The story of scenic and historic Lamoille
The Nevada Travler
Years ago I was asked by a national magazine to write a brief article about my favorite place in the state of Nevada. I tried to beg off because it’s a bit like choosing a favorite child but when pressed said the one location that has always been kind of special to me is Lamoille, nestled at the base of the Ruby Mountains in eastern Nevada.
And while I still think it’s kind of an unfair task to have a single favorite place in a state as diverse as Nevada, Lamoille remains one of my favorite spots because of its history and beauty.
One of the best accounts of the story of Lamoille appeared about a decade and a half ago in the Northeastern Nevada Historical Quarterly, which was published for many years by the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko.
Over the years, the digest has focused on topics ranging from forgotten towns, like Metropolis and Contact, to historical figures with ties to the region like singer Bing Crosby, who had a ranch in the area in the 1950s.
The Lamoille story, which appeared in the Quarterly in 2001, was written by longtime eastern Nevada historian Edna Patterson, who died in 2002 at the age of 94.
According to Patterson, the first residents of the Lamoille area were Shoshone, who lived in seasonal villages in lower Lamoille (near the site of modern day Halleck).
In 1865, John P. Wallace and Thomas A. Waterman, two miners from Austin, settled in the upper Lamoille Valley, near the Rubies. The two erected a crude log cabin, which they shared, and planted grain to sell to travelers heading to California.
Waterman is believed to be responsible for naming Lamoille. A native of Johnson in Lamoille County, Vermont, Waterman is said to have named the valley because it reminded him of his home in Vermont.
The word, Lamoille, is an Anglicized version of the French word, La Moitte, which means gull or mew, a type of bird usually found at the mouth of a river.
By the late 1860s, the Lamoille Valley had several dozen small farms. A school was established in the early 1870s—the old Walker-Waterman cabin served as the first schoolhouse. A more formal school was finally constructed a few years later.
Patterson notes that the first church service in Lamoille Valley was a Presbyterian service conducted in the schoolhouse in 1872.
In 1905, the Presbyterian congregation was responsible for constructing what must be considered Lamoille’s most recognizable landmark, the picturesque Lamoille Presbyterian Church. The impressive, high-steeple, whitewashed church, which originally cost $3,000, remains in use.
Patterson points out that while Lamoille was initially a grain-producing area, farmers soon branched into cattle and other agricultural products in order to meet the food demands of mining camps in the region.
The town of Lamoille traces its roots to John Walker, who built the Cottonwood Hotel in Lamoille in 1869. The hotel included not only rooms but also a blacksmith shop and a saloon.
Walker erected his complex at a place called Lamoille Crossroads, a spot on one of the routes of the Humboldt Trail, which many pioneers traveled to reach California and Oregon.
Within a few years, other businesses cropped up near Walker’s hotel including the Lamoille Mercantile Co., which in addition to housing a store had a hotel and dance hall.
The owners of the Mercantile also erected a series of tent frames in a thick stand of cottonwood trees at the crossroads and set aside the grove of trees as a recreational area. The tents were rented on a weekly basis to vacationers from Elko, making it one of the area’s first tourist-related services.
In the early 20th century, Lamoille gained a flourmill and a creamery, which for many years produced butter and ice cream.
Additionally, in 1912 the Elko-Lamoille Power Company was formed and a year later installed a small hydroelectric generating plant on the stream that flowed out of Lamoille Canyon.
The road into Lamoille Canyon, which today is an official scenic byway and one of the loveliest drives in the state, was constructed in the early 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, a federal work program that during the Great Depression employed youths from economically depressed parts of the country.
The road remained dirt until 1973, when it was converted into an oiled road. In the 1980s, the route was finally paved, which, according to Patterson, “opened up that scenic grandeur to the masses.
“The Lamoille area, gateway to the Ruby Mountains, has been a garden since the lands of Nevada were opened for settlement ,” she continued. “Here people lead and enjoy free and uninhabited lives. The sun shines bright and clear, unfogged by city smoke.
“It is a domain where the tranquility of the land has survived beyond its time. May the continuing years of this sheltered region be as good as those of the past.”
Amen to that.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.