What came before the schoolhouse? | NevadaAppeal.com

What came before the schoolhouse?

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Ron Reno, center, and Corinna Obermayr, 12, sift dirt through a screen at the Silver City Schoolhouse archeological dig on Saturday.

Before the Silver City Schoolhouse was built in 1867, something else stood in its spot. What it might have been is anybody’s guess.

But residents who spent last weekend digging under the older, southern wing of the schoolhouse discovered a rock wall that did not belong to the schoolhouse.

On the wall was a pair of 19th-century children’s shoes.

“The wall appears to be older than the school,” said Ron Reno, a Silver City resident who is also an archaeologist with Zeier & Associates of Minden.

About 25 people showed up at the site on Saturday to begin sifting through the dirt below the south wing of the schoolhouse. They worked through the snow and wind on Sunday, Reno said, and will continue to work until this evening.

He said if the diggers made progress and Building Solutions LLC, the contractor rebuilding the community center, agreed, the group would continue to work the dig as construction begins.

“We were supposed to finish tomorrow, but we found another hole,” he said. “But we won’t hold up construction.”

Reno said the group has also found buttons, clothing, a horseshoe, cow bones, 19th-century glass, an oyster shell and hole-in-cap cans that were typical of 19th-century life.

“Unlike the other end, where we only find school-related items, in this end we’re finding things from 19th-century daily life,” Reno said.

Reno said the building was originally built as a one-room schoolhouse in 1867, with the north section added later.

“We have no photos that only show the one-room schoolhouse,” he said.

He had no clue as to what kind of building may have predated the schoolhouse, which burned down in July 2004. Rebuilding will begin Wednesday.

He said there are 11,000, mostly school-related artifacts recovered from the north wing of the site that have already been catalogued by volunteers.

“We have pieces of a slate board and chalk and other kind of school supplies used from the 1860s to the 1950s,” Reno said. “There’s a lot of perishable items, too, pieces of a dress and pieces of hoop skirts.”

The group also found pieces of the original 1867 desks.

“It’s more than we thought we’d get originally,” he said. “It’s been astounding.”

Some area history experts are also at a loss to say what the building may have been.

“I don’t know of a map that predates 1867,” said state Archivist Guy Rocha.

He said most of the early Lyon County records were burned in a fire at the Dayton Courthouse in 1908.

“Whatever it is, it has to be very early because Silver City as a community dates back to 1859-1860,” Rocha said. “Unfortunately, a lot of the newspapers are missing, and I don’t know anyone who’s ever done a thorough history of Silver City.”

Rocha said at its height, Silver City would have had a population in the low thousands.

“Gold Hill was bigger; it ran about 8,000. And Virginia City probably never exceeded 20,000. But there were small towns all around; American Flat had a few thousand; Flowery had a few thousand.”

Ron James, state historic preservation officer, said documents about locations in Silver City are very difficult to find, and that studies of the archaeology may give better indications of what was there.

“If it were Carson City or Virginia City, we’d have a much better shot at it,” he said. “We don’t have really good plat maps for that so archaeology is likely to be our best answer. There’s an old saying, ‘people lie, artifacts don’t.'”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111, ext. 351.

Schoolhouse size

• At time of the 2004 fire: 2,385 square feet

• Cathexes plans for main floor: 2,282 square feet plus 992-square-foot daylight basement storage/utility space.

• North wing (original 1867 schoolhouse) 30-by-43 feet (1,290 square feet)

• South wing (ca. 1870 schoolhouse addition / Volunteer Fire Department) 28 feet, 6 inches-by-30 feet-plus

• 8-by-15-foot entry/stair/elevator room (975 square feet)