Visitors to Nevada sometimes wonder about those old metal signs in the shape of the state often found beside streets and highways. But if they pull off the road to look at one, they’ll discover a small piece of the fascinating story of Nevada.
The distinctive signs are Nevada’s Historical Markers, which commemorate historically significant sites throughout the state. There are more than 260 of the roadside markers, which first began to appear in the mid-1960s, after the Nevada State Legislature voted to begin sharing the state’s heritage with appropriate on-site historical signage.
Listings of the signs as well as the text found on each can be found in a number of places including the Nevada State Office of Historic Preservation web site (http://shpo.nv.gov/home/historical-markers) and several guidebooks including Clarence David Basso’s “Nevada Historical Marker Guidebook.”
The latter was originally published in the 1980s and is still available in online bookstores. While lacking maps and directions to the marker sites, Basso’s book offers the full text of nearly all of the state’s historic plaques.
Basso’s book doesn’t offer much in the way of narration or interpretation but it is invaluable for making available the text of all of the markers. Entries range from the text of the marker found at the former site of Empire, located 4 miles east of Carson City (officially known as Marker No. 1), to Wilson Canyon, a beautiful and scenic river canyon that is south of Yerington on NV 208 (Marker No. 255).
Both books note that the Historical Marker Program was shepherded into existence during its first decade-and-a-half by Wilbur E. Wieprecht, an historic preservation specialist, a state of Nevada employee from 1965 to 1982.
The State Historic Preservation web site lists all of the markers by number and includes not only the text of each but also brief directions to find them. Additionally, the web site lists markers by each of the state’s 17 counties, which allows visitors to find those clustered in one particular area.
The site thanks the Nevada Department of Transportation, which has devoted considerable funding in recent years to maintaining the markers.
It also points out that most of the markers were composed more than 30 years ago and some of the language used is dated. As a result, text on the web site reflects changes that preservations hope one day to incorporate in updated markers that will only be posted when funding becomes available.
A 2012 Las Vegas Review-Journal article noted that about $80,000 was needed at that time to “replace 80 or so markers that contain mistakes, offensive racial stereotypes or plain old ‘bad writing,’ according to [former] state historic preservation officer Ron James.”
James said the web site was created to clean up factual errors, misspellings and grammatical problems as well as to rewrite potentially offensive language and ethnic stereotypes.
“The fact is we’re all Nevadans,” James told the newspaper. “The historical marker program shouldn’t be about how ‘we’ interacted with ‘them’ in the past. It should be about how we interacted with each other.
“It’s not [about] political correctness,” he added. “It’s just hurtful, and that has to be corrected.”
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.