Dedicated to Carson's Chinese history

It's tough sometimes to imagine our past -- especially when there are only a few photos, some newspaper scraps and a few descendents to help flesh out our imaginations.

The Carson City Preservation Coalition has gathered a few of these scraps together about Carson City's Chinatown and will unveil part of its collection on Nevada Day.

The dedication of the Carson City Chinatown Marker will be at 10 a.m. Oct. 31 at the corner of Stewart and Third streets.

Coalition members Eileen Cohen and Bernie Allen have designed the plaque that will mark the former site of the largest Chinese neighborhood in Nevada. The mounting and the base are being donated and done by John Martin of Bison Construction in Washoe Valley.

The coalition is collecting donations to pay the $1,000 it costs to have the plaque created, but they are mostly interested in preserving the history in the area.

According to the 1907 Sanborn Fire Insurance map, Chinatown consisted of blocks numbers 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189.

For those of us in modern Carson City, Guy Rocha says Chinatown is between East Second and East Fourth streets, on the north and south, and from Fall Street on the west to the east of Valley Street.

"The main street was East Third Street and Chinatown sprawled east and west on both sides of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad tracks," he said. "The Supreme Court, legislative parking garage, the state printing and employment, training and rehabilitation buildings, and a parking lot cover most of old Chinatown today."

In 1880, at the height of its existence, some 988 Chinese people, one for every five Caucasians, called Carson City home. They owned property, businesses, taught school, registered their births and deaths with the state -- they lived in Carson City.

Today, though Carson boasts a population almost 10 times larger than its 5,412 in 1880, 1,154 Chinese people were counted by census enumerators in 2000.

"Think about how many that is," Rocha said. "You couldn't go anywhere without seeing a Chinese person."

Carson's population ebbed in the last years of the 19th century and the first years of the 20th century. The Chinese population too dropped in 20 years to 152. By 1950, when the last bits of Chinatown caught fire, only six Chinese people were counted by enumerators.

Cohen said longtime Carson City photographer and videographer Jim Thorpe remembers taking photos of the 1950 fire and that some of the photos are contained on the plaque.

"Chinatown burned three times," Cohen said. "The last one caught from the Hunter Lodge fire. Winds blew embers across to Chinatown."

After two programs on the Chinese in Carson City and Douglas County, Cohen said area Chinese residents, though not descendants of those who lived in Carson's Chinatown, are excited.

"We had an overflowing crowd at the Carson Library last year when Bob Nylen and Guy Rocha gave their talk about Chinatown.

"At one program I met one Chinese person who lived here for two years and had never met another Chinese person," Cohen said.

Following the dedication, Allen and Cohen will offer free two-hour versions of the Charles W. Friend Eastside Tour.

"Bernie grew up on the east side," Cohen said. "His dad worked for the V&T. The railroad had a railroad car. It's part of the tour, the V&T Railroad Car at 708 N. Walsh St. "

Cohen said booklets on the tour cost $2 and can be found at the Nevada State Railroad Museum and Nevada State Museum gift shops.

Kelli Du Fresne is features editor for the Nevada Appeal. Call her at 881-1261 or e-mail

If you go

What: Dedication of the Carson City Chinatown Marker

When: 10 a.m. Oct. 31

Where: Corner of Third and Stewart streets

To make a donation: Carson City Preservation Coalition, P.O. Box 2358, Carson City, NV 89702


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