A grand plan for Stewart Indian Museum

For years, officials around Carson City have been asking residents to imagine the area as a tourist destination based on the rich history of the Comstock, Native American culture and the Old West.

Amid fits and starts, that grand scheme never got very far - in part because it doesn't have a home, something to tie it all together.

Sheila Abbe, president of the Carson City Urban Indians and director of the Stewart Indian Museum, says the old Stewart complex at Carson City's southern border is the answer.

"According to everybody, Nevada needs historical tourism," she said. "If we had some place for people to stay and play, we would be a major destination and this could be the major destination for Northern Nevada."

Abbe isn't alone. Secretary of State Dean Heller is enthusiastically pushing the idea and wants to take it a step further, adding on a state fairgrounds complex on to the open portion of Stewart to the southeast.

He said owners of the Silver State Raceway have indicated they would be willing to discuss selling that facility, along with its parking, to the state.

"It could be a great complex," said Heller. "Stewart with its history, the fairgrounds, racetrack, lots of parking."

Lt. Gov. Lorraine Hunt says not only is it a great idea but that she is asking the Tourism Commission to begin work on a business plan to help make it a reality.

And Carson City Manager John Berkich said his staff has also been involved in some of the discussions and is interested.

Abbe says she's delighted with the support.

"It would be great to put in money for a state fairgrounds, the V&T, and put in a comprehensive complex that will get all the bang for our buck," she said.

But she said she has no intention of waiting for everyone else.

She has $343,000 in grants from state Historical Preservation and the federal government, which has designated Stewart one of "America's Treasures." She plans to begin rehabilitating six of the old stone buildings at Stewart this fall.

She said a centerpiece of the complex in her eyes would be a "sort of Williamsburg for Native American history." She envisions a center that would provide both history and teaching.

"We'll have pot making, rug weaving, basket making, flint knapping, jewelry and silversmithing, artwork," she said. "Both classes and demonstration for all these things."

She plans a Native American gallery as well as the existing Stewart Boarding School Museum.

Abbe as well as other officials, including Dan Dominy of the Northern Nevada Railway Foundation, say Native American history is a huge draw for European and other foreign tourists.

She said there is ample room not only for the Native American cultural center but mining, railroad and Old West history and other elements that have been discussed.

The big building next to the Stewart museum is a perfect place for meeting rooms to start generating some cash to support the complex by hosting everything from community meetings to conferences to weddings.

Abbe said the V&T once ran all the way to Stewart and that the facility would be a perfect home station for the trains once the V&T route is reconstructed.

Heller said he wants to work with state and city officials on developing a fairgrounds at Stewart.

"Let's face it, Nevada is about the only capital that doesn't host its state fair. A fairgrounds out there would be a terrific asset," Heller said.

Hunt and Tait said tourism is starting to develop a business plan that lays out what is possible at Stewart, how much it would cost and how to go about it. They plan to present it to the 2001 Legislature.

"We can have a real destination hub with the historical value of these assets," said Hunt. "And it's right off the route of the (proposed) Carson City bypass - with an off-ramp."

"These are gemstone quality facilities," said Hunt.

Tait said John Whiteman of Whiteman & Associates, who did the business plan for Great Basin park, is helping with the Stewart and Clear Creek planning and that he and his staff will do the marketing plan.

Tait said he also has high hopes for Clear Creek, which is west of U.S. 395 also at the south end of Carson City.

"We plan to take the plans to the governor's office, the Legislature," he said adding that he is looking forward to meeting with Abbe on the subject.

Berkich said the city will gladly work with all the parties involved.

"It's a very attractive idea," he said pointing out that creating a tourist destination based on western Nevada's history has been Carson City's goal for years - including city efforts to back reconstruction of the V&T Railroad between Virginia City and Carson City.

"In addition to the historic buildings, the very parklike setting is very attractive," he said.

Sen. Lawrence Jacobsen, R-Minden, for nearly 30 years the self-appointed legislative guardian of Stewart, said he too has nothing but high hopes for the idea.

"For years it's been my desire to make it a showplace," he said.

He said with the rich history of Stewart itself, the historic destination plan would be a perfect use and would provide financial support to protect and restore the buildings out there.

He said for years it's been hard to convince other lawmakers and the governor's office to even provide enough maintenance people to prevent the buildings from falling apart.

"We used to have 22 maintenance people," he said. "Now we have four and there are about 100 buildings out there."

Heller said it's worse than that. Police officer training programs have used the historic buildings to practice attack techniques for drug raids and other such things, deliberately breaking in windows, doors and even walls of the old buildings.

"That's got to stop," he said.

Nevada Appeal's Rex Bovee contributed to this story


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