Carson City is home to some of Nevada’s oldest churches
Religion has long played an important role in Carson City. Many historians believe the community’s oldest religious group was most likely the Methodist congregation, which began regularly meeting at the Eagle Valley Ranch in 1858.
Other organized religious congregations soon followed, including Roman Catholics (1860), Presbyterians (1861) and Episcopalians (1863).
Merchant Jacob Klein, who arrived in the community in 1860 and later co-founded the Carson Brewery, recollected in his oral history that the first actual church building in Carson City was most likely a wooden Catholic Church erected in about 1860 on King Street.
Strong winds knocked down that structure two years later and it wasn’t replaced until 1872; this time by a much sturdier wooden building. In the 1970s, that original church was finally enlarged and rebuilt with a brick façade.
In 2001, following the construction of a new church on the northeast side of town, the building was deconsecrated and sold to the non-profit Brewery Arts Center.
The Presbyterian congregation originally met in the Stone Schoolhouse, one of the city’s first schools. Despite having several prominent Carson City residents as members, including Orion Clemens and William M. Stewart, the congregation was not able to begin construction of a church until 1862 — and it wasn’t completed until 1864, due to a lack of money.
That year, church trustees asked Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) if he would present his Third Annual Message to the Third House (a mock legislative session held by media members and lobbyists following the regular legislative sessions) as a church fundraiser.
Clemens agreed, noting in a letter to the trustees: “Certainly. If the public can find anything in a grave state paper worth paying a dollar for, I am willing they should pay that amount or any other.”
Since the church was not yet completed, Clemens delivered his address on the second floor of the Ormsby County Courthouse. It was reported that he raised about $200 from the speech, which helped provide the funds needed to finish the structure later that year.
The original brick structure on North Nevada Street was remodeled and expanded in 1896. By 2006, however, the historic church had grown too small for the congregation and was badly in need of repairs, so there was considerable discussion about demolishing the building.
Public outcry persuaded the congregation to drop those plans and, more recently, a larger sanctuary was built behind the original church, which saved the historic structure that Mark Twain helped to build.
As for the Methodists, they completed their own church in 1867. Built of sandstone blocks from Abraham Curry’s quarry (which was located on the grounds of the present Nevada State Prison in Carson City), the structure is an imposing stone monolith with a tall wooden spire.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.