Nevada State Orphans' Home gym, a short history

As hockey sticks flail and balls crash up against the barred windows it's hard to imagine a quieter existence. One of studious concentration and recitation.

But that's how the first days of the sandstone building, today known as the Children's Home Gym began.

Built in 1897 by Nickerson S. Moody, a 69-year-old carpenter from Carson City, the building first served as a two-room school house. The contract, calling for stone quarried at the state prison was for less than $4,000.

Four years earlier, 100 years ago Saturday, the sandstone cornerstone of the Nevada State Orphans' Home was laid by the Masons. The wooden structure built when the home opened in 1869 burned down.

Bill Dolan in today's "Past Pages" column on page A4 reports that half the town turned out for the celebration.

Most of the history on the gym's construction is found in the Biennial Reports of the Superintendent of the Nevada State Orphans' Home. Superintendent A.M. Beebe in his 1897-98 report called the building a "well-ventilated stone school house."

For years, the residents of the Orphans' Home would attend school behind the stone walls.

According to Jeff Kintop, state archives manager, the schoolhouse is the third oldest building in the Capitol Complex built by the state. The Capitol was built in 1871 and the State Printing Office in 1885.

"The old state Armory, 1890, now occupied by the State Buildings and Grounds Division, is probably older," Kintop said. "But it was built by Fred Dangberg and sold to the state."

In 1917, the home Superintendent George Cowing reported that a very good gymnasium has been installed in the schoolhouse at a very nominal cost and affords the children a great deal of benefit and pleasure.

Orphans' home resident Bonnie Nishikawa, 65, and her sister remembers Halloween parties and all types of celebrations taking place in the gym. She was at the home from the time she was 5 until she was 18.

"We had all our parties in there," she said. "And we had a basketball team -- about sixth or seventh grade -- we competed against all the schools."

In 1923, Cowing recommended removal of the plaster ceiling in favor of a ship-lap ceiling that would be more durable.

The gym still in use after 106 years has proved durable, even though the report of the state Orphans' Home in 1929 said it was in deplorable shape.

"The gymnasium building has been neglected so long that it is in a very dilapidated condition. It needs considerable repairing and should be furnished with new equipment." The report is signed George B. Russell, Walter W. Anderson and T.A. Lotz, directors of the Orphans' Home.

The Carson City Historical Society, the state and former members of the home have all said they would like to see the structure preserved for years to come.

John, Louis, Rosie and Fred Polish all lived at the orphans' home. John Polish wrote to say they had been sent to the home "with the blessings of (District) Judge Clark Guild" who was the judge for Yerington Sept. 1, 1928 when they moved. They stayed less than a year, but had amassed memories nonetheless.

"We had some great basketball games," he said listing names such as Ceasar Congdon, Lynn Brothers and Archie Pozzi as those he played either against or with.

"I certainly hope this gym will be set aside as an historic site," he said. "The old stone was quarried from local area and I will always have a special feeling of gratitude for having been sent there with the blessings of Judge Clark Guild.

"It's just a great thing we must do to keep this little old gym as a historic and special place."


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