Visitors to Nevada sometimes wonder about those metal signs in the shape of the state often found alongside streets and highways. If they pull off the road to look at one, they'll discover a small piece of the fascinating story of Nevada.
The distinctive signs are Nevada's Historical Markers, which commemorate historically significant sites throughout the state. There are more than 250 of the markers, which first began to appear in 1967, after the Nevada State Legislature voted to begin sharing the state's heritage with appropriate on-site historical signage.
These days, the care and maintenance of the signs-as well as the creation of any new ones-are the responsibility of the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, headquartered in Carson City.
There are also two guidebooks that, when read together, serve as useful references to the location and content of Nevada's historical markers.
The first is "A Guidebook to Nevada's Historical Markers," a free, 54-page booklet compiled and written by Ronald James, the Nevada State Historic Preservation Officer.
While the booklet's primary purpose is to list all the state's historical markers and describe their locations (including detailed maps), it also contains an informative and concise overview of the state's history as well as brief but fascinating histories of each of Nevada's 17 counties.
For instance, James notes that Eureka County has a courthouse that is one of only two in the entire state that was built in the 1870s and is still in use. He also reveals that Pershing County's unusual round courthouse, designed by famed early 20th century Reno architect Frederick J. DeLongchamps, was patterned after the Pantheon in Rome.
Due to space limitations, the booklet does not provide the text that appears on the historical markers (each sign usually contains several paragraphs explaining the history of the place being cited).
This omission is what makes the second guidebook, "Nevada Historical Marker Guidebook," by Dave Basso so handy. While lacking the maps and directions found in James' book, Basso's book offers the full text of each of the markers.
Basso's book doesn't offer much in the way of narration or interpretation but it is invaluable for making available the text of all of the markers. Entries range from the text of the marker found at the former site of Empire, located 4 miles east of Carson City (officially known as Marker No. 1), to Wilson Canyon, a beautiful and scenic river canyon that is south of Yerington on NV 208 (Marker No. 255).
Both books note that the Historical Marker Program was shepherded into existence during its first decade-and-a-half by Wilbur E. Wieprecht, an historic preservation specialist and state of Nevada employee from 1965 to 1982.
So the best way to discover Nevada's historical markers is to get your hands on copies of both publications, and consider them companion volumes.
"A Guidebook to Nevada's Historical Markers," by Ron James is available at no cost from the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, 100 North Stewart St., Carson City, NV 89701. Dave Basso's "Nevada Historical Marker Guidebook" is available in most local bookstores or directly from Falcon Hill Press, P.O. Box 1431, Sparks, 89432-1431.
Richard Moreno is the author of The Backyard Traveler and The Backyard Traveler Returns, which are available at local bookstores.