St. Charles Hotel -- "The pleasantest resort in Carson"

Cars drive by the St. Charles Hotel and what used to be the stage coach drop off station in Carson City. The hotel appears much the same as it did when it was built in 1859 except the town has gone through many changes including the paved roads in front of the hotel. Photo by Brian Corley

Cars drive by the St. Charles Hotel and what used to be the stage coach drop off station in Carson City. The hotel appears much the same as it did when it was built in 1859 except the town has gone through many changes including the paved roads in front of the hotel. Photo by Brian Corley

George W. Remington and Albert Muller were in their 20s in 1862 when they had the idea of building Carson City's first substantial brick hotel.

Together with Dan Plitt they built two hotels, the two-story Muller and the three-story St. Charles, on the site of Plitt's bakery at Third and Carson streets. Together, the buildings have become the oldest continuously operating commercial structure in Nevada.

The first owners of the St. Charles Hotel described it as "the most desirable and commodious first-class house in Carson" in their first advertisement, which ran in the Oct. 2, 1862, edition of the Silver Age newspaper. As testament to the hotel being built before Nevada was admitted as a state into the union, they wrote: "We have the largest and best hotel building in the Territory."

The three-story brick building stands across from the landscaped lawns of the Nevada Legislature today. At the time it was built, neither the Legislative Building nor the Capitol existed though Remington and Muller built near the spot they expected the capitol campus to rise.

The one building in Nevada which is older than the St. Charles is the The Gold Hill Hotel in Gold Hill, according to state historian Guy Rocha. That building, older by one year, was closed for several years and also served as a private residence.

The St. Charles Hotel has operated under six names and 15 owners in its 141 years. It was the first to be wired for electricity and the first to have gas utilities by 1872.

An ad in a February Morning Appeal described it as "the only hotel in Carson that is lighted exclusively by electricity. Best $1 a day house on the coast."

But it wasn't always first class. By the year 1910 the hotel was the Golden West and run by John Anderson. Rocha sites Harry Mighels, who was 95 years old in 1996, as describing the building's restaurant as a "slop house" because it served jackrabbit meat in place of chicken. Anderson would pay boys 25 cents for a rabbit, according to Mighels.

Before it was bought in 1993 and restored by its current owner, businessman Bob McFadden, it was what Rocha called "basically a flop house." The wooden porch was gone, the brick was covered in plaster and it was the scene of fights and violence.

"It was terrible," Rocha said. "People living on the edge of existence lived there. It was a cheap room."

The St. Charles has seen some colorful customers in its history, one of whom may have been that "stocky knight of the swinging lash," stage coach driver Hank Monk. He drove up Kings Canyon to Glenbrook for the Pioneer Stage Co., which used the hotel for its offices and as its main stop.

Monk may have kept a room there there off and on, but he also owned a house on the corner of Fifth and Curry streets, so it's unlikely he would have paid for a room when he had a house just around the corner.

"At certain times in his life, prior to living in that house, he could have maintained a room at the St. Charles," Rocha said.

"I guarantee you he was in the building, but I can't prove it," says McFadden. He created a small "Hank Monk Room" on the second floor of the hotel with period furnishings.

Author Mark Twain, who came to Carson City as Samuel Clemens in 1861 as described in his book, "Roughing It," may also have spent time in the St. Charles. He covered the Third Territorial Legislature in 1864 for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, Rocha said, and legislators were known to frequent the hotel. In 1866, for example, assemblymen and senators left the session to help haul hoses and fight a fire at the hotel. Twain was in town that year, as well, on one of his speaking tours, according to Rocha.

"You know damn well they were in the building," McFadden said.

Rocha won't go that far, but he says there is a "high probability" they were. "I'll tell you this much -- the St. Charles is one of the few buildings in this city today that goes back to the time that Sam Clemens lived here," he said.

Even if Twain and Monk had no connection to the St. Charles, the hotel has seen a lot of history in its 141 years, from a visit by the speaker of the House of Representatives in 1865 to weddings like that of Genoa couple Joseph L. Salmon and Louisa Baker. The brick hostelry also saw its share of deaths, including homicides, suicides and natural deaths.

The Sept. 24, 1874, issue of the Daily Appeal described a man's suicide at the brick hostelry. J. Burke from Virginia City checked into his room in early evening and was not seen until an employee heard a noise through the door like someone having spasms. A coroner's jury reported later that Burke had died "about 7:30 p.m. by strychnine, administered by his own hand."

Today, the 141-year-old hotel looks stately and refreshed, with the same bricks that once housed a stage coach office now facing the newer Legislative Building and standing guard over the automobile traffic of Carson Street. The building is for sale again, ready for its 15th or 16th owner.

"I'm selling it because I don't really need the property. I tried to run my dream and it didn't really work," McFadden said. He says he's not looking for another project, but rather free time to surf and play volleyball.

"The ultimate use would be a great B&B right across from the Capitol with a nice restaurant downstairs," he said.

McFadden has fond memories of his connection to Nevada's oldest continuously operating commercial structure. When Joe Garlic's restaurant was operating, bands would play and folks would gather on Third Street for the Farmer's Market, which has since moved to the Pony Express Pavilion.

"It was a roaring SOB, let me tell ya," he said.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment