Stewart begins preservation efforts; state prison museum on hold |

Stewart begins preservation efforts; state prison museum on hold

Ronni Hannaman
The complete interior of the original Stewart Indian School gym has been gutted and a new roof will be installed to help preserve the little that is left of the original building.
Ronnie Hannaman

Carson City is getting better at preserving its history after losing some of its most iconic structures to neglect and disuse. Think the V&T Roundhouse and Children’s Home, though there were many more historic structures that met the wrecking ball ultimately changing how Carson Street looks today.

The soon to be former Jack’s Bar was almost lost as well, but thanks to an investment group led by the Nevada Builder’s Alliance and Miles Construction, Inc., this important structure will gain a new lease on life in the future to become the Bank Saloon, the early name for Jack’s Bar.

Today, two major potential tourism sites are at risk — one that’s slowly being refurbished and the other languishing for reasons we know not why. Both sites speak volumes when it comes to Carson City history and shouldn’t be lost due to neglect or politics.

The Stewart Indian School campus and the Nevada State Prison are two of this city’s most historic sites that have received little attention thus, to bring them back to life will be more costly than if they had been kept up initially.

The Stewart Indian School is slowly — very slowly — being brought back to life — or at least breathing. Bit by bit, roofs are being repaired or replaced to further stem the weather damage on the inside due to neglect. For some buildings, restoration may be impossible.

In 2017, near the end of his term, former Gov. Brian Sandoval included $5.7 million in the state budget to restore two important buildings to tell the story of the school. Now being refurbished are the former Administration Office and Student Union soon to reincarnate as the Cultural Center and Welcome Center.

As one of his last acts before being termed out, Sandoval included an additional $1.7 in his final budget to begin the revitalization of the iconic gym in which he enjoyed playing against the Stewart Braves along with many Carson and area athletes. The bleachers were filled with fans who remember the days when the Stewart Braves won the 1966 Northern State High School Level A championship. It seems the Stewart Braves had a legendary dribbling style.

The original gym was built in 1938 and has been completely stripped to the foundation walls. The internal structure is being reinforced to meet the current seismic standards. The compromised and decaying roof has been removed, making way for a composite roof that will prevent further erosion of this historic structure. The work is being done by Reno-based Houston Smith Construction, Inc.

President and construction Superintendent Rollin Smith states, “My company took on this project because it interested us, and we feel we have the responsibility to preserve this important structure and not harm anything of possible worth. Although restoring these types of sorely neglected buildings are a challenge, my team and I are trying our best to keep the integrity intact and because of this, I cannot predict a completion date though we are targeting September or October of this year.”

The exterior isn’t being touched or restored at this time. Many of the campus buildings were constructed of colorful native stone built by the Hopi Indian students as they learned to be stone masons and have stood the test of time.

In the case of the Nevada State Prison, no money other than those raised by the private non-profit Nevada State Prison Preservation Society, have been allocated to open this prison as another important state museum. The prison dates back to 1862 when it was the territorial penitentiary. It closed in 2012.

Because of their age, both important historic sites can’t be fully made to conform with ADA requirements, yet that’s the stumbling block to reopening the prison while there’s a sign at Stewart that advises visitors of the lack of full ADA requirements. The old penitentiary in Boise is open to the public as one of its important museums also advises guests the entire site lacks ADA access in some areas. The famed Alcatraz, too, has ADA issues, yet is one of the most visited sites in the San Francisco area.

Visitors may enter the site of the Stewart Indian School and stroll, ride a bike, or drive through the former campus and use their cell phone to dial into various building locations to learn of the history as told by a former student. The prison is locked to outsiders.

History is an important component of our city, for it was here the history of Nevada was made and continues to be made. Visitors now flock to Carson City to see our two major museums and when and if ever opened or finished, the Stewart Indian School and Nevada State Prison will become an economic boost to our city.