History lives in every brick and stone building in the historic Central Nevada mining town of Eureka. In fact, with the possible exception of Virginia City, no other Silver State community has managed to keep its historical character as intact as Eureka.
Founded in 1869, Eureka quickly grew into a city of canvas tents, log cabins and wooden shanties. The haphazard boomtown construction made the town vulnerable to fire, the first of which occurred in 1872.
Four years later, seven major downtown buildings were destroyed by fire, despite the best efforts of a new steam pumper. That was followed by the town’s worst fire, in April 1879, which burned nearly half the community and caused more than $1 million in damages. An 1880 blaze torched 300 homes and businesses.
Fire wasn’t the only danger. Flash floods ripped through the town in 1874, 1876 and 1878. Fifteen residents lost their lives in the flooding of 1874.
Because of the dual threats of fires and floods of the early years, Eureka’s residents rebuilt many of their structures, particularly in the downtown out of brick, with fireproof iron shutters and doors.
The sturdy construction helped lessen the fire danger and has allowed the town to stave the usual ravages of time. Today, Eureka is one of the finest examples of a 19th century mining town found in Nevada.
Eureka’s main street is lined with well-preserved brick and wooden commercial buildings, most of which are still used. Two of the most prominent are the Eureka County Courthouse and the Eureka Opera House and Theatre.
The two-story brick courthouse, completed in 1880 and restored a few years ago, is one of the state’s most classic frontier halls of justice topped with an elaborate white cornice. Like many of Eureka’s buildings, the courthouse has iron shutters on doors and windows.
The Opera House, restored a few years ago and reopened as a convention center, was originally built in 1880. The two-story red brick building was constructed with two-foot thick masonry walls, a brick and iron front, and a slate roof, to make it completely fireproof.
Adjacent to Opera House is the Jackson House, an impressive two-story brick structure. Built in 1877, it was originally called the Jackson Hotel, then the Brown Hotel, and later the Jackson House. It was restored in the early 1980s and, when open, has served as a restaurant in recent years.
On the other side of the Opera House is the modern-looking post office, actually housed in an historic brick building. It was originally home of the Eureka Meat and Groceries, which was built in 1880. The interior still has a press tin ceiling with floral and bird designs.
Down the block, on the corner of Main and Gold streets, is the former San Francisco Brewery, erected in 1880. Later it served as a saloon and soda pop bottling plant, then as the post office and as offices.
South of the Jackson House, you come to the main part of downtown. On the corner of Bateman and Buel streets is a two-story brick building, now a private residence, which was once the Ryland Building. Built in 1880, it originally contained offices and bedrooms, and later a restaurant.
Next to the Ryland Building is a restored Eureka & Palisade Railroad crew car, which now serves as the offices for the Eureka Chamber of Commerce.
West is the partial facade of the Foley-Rickard-Johnson-Remington Building (now vacant), once a magnificent two-story brick building. Built in 1880, the structure was a hardware store with the Odd Fellow’s Hall on the second floor. The upper level was demolished in 1983, following an earthquake.
Nearby Raine’s Market, also on Main Street, includes two historic brick structures, both built in 1879-80.
The northern portion was originally a saloon, while the other part served as a clothing store. Inside, you can find the original hardwood floors.
At the end of the block is the local bank, located within a stone building built in 1879 (although it’s been modified and covered with stucco). The structure was originally a saloon, then converted to the Farmers and Merchants Bank in 1924. Later it became part of the First National Bank of Nevada.
Across the street from the bank is the brick Masonic Building, built in 1880. It has served as a dry goods store, jewelry store, barbershop, bathhouse, tailor shop, tinsmith shop and post office. Just after the turn-of-the-century, the Masons began holding meetings in the basement.
Al’s Hardware, a half block up the street, is another Eureka institution. A portion of the stone building was built in 1873, then rebuilt following the fires in 1879 and 1880. In the 1880s, it served as a boarding house and saloon, then as the Eureka Cash Store. In 1946, Albert Biale opened the hardware store, which his family continues to operate.
On the opposite side of the street you can find additional historic buildings such as the Tognini and Company building, which dates back to 1877; the Eureka Cafe (1873), and Jim and Lorraine’s Cafe and Bar (1873).
An excellent resource for exploring Eureka is the Self Guiding Historic Tour on the Raine’s Market web site, which can be found at http://www.rainesmarket.com/eureka-self-guiding-tour.html.
Next week, we’ll wander Eureka’s side streets looking for more history.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.