It will be a good year to brush up on local history

If a person were required to pass a local history test before living in a place, I'm afraid I'd be in a long line of people fighting deportation from Nevada. And I suspect that line would be well populated with people who've spent their entire lives in the Silver State.


This occurred to me while visiting the Web site of the Nevada State Library and Archives this week (http://dmla.clan.lib.nv.us), where I was checking the name spelling of a former Nevada governor. It was probably 20 minutes later when I was able to snap out of the trance cast on me by all of the historical information on the site.


For example, contrary to common belief, the capitol's dome was never covered with silver from the state's mines. It was covered with tin-plated steel that was painted silver. I didn't know that.


Didn't know that the city's founder, Abraham Curry, bought the Eagle Station and ranch because lots in Genoa were too expensive.


I didn't know that Dayton was named after John Day in 1861, who laid out the town, nor did I know dozens of other facts that entertained me during my visit to the Web site.


But I have vowed to become much more competent in the history of the state. Fortunately, that will be an easy task, not just because of that amazing Web site, but because there will be a lot of important historical celebrations in the coming months.


None of them is more significant that Carson City's 150th birthday, which is this year. Major events and newspaper features are being planned and will be unveiled soon in the Appeal. Suffice it to say that, before the year is over, most Carsonites will be able to say "sesquicentennial" as easy as they say "Neh-Vad-Uh."


But that's not the only birthday being celebrated. The Carson City Area Chamber of Commerce is celebrating its 60th birthday this year, a milestone marked by a 175-page coffee table book we've published here at the Appeal: "60 Years of Business."


Believe me, you needn't be a member of the Chamber nor a businessperson to find this book fascinating (especially if, like me, history was your favorite subject in school and your default TV station at home is The History Channel).


For example, did you know that Carson City was once home to a world-famous "Whistle-Off" (and, for that matter, do you know why that is no longer the case?) Did you know you could make money in 1948 by turning in your used kitchen fats (there was a world-wide shortage of fats and oils, and glycerin derived from fats was used for making explosives). Did you know you could buy a nice new home in Carson City in 1959 for $18,000?


You can tell I'm falling into my history trance again, so reluctantly I'm closing the book for now. But if you're interested (there are dozens of pages of pictures and local history), you can order copies by contacting the Appeal.


The end of 2008 won't bring an end to historical birthday celebrations, however. In 2009, Gov. and Mrs. Gibbons will lead a celebration to mark the 100th birthday of the Governor's Mansion.


Jack Harpster of Reno is writing a book, "100 years at the Nevada Governor's Mansion," to mark the occasion.


Harpster, who moved to Reno from Vegas about 18 months ago, where he worked for the Las Vegas Review Journal, has taken the project on not only to stay busy in his retirement, but to feed his love of history.


He's done other history books, most notably about his relative, John Ogden, who nine generations ago, in 1641, moved to this country from England and was the earliest founder of New Jersey.


The mansion book will be more about the first families than about the building itself.


"It's a people story more than it is a building story, but you can't tell one without the other," he said.


It will have a chapter on each first family as well as stories about people who've lived and worked in the mansion.


One of those stories, for example, will be about Gov. Denver Dickerson, who took over after Gov. John Sparks died during construction of the mansion. He and his wife moved in in July of 1909. During Christmas in 1909, the governor put on a Santa suit and went upstairs to surprise the children of visiting friends. His suit, however, included clumps of cotton glued on to look like snow. When he leaned under the Christmas tree to pick up a present, a candle ignited the cotton. Disaster was averted, however, when the governor leaped out a window onto the second-floor balcony and extinguished himself in the snow. Then he went back in his bedroom window, took his suit off and reported back to the children that Santa had hurried off to his next stop.


Then there was the time First Lady Bonnie Bryan served a layer cake for a reception at the mansion. Unfortunately, their English bulldog got to the cake first, eating half of it. That created a dilemma for Bonnie Bryan, but she opted to patch up the remainder and serve it to the guests.


Now, with the book in its final stages, Harpster is looking for help in the form of mansion-related stories and historical photos of the building and its occupants. If you can help, call or e-mail me at the Appeal and I'll pass the information on.




• Barry Ginter is editor of the Appeal. You can reach him at 881-1221, or via e-mail at bginter@nevadaappeal.com.

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