The Lord works in mysterious ways, and so can His representatives, on occasion. The financing of the Methodist Church in Austin, Nev., involved faith, a stock investment opportunity, and ultimately a chance to learn the lesson of earthly greed and the importance of spiritual salvation.
Fortunately, this tale is preserved in Reno's Nevada Historical Society, thanks to a New Deal program that collected an "Inventory of Church Archives." Within this large body of information is a story of faithful Methodists in need of a church.
The Methodist congregation of Austin was organized in 1864, shortly after the central Nevada mining community boomed into existence. Its minister, the Rev. J. L. Trefren of New Hampshire, wanted a place to help his flock grow. It seems, however, that his congregation was rich in spirit, but poor in coin when faced with the reverend's fund-raising requests.
Many of the church members approached by the Rev. Trefren were owners of mining claims and offered shares of their claims toward the church's building fund. The reverend immediately saw a broader application of this concept. To change the claims to cash he hit upon the idea to pool them and to organize the Methodist Mining Company, in which shares could be sold.
The Rev. Trefren peddled his mining stock to his friends and family in New Hampshire, telling them of the brilliant prospects of the Methodist Mining Company in far-off Austin, in the brand new state of Nevada. After all, buying stock in the company would serve the Lord and pay dividends in heaven as well as here on earth. So convincing was Trefren that he sold more than $250,000 worth of stock. With the funds he collected he built the beautiful brick church, which was surpassed in size only by the Catholic church in Virginia City. The funds also purchased a pipe organ and the construction of the brick parsonage.
After spending a large sum on these capital projects, the mining claims on which the funding scheme was based collapsed. The stock Trefren sold in New Hampshire had been on the installment plan and he was unable to make his final payments, leaving his distant supporters with the chance to consider something other than earthly rewards.
A debt of $6,000 accrued, and the church building was sold to the county, which planned to use it as a courthouse. The Church Extension Society came to the reverend's rescue, however, and the church reclaimed ownership of the building. To no one's surprise, Rev. Trefren was transferred out of Nevada at his own request in 1868. The church still stands as a testament to the boomtown ingenuity and the good faith of the New Hampshire Methodists. The building is a part of the Austin Historic District, recognized in the National Register of Historic Places.
For a current list of properties in the State Register of Historic Places and the National Register of Historic Places, visit the State Historic Preservation Office's Web site at dmla.clan.lib.nv.us (click on SHPO). SHPO is part of the Nevada Department of Museums, Library and Arts, which also includes the Division of Museums and History, the State Library and Archives, and the Nevada Arts Council. The department serves Nevada's residents and visitors through cultural and information management, preservation and promotion of cultural resources, and education. Other key components of the department are the Comstock Historic District Commission, the Literacy Coalition, the Advisory Committee on Participatory Democracy, and the Commission for Cultural Affairs.
Mella Harmon is a historic preservation specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office, serving as coordinator for the National Register of Historic Places program. Contact: (775) 684-3447, email@example.com.