Nonprofit forming to help with historic restoration |

Nonprofit forming to help with historic restoration

Terri Harber
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal Mark Twain impersonator MacAvoy Lane, left, and the Rev. Bruce Kochsmeier talk about the history of the First Presbyterian Church in Carson City on March 21, 2006. As a fledgling writer in his 20s, Mark Twain was well known for his carousing at saloons. But now Twain is getting attention for a little-known good deed during that period: His role in helping raise money for construction of the First Presbyterian Church in January 1864. Kochsmeier is holding a Bible dedicated to Mark Twain's niece Jennie Clemens, who died at the age of 10 in 1864.

Promoting Carson City’s historic assets – and keeping them intact – is going to be crucial as the city continues to grow, and the freeway and V&T tourist rail are completed.

A nonprofit organization that would help fund restoration of historic buildings around the city could become a reality later this year.

The organization, still unnamed, could create an executive board as soon as next month and a citizens advisory committee possibly midsummer.

One of the organization’s first orders of business will be to aid in the preservation of the First Presbyterian Church.

This and all the other historic buildings are “part of what makes Carson City delightful,” said Robin Williamson, a city supervisor and chairwoman of the Carson City Redevelopment Authority.

“Our history is important to us and our economy,” Williamson said. “It’s something we all value, and we want to make sure we do right by it.”

While the organization won’t be part of city government, the goal is “to get a good relationship with the protectors of our historic buildings and make it a less onerous process to protect these structures,” she said.

She’ll likely be among those involved in the endeavor. The work of writing grants, setting up a system for collecting donations and completing the multitude of other tasks will be done by volunteers for as long as possible, Williamson emphasized.

When the organization is eventually finished with its part in restoring the Presbyterian Church, focus might shift to other historic buildings in the city needing major repairs, Williamson said.

“There is absolutely a need for this,” said Jennifer Pruitt, a senior planner with the city who is also the staff liaison to the city’s Historic Resources Commission.

The congregations at other local historic churches, such as St. Peters Episcopal and First United Methodist, which were constructed not long after the First Presbyterian Church, and are expected to eventually face similar circumstances.

The historic commission applied for grant money to pay for structural analysis of these churches. The amount they eventually obtain depends on the federal government allotment to each state, then each community, that applied for the money, Pruitt said.

Other buildings constructed during Carson City’s early days could be endangered.

The city keeps records of hundreds of old buildings within the 300 pieces of land comprising the city’s historic district. Virtually the entire district is contained on the west side and downtown, with some other historically important buildings located outside but nearby.

The commission is surveying other sections of the city for more buildings that could warrant attention, Pruitt said.

An important tourist attraction that highlights the historic district is the Kit Carson Trail, a walking tour created to move people through the district along a 2.5 mile route. It passes dozens of historic sites, including the Governor’s Mansion, the Capitol, Warren Engine Company No. 1, the former U.S. Mint and the three churches.

“We have a real commitment to the downtown area, we want to stay here,” said Rev. Rob Jennings-Teats about the Methodist church and its parishioners. “Our historic building is in relatively good shape.”

The Methodists would also like to build a larger sanctuary somewhere else on their property and use the historic church as a chapel. Another idea that has come up would be to close off Proctor between Division and Minnesota streets and create a shared parking area between the Methodist and St. Peter’s churches, he said.

“And if flower boxes were put in and other landscaping done to make it more beautiful, it would be to the neighborhood’s advantage,” Jennings-Teats said.

The Methodist church was built in 1867 and is considered “the cradle of Nevada Methodism.” The structure’s sandstone was quarried locally at the Nevada State Prison, one of a significant number of buildings in the district made with that material, according to the State Historic Preservation Office.

However, “our concern is with what might happen in an earthquake,” he said. “None of the buildings were built to be earthquake-proof. At some point we’d like to retrofit the roof.”

It, like the Presbyterian Church, is too small for the congregation. The building was constructed to house fewer than 100 worshippers but the church has more than 1,000 members today. Serving all of these people means services are held at a variety of different times. At least one service is held at the Brewery Arts Center, Jennings-Teats said.

“We’ve been here since 1859,” he said. “It’s a long history. And we’d like to be here another 100 years.”

The Presbyterians anticipate they will lay the foundation for their new worship building by mid-May. Members still need to find another $1 million of the $2 million cost for the structure, said Ken Pearson, head of the church’s building committee.

They’ve been working to pull together enough construction money “for years,” he said. “We want to build our new sanctuary without taking on a large amount of debt, so we’re doing what we can pay for.”

A prohibitive cost to shore up the old church – one estimate came in at $5 million – is why the Presbyterians had opted to demolish the old church back in 2005. Design assistance by professional volunteers provided room to build a larger, more suitable worship area and allowed parts of the structure built during the 19th century to continue standing.

Once the new building is up and the old one restored, they would like to see it reserved for use as small chapel, perhaps with rooms that could be used for such things as Sunday school sessions, Pearson said.

Williamson said the nonprofit doesn’t want to detract from the fundraising efforts the Presbyterians are conducting for their new church.

Part of the agreement that still needs to be written is that the historic church be somehow shared with the public, she said.

“Without knowing specifics, it sounds like a positive and very timely initiative given our 19th and early 20th century buildings in Northern Nevada are a finite asset,” said Guy Rocha, interim administrator of the Nevada State Library and Archives, about the organization’s plan.

Conversion of some of these old buildings for a new purpose, such as restaurants and retail stores, could make the city even more attractive to tourists, he said.

“This is the state capital, clearly it’s not going to be a gambling mecca.” Rocha said.

• Contact reporter Terri Harber at tharber or 882-2111, ext. 215.