This is the fourth part in a six-part series about the history of the Carson Mint.
“A big package of papers by express,” arrived in Carson City on Monday morning July 16, 1866, according to the Carson Daily Appeal of July 17, 1866. Addressed to “A. Curry, Superintendent of Construction, Carson Mint,” the package “contained the long looked for plans and specifications” for the building of the mint. Dancing, intoxication, and loud music created one of the liveliest scenes any of the old-timers could remember.
The Eastern Slope in Washoe City on July 21, 1866, reported “The Mint Commissioners have commenced work on this long delayed institution with commendable promptitude.” The laying of the foundation began two weeks later.
Then on Monday Sept. 24, 1866, a large turnout gathered around the hallowed site to witness the laying of the mint’s cornerstone ceremonies. A grand ball held at the Carson Pavilion later that night capped off the festive occasion. Four future superintendents of the Carson City Mint, Abraham Curry, Henry F. Rice, James Crawford, and Samuel C. Wright, served on committees for the ball.
A short time before this, Curry had welcomed John Jay Knox, an agent dispatched by Treasury Secretary McCulloch to investigate mint matters in San Francisco and Carson City. Knox’s report to Secretary McCulloch in the last quarter of 1866, about what he saw on his visit to Carson City, brought positive news as well as cautionary words. “This building (the Carson Mint) is in rapid process of erection,” wrote Knox. The costs of material and labor concerned him, however. He thought they were “so remarkably high,” and he doubted if Curry could complete the project for the $100,000 Congress had appropriated for it.
By the end of September 1866, more howls for the government to abandon the construction of the Carson City Mint echoed out of California. That state’s Daily Alta on Sept. 30, 1866, complained Secretary McCulloch had not as yet uttered one protest against the “useless Mint ... at Carson.” It stated if McCulloch “believes the erection of a Mint at Carson is a waste of money, he should say so.” The article went on to say “the San Francisco Mint coins enough silver for the wants of the (entire Pacific) coast.”
Senator Nye and Senator Stewart fought in Congress on behalf of their home-state mint. On Feb. 28, 1867, Senator Nye told his fellow senators how Secretary McCulloch required monthly reports from Curry before he authorized payments. Thus “the Government is in debt two months all the time to those who are doing the work,” said Nye.
Senator Stewart presented a resolution from Nevada’s state legislature on March 1, 1867, which requested more appropriations for increasing the size of the Carson Mint, and the establishment of a bullion fund that would allow the mint to pay depositors on the spot rather than have them wait long periods of time. Congress showed no sign it wanted to squander any more of the public’s money than it had already allocated for the establishment of a mint in Nevada.
The Carson Daily Appeal on August 27, 1867 reported rumors rang “that work has stopped on the Mint building.” Not true stated the Appeal. Only “a few persons were temporarily thrown out of work from (he) inability of (the) Superintendent to supply brick fast enough.”
Despite the progress made by Curry and his workforce in the first 12 months of the project, Curry’s personal failures dampened his spirits. His lawyer, P. H. “Hal” Clayton submitted a notice to the Carson Daily Appeal in the second week of Sept., 1867 that declared Curry bankrupt.
Washoe City’s Eastern Slope of Oct. 19, 1867 reported “The Mint building is rapidly progressing to completion.” Curry had told the Eastern Slope scribe he expected “to put the machinery in next Spring (1868),” and then by fall 1868 the mint would be busy banging out coins, with $20 gold pieces “as plenty as blackberries at the capital.”
The Carson Daily Appeal of Nov. 5, 1867, congratulated Curry and crew for the mint building that stood majestically at the north end of Carson Street. “The Mint ... now looms up,” wrote the journalist, “grand and imposing, an ornament to Carson, and a credit to its Superintendent and the artisans who are its builders.”
With the roof in place and work suspended for the winter season, Curry departed Carson City on Dec. 5, 1867 and headed to San Francisco, where he boarded a steamer bound for New York. “He is going to Washington (D.C.) on business,” stated the Appeal. Curry, with the help of Nevada’s U.S. senators and House representative, would appeal to Congress to authorize further appropriations.
After Curry left, his lawyer Hal Clayton on Dec. 31, 1867, posted a notice in the Appeal announcing the sale of two of Curry’s lots to satisfy a delinquent mortgage as part of Curry’s bankruptcy proceedings. The sale took place on Jan. 7, 1868.
Two months later, on March 1, 1868, the Carson Daily Appeal jubilantly reported Curry’s success in obtaining additional appropriations from Congress, which would enable him to carry on his work to completion. “Bully for Curry and bully for the Mint!” proclaimed the Appeal. Senator Nye introduced a bill in the Senate during Curry’s visit to the nation’s capital that aided the cause.
By mid-July the Senate and the House passed the new Carson Mint appropriation, which increased Curry’s mint-construction war chest by another $150,000.
Curry returned to Carson City on Sept. 12. His arrival met with much enthusiasm as locals congratulated him, with a band playing and a cannon booming, commemorating his triumphal trip.
Curry had received word while cajoling congressmen in D.C. the machinery for the mint’s interior had left New York by steamer en route, via the Isthmus of Panama, to Carson City. He had hoped the machinery would arrive soon after he returned home. Slow transportation forestalled that plan.
Curry went to California around the second week of Nov., 1868 “expecting to find a large portion of the Mint machinery in Sacramento,” reported the Appeal on Nov. 12. While on his quest, he received word a check from the Treasury for $83,810 had arrived in time “so that all bills can be met, and no delay need occur for want of funds,” wrote Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise on Nov. 14. The Enterprise correspondent stated in the same article “The opening of our Branch Mint will form (a new) era in the history of Nevada.” He said, “It will enable us to turn our own vast silver and gold into coin,” and “Instead of (us) being dependent on California for our round pieces, California will hereafter be indebted to us.”
Curry followed the progress of the mint’s machinery from San Francisco, to Sacramento, to its journey by coach over the mountains, to the new Nevada town of Reno, and finally its arrival in Carson City. Upon delivery, as reported by the Appeal on Nov. 22, the equipment would “soon be placed in proper position preparatory to coining money.”
The Appeal posted a public notice on Nov. 21, 1868 that informed all to whom the government owed money to show up at the local Wells, Fargo & Co. office that night. “All indebtedness incurred by reason of labor and material furnished the mint during the months of May and June 1867,” announced the Appeal, “will be paid ... this evening.”
Two days after Thanksgiving, on Nov. 28, 1868, the Daily Appeal seized the opportunity to give its blessings to the new mint and to the man to whom the mint owed the most for its existence. “Many men live within an hour’s ride of Niagara Falls and never go to see them,” began the extolment. After their Thanksgiving Day tour of the mint, which was their first, the Appeal’s journalists exclaimed “that the Carson Branch Mint is by long odds the most thoroughly and substantially built structure on the Pacific Coast. Everything about the building bears evidence of thoroughness. It is a grand monument to the energy of Colonel Curry and the Carson mechanics who have worked on (the Mint).” About Curry they said: “He means to send the first double eagle that is coined (at the Mint) to President Grant.”
Curry still had 13 more months to go before that could happen.