2010 – 2011 Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places

Mount Potosi Cultural Resources, Clark County

Potosi Mountain, the site of Nevada’s first lode mine, occupies a special place in Nevada history. On this prominent peak at the south end of the Spring Mountain Range in southern Nevada, near prehistoric roasting pits, rockshelters, and petroglyphs, Mormon missionaries opened a lead mine in 1856. The ore proved too brittle and they abandoned the mine in 1857. Non-Mormon miners explored the lode for silver a few years later, leading to the creation of a stagecoach route connecting this remote Mojave Desert locality and coastal California and influencing Lt. George Wheeler to explore the region in 1869. Zinc was discovered in the ore early in the 20th century, resulting in the opening of a major mine and town site. The mine and town sites are privately owned and plans are regularly put forward to develop the town site area into a resort with subdivisions and commercial support. This significant mine, its related structures, and the prehistoric resources that preceded it, will be lost if the area is developed as currently planned.

Update: The Boy Scouts own a large campsite in the area and they expect to retain ownership well into the future. Plans to develop the land that includes the old town site and the mine have not been realized, perhaps, in part, due to the economic downturn of the last few years. Still, the probability for commercial and residential development in the area around Mount Potosi remains high and, consequently, the possibility of losing this significant historic site is very real.

Virginia City National Historic Landmark

The Virginia City National Historic Landmark comprises the historic mining communities of Virginia City, Gold Hill, and Silver City and their associated landscape. Despite having been a National Historic Landmark since 1961 and under design review protection by the Comstock Historic District Commission since 1972 there are new threats to the historic integrity of this district. Expanded open pit mining operations, fueled by record high prices for precious metals, threaten major changes to the district’s historic landscape. Historic mining structures, such as head frames and mill ruins, are under threat due to neglect and proposed active demolition. A major wind energy project also threatens to radically alter the district’s historic viewshed and character.

Update: Rapidly rising prices for precious metals has heightened the potential for radical change to the landscape of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark in the last year. Expansion of existing operations and possible new workings are of particular concern in Gold Hill and Silver City. In addition, the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management has proposed to spend in excess of three million dollars to demolish one of the most extensive and important industrial ruins in the district-the United Comstock Merger Mill located on American Flat.

Underfunded State Cultural Resources-Spring Mountain Ranch State Park and East Ely Railroad Depot

Spring Mountain Ranch State Park in Clark County and the East Ely Railroad Depot are two sites that exemplify the range of cultural resources owned and operated by the State of Nevada that are endangered due to Nevada’s current budget crisis. The 520-acre Spring Mountain Ranch State Park is located within the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. In addition to its remarkable setting, the park includes several historic buildings, including the Main Ranch House, Sandstone Cabin, Board-and-Batten Bunkhouse, the Blacksmith’s Shop, Hay and Horse Barn/Corral, a two-hole outhouse, and a chinchilla shed. The site traces its roots to travel on the Old Spanish Trail in the early 1800s. The locale became known as Old Bill Williams Ranch. Williams, a mountain man and frequent traveler on the trail, picked the spot to rest and water his horses.

The twentieth-century development of the ranch and its buildings is attributable to a number of colorful characters, such as Chester Hauck of the comedy team “Lum and Abner,” the German actress Vera Krupp, and millionaire Howard Hughes. The Park docents nominated the park for Preserve Nevada’s 11-Most Endangered list because it is one of a number of state parks being considered for closure. The East Ely Railroad Depot Museum, which encompasses the depot and freight house of the Nevada Northern Railway, is owned by the State of Nevada and is one of the seven museums operated by the Division of Museums and History, a division of the Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs. The museum is a focal point within the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. The short-line railway was built by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company beginning in 1905. The depot and freight house were built in 1907. The majority of the historic railroad complex is operated by a non-profit organization and the depot and freight house was donated to the State of Nevada in 1984. The museum was targeted for closure in the early phases of the budget crisis. While it remains open at present, the museum, as with the other state museums, operates on limited schedules. With the growing budget crisis, it may be forced to close. These two public facilities represent the threat to all state-run historic properties. Nevada’s extreme budget crisis is forcing money-saving decisions that threaten to limit or eliminate public access to a number of Nevada’s important historic buildings and sites. Beyond the public value of these historic places, closing or selling these resources threatens their survival. In today’s economy some view these sites and buildings as liabilities, while they are in fact non-renewable resources and irreplaceable public assets to be protected and preserved. Closing and neglecting these resources results in the loss of tourist dollars and further weakens their economic viability.

Update: Though Spring Mountain Ranch State Park and The East Ely Railroad Depot Museum remain open, the threat of closure still looms. Various other state cultural resources have been forced to close due to a lack of funding and many other such resources face an uphill battle.

Traditional Cultural Properties-Cave Valley Cave, Lincoln County

Traditional cultural properties including landscapes, sacred areas, and traditional use locales, are increasingly impacted by infrastructural projects in rural Nevada. Green energy projects, associated transmission facilities, and aquifer drawdowns have detrimental effects on both surficial and underground landscapes. Long known by Native people as a sacred location, and mapped during the Wheeler expedition in 1869, the Cave Valley Cave serves as one example of these important resources. Live caves, which have formed over thousands of years, are dependent on the presence of moisture. As these caves dry they die, and the integrity of the landscape is compromised, but more importantly, a sacred space is lost.

Update: Infrastructural projects in rural Nevada continue to negatively impact traditional cultural properties such as Cave Valley Cave.

Stewart Indian School, Carson City

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1985, the Stewart Indian School in Carson City is an intact 83-building complex, which was established in 1887 as a facility for Native American education emphasizing self-reliance and cultural assimilation. Native American youth from throughout Nevada and the surrounding states of Oregon, Idaho, Arizona and California were sent to the school. The complex stands as one of the finest remaining schools created by the United States for the purpose of indoctrinating Native Americans. Native American apprentice stone masons built a number of the surviving buildings. Ownership of the complex was transferred from the federal government to the State of Nevada more than 20 years ago. In the intervening years little has been done to take advantage of the property as a nationally significant historic site.

Update: The Stewart Indian School is gearing up to host the annual Stewart Father’s Day Powwow on June 17-19, 2011. The event will include competition dancing, alumni recognition, and other special events and exhibits. Holding events such as the Father’s Day Powwow at a historic site such as the Stewart Indian School will help ensure the preservation, not only of the site itself, but of the traditions of those associated with the site.

Goodsprings Schoolhouse

The Goodsprings Schoolhouse is the oldest school still in use in Southern Nevada. At the turn of the century, Goodsprings was one of the most productive mining districts in Clark County. In 1913, C. W. and Norman Price designed and built the Goodsprings Schoolhouse in Colonial Revival style for the Yellow Pine Mining Company. The schoolhouse has been the center of community life since its construction and serves as a source of pride for the people of Goodsprings. The school was listed as a School District MPS in the National Register of Historic Places on March 10, 1992. Unfortunately, enrollment at the school has dwindled due to less mining activity in the area and, as a result, the Clark County School District is currently considering its closure.

Update: Its appearance in the 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas has given the Goodsprings Schoolhouse a virtual existence, but the school’s continued use is only guaranteed for the current school year.

Masonic Hall Building, Reno

Reno’s Masonic Hall, located in the downtown casino core area, is the oldest existing commercial building and the last surviving 1870’s structure along Reno’s first business district. The second floor served as “The Hall” and the ground floor featured the Reno Mercantile Company from 1895 to 1970. Well intentioned developers purchased this site and additional adjacent properties with plans to save and rehabilitate the building. Unfortunately, as a result of the current economic downturn and recent legal proceedings the fate of this historic building, along with similar redevelopment projects across the country, remain uncertain.

Update: While plans have been presented to renovate Fitzgerald’s Club, which sits adjacent to the Masonic Hall, plans for the Hall itself have not surfaced. The fate of the building remains uncertain.

The Victory Hotel at 307 S. Main Street, Las Vegas

The Victory Hotel was built in 1910 in a modest Mission Revival style across from what was the location of the railroad station, two blocks south of the intersection of Fremont and Main. The colorful character Dan Hickey owned and operated the hotel and catered to railroad workers and miners. Hickey had several scrapes with the law, usually the result of taking matters into his own hands. In 1913, Hickey shot a railroad switchman, a customer of the hotel, over an “unfortunate quarrel.” In addition, local legend holds that the Victory was once a brothel with sixteen rooms and a small bar. Currently the property is owned by Oakbrook Realty and Investment Company from Oakbrook, Illinois. The entire property consists of the two-story Victory Hotel building facing S. Main St., two one-story hotel buildings toward the rear of the lot, and a small storage building. A small market also facing S. Main shares the lot. The Victory Hotel buildings have been vacant since the property sold in 2008. The property was found to be eligible for the National Register in 1986, however, the property owners objected to the nomination and it was not listed. The Victory Hotel is threatened by development pressures because of its location in the city of Las Vegas Redevelopment Area (RDA). Currently there are $16 billion in proposed developments within the RDA near the hotel site. These large-scale public and private developments such as the new City Hall, Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Lou Ruvo Brain Institute, Charlie Palmer boutique hotel and restaurant, World Jewelry Center, and Symphony Park will bring pressure on the owners of this vacant building to take advantage of city incentives to maximize the highest and best use of the property. The longer the hotel sits vacant and deteriorates, the higher the threat of demolition.

Update: The Victory Hotel was built in 1910 in a modest Mission Revival style across from what was the location of the railroad station, two blocks south of the intersection of Fremont and Main streets. The hotel building is the last of its architectural style (associated with a hotel) in the downtown area. The hotel was originally owned and operated by a colorful character and local businessman named Dan Hickey who catered to railroad workers and miners. Hickey had several scrapes with the law, usually for taking matters into his own hands. In 1913, Hickey shot a railroad switchman who was a customer of the hotel, over an “unfortunate quarrel.” In addition, local legend claims that the Victory was once a brothel with sixteen rooms and a small bar.

Currently the Victory Hotel property and the property to the south are owned by Oakbrook Realty and Investment Company from Oakbrook, Ill. A sign on the Victory Hotel states that the entire block is for sale. The Victory Hotel property consists of the two-story hotel building facing S. Main St., two one-story hotel buildings toward the rear of the lot, and a small storage building. A small market facing S. Main shares the lot. The Victory Hotel buildings have been vacant since the property sold in 2008. All windows and doors are boarded up. An historic neon “vacancy” sign hangs underneath the second floor balcony. The property was found to be eligible for the National Register in 1986; however, the property owners objected to the nomination and it was not listed.

The Victory Hotel has survived 101 years of fires, explosions, neglect, abandonment, and a bad reputation, but may now be facing its worst threat – development pressures because of its location in the city of Las Vegas Redevelopment Area (RDA). Currently there are $11 billion in proposed developments within the RDA that are very near to the hotel site. These large-scale public and private developments such as Symphony Park, which includes the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, Charlie Palmer boutique hotel and restaurant, and other office, retail and residential complexes will bring pressure on the owners of this vacant building to take advantage of city incentives to maximize the highest and best use of the property. The longer it sits vacant, the higher the threat of demolition as the property is allowed to sit and deteriorate.

Rhyolite, Nye County

Rhyolite was a typical, ephemeral Nevada mining town, platted in 1905 and essentially deserted by 1912. The town is historically significant because many of its buildings were constructed of stone and concrete, which was not a common practice at the time. Additionally, the town represents the end of nineteenth-century mining in Nevada. Most of the existing historic structures are deteriorating and in need of stabilization and/or rehabilitation. Additionally, the town is threatened by vandalism as well as the tourists who love it. Rhyolite is in need of financial support from the Bureau of Land Management as well as a full-time, one-site caretaker to protect the town.

Update: The BLM continues to devote what time and resources are available to stabilize and preserve landmarks at Rhyolite, but unfortunately it appears that the fa├žade of the Porter Brothers Store is inching closer to collapse.

Loss of Traditional Industrial Skills and Arts

December 7, 1941 converted the industrial might of America from a peace time footing into a war footing. In just four years, the United States’ industrial might built millions of rifles, tens of thousand of fighter planes, bombers, tanks, and vehicles and hundreds of ships. The secret? Skilled labor. Americans grew up on farms or went to work in factories. They worked with their hands, creating or repairing machines and buildings. More importantly, they had an understanding of problem solving and mechanics, and were adept in the use of tools. Seventy years later, it’s a different world. More people live in cities than on farms, factories are abandoned, and machines sit idle or have been scrapped. Our industrial infrastructure is a shadow of its former self. Schools no longer offer shop classes and hot rods are a thing of the past. We no longer emphasize making things with our hands and our throw-away lifestyle has eliminated the idea of repairing much of anything. Those who do want to learn the skills and techniques of the past have difficulty in finding a place that can teach them the Industrial Arts. The challenge for the preservation field is to nurture and keep alive the knowledge and skills needed to maintain our historic buildings, locomotives and machines. The skills and the knowhow are in danger of dying out and becoming extinct. If not addressed now, we will lose that heritage forever.

Update: As evidenced in these before-and-after photos of the Old McGill Depot located about 12 miles just north of Ely, traditional arts and skills are crucial for the restoration and maintenance of Nevada’s historic buildings.

Nevada’s Charcoal Ovens

Nevada’s remaining charcoal ovens serve as reminders of mining’s importance to the state’s late nineteenth-century economy. Events surrounding the creation and use of these ovens also provide a lesson on the devastating ecological impact of deforestation and supports the recent emphasis on the nineteenth-century West’s ethnic and racial diversity. The Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1971, exists as the most popular of Nevada’s many charcoal ovens’ sites. Ovens, or remainders of ovens, can be found throughout the state, including along the Hot Creek Range east of Tonopah, at the Kiln Wash northeast of Panaca, at Bristol Wells and Panaca Summit north of Pioche, along Wheeler Pass Road near Las Vegas, and in the Diamond Range north of Eureka. During the late nineteenth century Italian and Swiss immigrants, experts in charcoal production, worked at the Ward Charcoal Ovens, for which they received little recompense, leading to strikes, an attempt to bring in Chinese laborers to break the strike, and culminating in the Charcoal Burners’ War of 1879. Greater awareness, appreciation, and protection of Nevada’s charcoal ovens fosters historical understanding of the history involved in their creation and use, and corresponds to an awareness of the diversity of the western past.

Update: Aside from the Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, the state’s remaining ovens exist only as interesting artifacts for interested explorers. Little has been done to remember the history associated with these anachronistic remainders from the past.