Carson City man traverses state to document every historical marker
January 17, 2011
It has taken him five years, more than 80,000 miles and two sets of tires to complete, but Paul Sebesta has seen Nevada from corner to corner.
The 28-year-old Carson City man has been on a journey to see and document every historical marker in the Silver State, driving to its neon metropolis down south and to the most remote of old mining towns just to catch a glimpse of the markers, usually blue, made of steel and shaped like Nevada.
On a Monday, while sipping on a soda inside one of Carson City’s historic buildings, Sebesta reflected on his journey and the website he started to chronicle it, http://www.nevada-landmarks.com.
“It’s been a long ride,” said Sebesta, who sported a scruffy beard and a New York Yankees ballcap. He’s memorized every marker’s official number and location and has a story to accompany each one. He spouts off names and numbers of the 267 historical markers like an avid baseball card collector.
• No. 159: One of Sebesta’s favorite trips was to Ione, in Nye County, “The Town That Refused To Die.” The marker is located in a small park surrounded by a white picket fence.
“It used to be the county seat of Nye and now it’s just a population of about 25 and they’re still as proud,” Sebesta said. “I was talking to some old guy there and he loves where he lives. He still cleans the marker sometimes.”
• No. 265: This was the most difficult marker for Sebesta to find, despite being in the middle of Reno. It’s the gravesite of Emmet Derby Boyle, the first native-born governor of Nevada who was elected to office in 1914 at the age of 35. His grave is in Mountain View Cemetery.
“If we didn’t ask the caretaker, we would have never found it,” he said.
• No. 69: As for small-town Nevada, it doesn’t get much smaller than Jarbidge, which is only accessible by an 80-mile dirt road that is usually blocked by snow in the winter. Jarbidge was the site of one of the last Western gold rushes in the early 20th century and the last stagecoach robbery and murder in 1916.
On his website, Sebesta or his wife (both wearing cowboy hats) are usually shown posing for a photo next to the marker, which includes directions, the nearest intersection, precautions and a description of the marker. He even has a scale of one to 10, measuring the ease or difficulty of finding each marker.
Sebesta moved from California eight years ago to Carson City, where he lives with his wife. He works at a home improvement store and is attending Western Nevada College studying journalism and wildlife management.
“I’ve always had a love for history and neglected places,” he said. “And the markers I found were a venue for that.”
Sebesta, who’s also a photographer, started his website in July 2006 after documenting 32 markers in Storey and Douglas counties.
“And then I debuted (the website) mainly just to catalog, mainly just someplace to store the information,” he said.
Then he started getting feedback from readers who wanted more. So he started tracking the markers in Carson City.
“And then more and more people started e-mailing about it,” he said. “I said, ‘I got these three counties so I’m just going to keep going.’ ”
So he went to track down the markers in Lyon, Pershing, Churchill.
“And then finally for the ones far away, Lincoln and Clark and all those, I just bit the bullet and took two weeks off and went straight down there,” he said.
After that trip in the spring of 2008, Sebesta had put more than 80,000 miles on his 2001 Toyota Tacoma.
“It was worth it, I think, because mainly just all the places that I’ve been,” Sebesta said. “You really get to see the state if you see the markers. You get to see how everybody is different in different areas. City people vs. rural people … You get out of your daily area and see what Nevada really is.”
He adds, “It’s still wild and rugged.”
The historical marker program, which is managed by the State Historic Preservation Office and the Nevada Department of Transportation, started in 1967 to commemorate events such as the Old Spanish Trail in Southern Nevada and the great train robbery in Verdi, west of Reno.
Over time the number of markers continued to grow – Sebesta said there are 267 including 23 missing markers – but as of 2009 the program has gone dormant because of budget cuts.
As a result, no new markers are planned, and repairing or replacing the markers has become harder or simply out of the question.
Other problems threaten the future of the markers, too, Sebesta said.
“The biggest issue is urbanization,” he said.
For example, the marker commemorating the first air flight in Nevada that was installed along U.S. 395 in north Carson City went missing about a decade ago, possibly during a construction project. It was found last month when a state worker contacted the Nevada Appeal after finding it with two other missing markers in an NDOT yard just north of Spooner Highway.
“That was the only place I would never expect it to be,” Sebesta said. “They mean well to take it down for protection, but they forget to put it back up. That’s the biggest problem and that’s what I think happened to those three.”
One missing marker Sebesta hopes to one day find is No. 190, which marked the original homestead of Charles P. “Pop” Squires, who bought land at a 1905 auction to set up what is now Las Vegas.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, in December the Las Vegas City Council, citing the high costs to maintain it, voted to demolish Squires’ home to make way for an office development.
Still, Sebesta hopes the marker can at least be salvaged.
“That’s one that definitely needs to come back and I’m not even from Vegas,” he said.
Vandalism has taken its toll on many markers, Sebesta said. He estimated about a quarter of the markers have been damaged by cars, spray paint or bullets.
At marker No. 155, which commemorates Silver Peak in north Esmeralda County, Sebesta recalls seeing a man, “from a ‘certain’ state,” deface the marker with a black marker.
“He thought no one was looking,” said Sebesta, who confronted the man. Sebesta’s wife cleaned the graffiti afterwards.
“I think it’s because people just don’t care,” he said. “Either they just don’t care or they’re unaware of how important they are. They just think it’s a blue sign when in fact that blue sign could be all that’s left to ever say something was here.”
Today, most of Sebesta’s focus has been on upkeep of the website and occasional check-ins with the makers.
“What I’ve been doing is adding missing ones, unfortunately, and hopefully getting rid of the missing ones,” said Sebesta, who’s also adding GPS locations for each marker.
Sebesta said the website garners about 10,000 visitors a year. He thinks back on his trips through the Silver State: His trek through White Pine County with its wild terrain, finding marker No. 188 that’s technically in California or speaking to an Elko man who saw his ranch encroached by commercial development.
“I don’t do it for money, I don’t do it for celebrity status if you want to call it that, I just do it for everybody,” he said. “I figure if the (state) can’t really do anything … someone has to.” ine
Visit Paul Sebesta’s website, with an account of tracking down every existing Nevada historical marker, at http://www.nevada-landmarks.com.