners. Sales were brisk and by 1865 this two-story brick building was constructed that housed the brewery and taproom on the ground floor and the town’s Masonic Lodge upstairs. The brewery filled kegs until 1948 before ending its run as one of Nevada’s longest operating enterprises. The Nevada Appeal moved into the space next and today the building trundles on as an arts center.
311 West Third Street at southeast corner of Division Street
Gregory and Mary Sears built this frame house in 1863 but the name associated with it that is most familiar is Ferris. George Washington Gale Ferris, Sr. brought his family to Nevada from Illinois in 1864 and established a nursery outside of town. The Ferris’ moved into this house in 1868 and George won the contract to landscape the new Capitol Square which he filled with walnuts, elms, box elders and white maples. By that time his son was off to the California Military Academy in Oakland, California on his way to an engineering career back east. For the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 American engineers were enlisted to come up with something that would rival Gustave Eiffel’s newly constructed tower in Paris. George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr.’s idea was for a massive wheel, soaring 250 feet in the air, rotatng 36 cars with 40 revolving chairs in each. The Ferris Wheel, which took twenty minutes to complete two revolutions, was an immediate hit and has been a staple at fairgrounds ever since. George Ferris died of typhoid fever in 1896 when he was only 37 years old and his original “Great Wheel” survived only ten years longer when it was dismantled after entertaining 2.5 million riders.
TURN LEFT ON 5TH STREET. TURN LEFT ON SOUTH CARSON STREET.
Bank Saloon/Jack’s Bar
418 South Carson Street at northwest corner of 5th Street
Drinks have been served on this site ever since a dance hall was opened on this corner on Independence Day 1859. This building, another constructed of hand-chiseled Carson City prison sandstone, dates to 1899 when it opened as the Bank Saloon. The Carson Appeal was impressed enough to gush over the new establishment, “The place is without exception the handsomest building in this city and is an ornament that will remain for years to come, as it is built of stone and in a substantial manner.” The building landed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 but Jack’s Bar, the last in a parade of saloons here, closed in 2002.
401 South Carson Street at northeast corner of 5th Street
The Assembly met at the Nevada State Capitol until 1971, when the Legislative Building was constructed to the south on plans drawn by Graham Erskine. Erskine was New York-born and trained and came to Nevada for the first time in 1946 when he was 35 to design Reno High School. It marked the beginning of a 38-year architectural career in the state, including the authoring in 1947 of Nevada’s licensing act for architects.
St. Charles-Muller Hotel
310 South Carson Street at southwest corner of 3rd Street
These Italianate brick buildings display hallmarks of the style with brackets at the roof and narrow windows capped with hoods. The St. Charles, taking its name from fancy hotels popular in the East, opened in 1862 and is the second oldest hotel in Nevada. Catering to the legislature meeting across the street, it occupied the three-story section on the corner. It was quickly followed by the two-story Muller’s Hotel which found its clientele in the influx of French Canadian lumbermen streaming into the Comstock. After a 1992 makeover both buildings emerged under the St. Charles Hotel name for awhile.
CONTINUE A FEW MORE STEPS ON CARSON STREET TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT AT THE NEVADA STATE CAPITOL.