Ron James is director of the state Historic Preservation Office, under the Commission for Cultural Affairs. The office is involved with preserving aspects of Nevada history and is involved in several activities in the Carson City-Virginia City area. James answered a few questions for readers recently about the activities.
What current historic preservation activities are happening around the Carson City/Virginia City area?
The Commission for Cultural Affairs is supporting several ongoing restorations of historic buildings, including the Brewery Arts Center, the Fourth Ward School Museum, Piper's Opera House and St. Mary's Arts Center. We're also supporting the extension of the V&T Railroad from Virginia City. In late summer, we plan to break ground for a new exhibit center in Virginia City that will house a piece of V&T equipment.
This summer, we will open an archaeological excavation in Virginia City. We're keeping the exact location a secret for the moment to discourage vandals, but these events are always popular, and people should watch for details.
Not many people are familiar with the history of blacks on the Comstock. What do you find most interesting about that little-known history?
Almost every ethnic group was represented on the cosmopolitan Comstock, so it's not surprising that African-Americans were there. Historical records show they were respected members of the community, helping to build Virginia City into a remarkable place. They found work as laborers and professionals, including a prominent doctor, but prejudice seems to have usually barred them from work in the mines.
What are the most valuable endangered historical treasures in the area?
All historic resources are in danger because they are nonrenewable. A fire or a vandal with a shovel digging into an archaeological site can destroy a historic treasure forever.
Preserve Nevada, a statewide nonprofit group, identified Jacks Bar as an endangered resource, and I think that's a good call. Let's hope it can be saved, but the state cannot force a property owner to restore and use a historic building.
I am also concerned about the state's petroglyphs. The Nevada Rock Art Foundation does great work, but again, every time one of these treasures is defaced or stolen, we have all lost something forever.
What can be done to preserve these treasures or sites?
Commercial property owners of historic properties can work with my office to obtain federal tax credits for rehabilitation. But everyone can get involved by simply joining one of the many groups dedicated to tackling this problem. Anyone can become a member of the Brewery Arts Center, the Roberts House, the Fourth Ward School Museum, Piper's Opera House, St. Mary's Arts Center, the Nevada Rock Art Foundation, Preserve Nevada. There are also organizations for amateur archaeologists and many other groups dedicated to tackling specific problems. My office can get people in touch with these organizations (call 684-3448).
How important is preserving Nevada's past?
When we succeed in preserving a remnant of our past, we pass a wonderful present on to future generations. These things only become more precious with time. While they enhance our quality of life, these resources will be even more revered and appreciated in the future. Experience has also shown that these resources can play extremely important roles in promoting tourism, economic development and education. There is clear evidence that heritage and cultural tourists spend more money than other visitors, and if they like what they see, they are more likely to return.
What and where are a few of the larger archeological sites currently in Northern Nevada?
We don't disclose the location of archaeological sites. While most people respect the past and wouldn't damage an archaeological site, it only takes one person with a shovel to destroy the evidence it contains.
There are some places open to visitors, however. We will be welcoming people to visit our archaeological excavation in Virginia City this summer. The (Bureau of Land Management) hosts tours of hidden caves, and the Nevada Rock Art Foundation frequently hosts field trips. Also, by the end of the year, we will be unveiling an exhibit on our excavation of four Virginia City saloons so that the public can enjoy the end result of archeology.
What does the Historic Preservation Office oversee?
The Historic Preservation Office has many programs, including the National and State Registers of Historic Places, the historical marker program, a tax credit program and oversight of federal undertakings in the state. We also manage a federal grant program, and we serve as staff to the Commission for Cultural Affairs, which distributes $2 million in grants annually. Our two grant programs are restricted to nonprofit organizations and local governments.
One of our more popular new ventures is the Nevada Online Census Database. We are the only state in the nation with a fully searchable database of this kind. Readers should visit www.nevadaculture.org to explore this tool.
How can the public become more involved in preserving sites?
People should get involved by joining one of the many organizations working toward this sort of goal. Short of that, go visit one of our many museums or see a performance in one of our great historic buildings.
If someone comes across an arrowhead or artifact while out in the open land, what should they do?
Taking something from someone's property is theft so people tempted to collect should be careful. That same principle applies to public land, just as much as private land. People should also know that there is a growing list of successful prosecutions for this sort of thing.
I understand how tempting an arrowhead on the ground can be, and I think it's great that people love the past so much, but it is possible to love the past to death. There are so many better ways to get involved and enjoy the past. I hope people find they can channel their interests in those other more helpful ways.