How to save the past for the future

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal File PhotoProfessor Ron Reno, center, and Corinna Obermayr, 12, sift dirt through a screen at the Silver City Schoolhouse archeological dig earlier this year. Reno will lecture on the subject Tuesday at the Gold Hill Hotel.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal File PhotoProfessor Ron Reno, center, and Corinna Obermayr, 12, sift dirt through a screen at the Silver City Schoolhouse archeological dig earlier this year. Reno will lecture on the subject Tuesday at the Gold Hill Hotel.

Professor Ron Reno wants to share two important things when he gives a lecture on the rebuilding of the Silver City Schoolhouse at the Gold Hill Hotel on Tuesday.

First, he wants to share his excitement over what residents salvaged in the aftermath of the July 7, 2004, fire of the 136-year-old building. The building materials, artifacts and other items go back to the schoolhouse's beginning, and covers all the years of its use.

Second, he wants to share his pride in the way his community came together to save its heart.

He will bring artifacts and slides of artifacts to the lecture, explaining how they used the architectural remains to reconstruct what the schoolhouse looked like through time.

"Two unusual parts are, we used archaeological techniques to dissect the building ruins and we used those to help redesign the new building," he said. "We also incorporated very large amounts of the salvage materials into the new building."

The biggest change was going from a one room schoolhouse with a south wing added on a lower level, so that steps and an elevator were needed, to a one-story, two-room building. The single-floor level allowed a new basement to be installed.

"It had crawlspaces and we were excavating both crawlspaces and found hundreds of artifacts," Reno said.

They also found a foundation, which at first Reno thought was the remnants of a building that pre-existed the schoolhouse. Later, however, it was determined it was part of the south wing, which was redesigned in mid-construction. The north wing was the original one-room schoolhouse, he said.

Floor remnants were used for both flooring and wainscoting, and the basement walls consist of five different types of flooring, representing five different times the building was restored.

The schoolhouse was the community center for Silver City, hosting everything from town meetings to the local reader-created library to children's programs and plays.

When it burned, Silver City residents felt they had lost the heart of their community.

The 200 or so residents of the town not only pulled items from the burning rubble as firefighters fought the blaze, the very next day they had an emergency town meeting and divvied up chores to salvage anything they could to use for the new building.

"At that same town meeting, several people stated to county officials they did not want rubble taken away, but they wanted to go through that and to save what they could," he said. "The impetus for this whole thing was from the community and almost the whole town was involved. My job was to coordinate that effort, and it was all 100 percent volunteer."

The new building took nearly four years to rebuild, with Lyon County officials and insurance company executives fighting at every turn. Eventually the county paid for the building and is suing the insurance company to recoup its losses, but the conflict kept Silver City waiting much longer than expected.

In that time, artifacts were saved, catalogued and stored, materials salvaged, plans made, even protests held.

Reno said he thinks any community could come together as Silver City did and rebuild something important to them, adding that it was amazing what people can do when there's a need.

"That's one of the things that is great about America," he said. "People up here recognized the schoolhouse as the heart of our community and we really needed it back. It's been in continuous use ever since it got put back."

Many items from the 1860s to 1900s were salvaged, but Reno said it was just as important to recover things from the 1980s.

"We have a ledger that started in 1980 and was recovered," he said. "Recorded in there is a lifetime of community involvement for kids that were learning to write and putting their names on the sign-in sheets."

He said archaeology isn't just about old stuff, though old stuff is important.

"What's really important here is this is where archaeology is used to do something meaningful for the people," he said. "It's not just about old things, it's about things that mean stuff to people."

- Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or call 881-7351.

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