History museum on second floor of Capitol to reopen Wednesday in Carson City
After well over a year of discussion, planning and construction, the museum upstairs in the Capitol will reopen to the public on Wednesday with a completely new design and approach to telling Nevada’s story.
With more than 50 stories to tell in what was the old Nevada Senate chambers 50 years ago, Museums and History Administrator Peter Barton said the museum “is very content dense.”
“The overall concept for the exhibit was to engage the public,” he said.
Remodeling and updating the museum was one of Gov. Brian Sandoval’s goals before leaving office. The old museum had not been updated in more than 30 years. At Sandoval’s urging, the Nevada 150 Foundation that funded the state’s sesquicentennial paid for the project with $700,000 in Nevada 150 money left over from those events.
Barton and Project Manager Michael Graham of Pacific Studio in Seattle said it was an extensive process. They began in May 2017 with meetings between state officials, museum and history partners, Pacific Studio and AldrichPears of Vancouver, which specializes in designing exhibits. Together, he said they developed the theme and designed the exhibits.
Much of the construction was actually done at Pacific Studio then trucked to Carson City.
Graham and his crew of Cody Burns, Sam Birchman and Dan Petrovic spent three weeks installing everything.
They wrapped up this past week in plenty of time for the official grand opening and ribbon cutting by Sandoval at 10 a.m. Wednesday
“Nevada is all about trailblazing from the Indians to Kit Carson and (John) Fremont, the Comstock trail into statehood to now with Tesla, Switch and Panasonic,” said Barton.
Graham said the exhibits engage visitors, even asking their opinion on issues including whether Burning Man should be on the Black Rock Desert and whether self-driving cars should be allowed.
“We worked to get as much diverse and fun content for the price,” he said.
They said the exhibits are designed to encourage visitors to go beyond and seek out more information on the subjects that interest them rather than trying to give them everything about just a few subjects.
And each exhibit has information on where to go to find more about that subject.
“We touched on bits and pieces of history,” said Graham.
Barton said the content is aimed in a sense at a fourth-grade curriculum and, because class tours are growing more and more frequent, the room is designed with space for groups. But that doesn’t stop visitors from going into much more depth.
He said there will be regular guided tours of the Capitol and the museum on Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Barton said if the demand is there, they may schedule more tours during the week but that people don’t need to wait for a tour. After the ribbon cutting, the museum will be open every day except Sunday during business hours.
As visitors work their way around, they start from Nevada’s pre-history and the arrival of the Native Americans. A spear, atlatl and bow and arrow are contained in one of the first displays. Then the exhibits move into natural history featuring the cutthroat trout and desert tortoise as well as some of the state’s fossils and then into the arrival of settlers and the development of mining on the Comstock.
There are numerous legitimate historical pieces included such as the massive ship’s wheel from the battleship Nevada. There is a copy of the state’s Constitution and, nearby, a display of a Morse key similar to the one used to transmit Nevada’s Constitution to Washington, D.C. Visitors are invited to try their hand at Morse Code using the key.
Barton said at more than 16,000 words, every letter keyed by hand in Morse Code, the constitution is one of the three largest telegraph messages ever sent.
Throughout there are pictures and stories of some of Nevada’s most famous historic figures including legendary basketmaker Dat So La Lee, Mark Twain, African American pioneer explorer James Beckwourth and Robert Laxalt, nationally recognized author and brother of the late governor and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt.
There also are exhibits talking about the secretive air base Area 51 and the nuclear test site where hundreds of atomic bombs were tested.
Gaming is represented but Barton said they wanted to make sure people know there is a lot more to Nevada than just gaming and tourism.
He said special thanks goes to the Nevada Museum of Art for the video about the 36th star (Nevada was admitted as the nation’s 36th state on Oct. 31, 1864).
And he praised the efforts of the Buildings and Grounds crews who cleaned up the old chambers, painting walls, installing new LED lighting and coating the tall glass windows with a UV coating to protect the exhibits from fading.
The museum is at the Capitol’s south end on the second floor and admission is free.