Where ever you room, Carson City is home
It’s hard to believe that a city with 12 Amish families would have much in common with Carson City, which is known across the United States for its casinos and brothels.
But a small city, population 1,128, in Central Michigan has more in common with Carson City than ever expected. For one, it too is a Carson City. But that’s just the beginning of the similarities.
Carson City, Mich., located in Bloomer Township and Montcalm County, is one-square-mile with many residents living outside of the city limits.
“It’s an ideal small town, a quiet little town and very little problems, that we hear of anyway,” said Don McCracken, a 65-year Carson City resident.
Despite their geographic and moral differences, Carson City, Mich. got its name from Carson City, Nev.
After a traveler from Central Michigan visited Carson City, Nev. in 1867, he suggested the name for the city (which was a village at the time). He must have liked Nevada a lot because he suggested the name for Bloomer Township based on his experiences with show girls in Carson City, Nev.
In June, Carson City Gazette Editor Gail Little had an unexpected run-in with Nevada’s capital when she received a phone call from a man asking for the city’s tourism department.
“It was her second week in town when she received a call about five Japanese men who wanted to be entertained at a strip tease joint,” said Janet Selleck, the office manager of the weekly paper.
“I’m afraid I could not stop laughing,” Little wrote in her weekly column. “I asked him if he was looking for someone in Carson City, Nev., and explained to him that we live in Carson City, Mich. There certainly were no strip joints here.”
That’s not a surprise considering that the Amish families that live in the area hitch their horses and buggies to posts when they venture into town.
The communities largest industry is agriculture and many farms still operate in Bloomer Township.
“My folks were farmers and poor like everyone else around us,” McCracken said. “But we didn’t know we were poor because everyone around us was the same way.” The Michigan city’s history has more to it than its connections to the West. Many of its residents, who have spent lifetimes in the area, recall important events that shaped the city and the lives of its citizens.
Sylvia Martin, the town historian, has lived all of her 75 years in Carson City and most of her knowledge of the area’s history has come from her life there.
For four of her 75 years, Martin lived in Lansing, Michigan’s capital, but she returned to Carson City when she got married. Her husband died in 1949 when a polio epidemic hit the town.
“The town was just in a panic because nobody knew where polio came from.” she said. “We have this pond and everybody thought it came from the pond.”
Martin recalled when she was 14-years-old and was delivering groceries for her father’s store. She got special permission to get out of school early to help her father by driving groceries to people’s houses. One of the residents she delivered to, a woman who ran a clothing store, became a very good friend, even though Martin was scared of her at first.
“The house was dim and dark and she would want me to drink wine with her,” she said. When Martin refused because she was too young, she “was scared to death” that the woman would get mad at her.
Times have changed and though the population hasn’t grown much, there have been changes in the city.
For one, the city got a McDonald’s four years ago. They don’t have a stop light, but Mayor Dan Herald said it may be on the city’s agenda soon.
For a while, the city’s library was located at the top of the fire house but later found a home in a downtown bank building.
“Our library here was acquired for just a dollar,” Martin said. “The band had built a new building and they sold us their building in the ’60s for a dollar.”
Both parties benefited from this agreement, she said. The bank got a tax write off and the library got a nice building for a low price.
“Oil was discovered in the area a few miles from here in the late ’30s,” said Nancy N’gele, a Carson City resident. “That brought in some people from out of state like Oklahoma and Texas – oil men. That helped to make an interesting mix in the community.”
N’gele’s mother, Emma Hull is 105 years old and has lived in Carson City for much of her life. She moved around the state for a while when her husband was a minister, but settled back in Carson City in 1964.
Rural electricity is one of the biggest changes Hull has seen in her life.
“It affected many of the wives, the extra things like washing machines, ranges, refrigerators,” Hull said.
Carson City was a village until 1961 when it was incorporated as a city so it could receive benefits from the state for things like road repairs. “We are a city,” Martin said. “We used to be a village, but we are a city now.”
The city has almost no crime, official said.
“It’s been a good summer,” Herald said. “In Carson City we have half a dozen to a dozen people who cause trouble and they’re in jail now. We might get some bikes stolen.”
The community boasts a correctional facility that ranks a four out of six levels of prison security in Michigan.
Carson City is also home to a 100-bed teaching hospital that is the city’s largest employer.
Though gambling hasn’t penetrated the city limits, other Michigan cities are building casinos. The closest one to Carson City is 45 miles north at an Indian reservation.
Instead, Carson City residents look to the outdoors to spend their free time.
The area has two lakes – Crystal Lake and Duck Lake – about 7 miles away, and Lake Michigan is a 1-1/2 hour drive. Hiking, fishing, skiing, boating, sailing and hunting are among favorite outdoor activities.
The Carson City Park covers 60 acres and includes walking paths and a pond. Every couple of years the town tries to add something new to it, Herald said. It was the city’s dump 20 years ago and was constructed into a park 10 years after the dump’s closure.
A four-day celebration resembling the Carson City Rendevouz includes a picnic, an arts and crafts fair, a magic show, a classic car show, a boat show, a parade and a barbecue. The event this year even included a raffle for a trip to Las Vegas.
The area hosted hot air balloon races for about 15 years. When that ended in the late 1980s, citizens sought a different form of entertainment and found it in an annual rodeo. That only lasted four years though.
“There were several balloonists in Carson City,” N’gele said. “In the ’80s there were at least four men who owned balloons. They were a lovely part of the landscape on a lovely day.”
The city doesn’t have a museum, but Martin has been working on one for a couple of years.
“I’m trying but that’s something that’s just so difficult to do when people have so many things,” she said. “It’s a slow process but hopefully we’ll get one started.”
Martin says the most famous person born and raised in Carson City is Thomas Kavananagh, a local lawyer who went on to become Michigan’s attorney general in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
The city’s population hasn’t grown much since 1888 when the population reached 1,000. Residents say they don’t expect it to grow much more, and they like it that way.