There’s a town on the eastern side of Nevada that can trace its roots almost as far back as the Mormon Fort in Las Vegas.
The town is Panaca, located about 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas via U.S. 93. The surrounding area, known as Meadow Valley, was first explored in 1857.
According to historian Jim Hulse, the leaders of the Mormon Church, which had established the Mormon Fort in 1855, decided to investigate other nearby areas where church members could hide in the event U.S. Army troops invaded Salt Lake City.
The troops were marching to Utah to occupy the territory because of a dispute over sovereignty between church leaders and the U.S. government.
Shortly after irrigation ditches and fields were laid out, the church leaders found it unnecessary to leave Utah after a confrontation was averted.
In May 1864, a group of Mormon settlers arrived in the valley to set up a more permanent agricultural community. Despite the fact that it was not a mining camp, the settlement was named Panaca, which was derived from the Southern Paiute word for metal or “pa-na-ka.”
The name, in fact, was derived from a nearby mining area, discovered that same year, which was known as the Panacker Ledge. Local Paiutes had shown the ledge to William Hamblin, a Mormon missionary. The discovery of silver near Panaca led to other strikes in Eastern Nevada including Pioche and Bullionville.
Panaca began life as a planned farming community with orderly, uniform-sized blocks and lots. Fields were laid out, homes were constructed, and the Mormon settlers soon established a school.
The mining booms in the surrounding areas proved a boon to Panaca as those communities provided eager markets for agricultural products grown in the valley.
Consistent with the communal nature of early Mormon communities, one of the first businesses to open was the Panaca branch of the Zion Cooperative Mercantile, a community store that served as the retailer for all food, crafts, firewood, lumber, grain and other items produced by the people of Panaca.
The store sold goods to the nearby mining camps and later, after those mines began to falter, to mining camps to the south, such as Delamar.
Since then, not much has really changed in Panaca, which has remained a quiet, peaceful farming and ranching community.
Many of the town’s original buildings have survived the years. For instance, you can still find the Panaca Mercantile (Zion Cooperative), partially housed in the same adobe building in which it opened in 1868 (and now called Panaca Market).
Other historic structures include the Wadsworth Store, another adobe building, which was originally constructed in the 1880s. Over the past century, it has been used for a variety of purposes ranging from a store to a school.
Many of Panaca’s homes have served several generations of descendents of the original settlers. The Turnbaugh Home, across Main Street from the Panaca Mercantile, dates back to the 1870s, while the Christian Peter Ronnow home, a block east of the Mercantile, was built in 1872.
One of the most impressive houses in Panaca is the ornate Victorian-Italianate brick N.J. Wadsworth house on the corner of Main and Fifth streets. The two-story residence was built in the 1880s for the owner of the town’s general store.
The Lee Hotel, at the corner of Second and E streets, is another historical structure. The two-story, board-and-bat building was constructed in 1870 and served as Panaca’s first hotel. The hotel, which also doubled as a stage stop, later became a private residence. In the 1970s, it was rebuilt after a fire.
Another old-time structure is the William Edwards house, located on the southeast corner of Second and Main streets, an adobe building which has been dated to about 1865.
The oldest building still standing in Lincoln County is the Panaca Ward Chapel, built in 1867-68 of adobe. Over the years, it has been used as a chapel, a school and a recreational center.
Panaca is located three hours north of Las Vegas via Interstate 15, U.S. Highway 93, and State Route 319. For information go to: www.lincolncountynv.org/.