Column: Curry an early entrepreneur
“In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.”
This quote from Henry Beecher would have been a suitable epitaph for Abraham Curry, one of Nevada’s most contributive early citizens and preeminent entrepreneurs who, despite his resourcefulness and enormous accomplishments, is reputed to have died a pauper.
In addition to surveying and platting the future townsite of Carson City, which included the designation of 10 acres for the construction of a capitol, Abe Curry was also responsible for the establishment of a branch mint in Carson City and for the construction of the famous V&T shops building at the present intersection of Washington and Stewart streets.
With the anniversary of the lamentable demise of the V&T roundhouse and shops approaching (they were razed in February of 1991), I thought it fitting to reflect on the origins of this once venerable old building.
As the Virginia & Truckee Railroad prospered and the amount of equipment required to sustain its operation grew, it became apparent that a complete shop building would be necessary to service the railroad’s expanding needs. Not surprisingly, it was Abe Curry who was awarded the contract to build a structure that, until its demise, was one of Nevada’s most important industrial complexes.
Using locally quarried stone, Curry began construction on the building in December of 1872. Laid out just a short distance from the V&T Depot, it was 322 feet long and 180 feet wide with 11 tracks entering the massive wooden doorways on the east side.
The third track from the left extended back into a labyrinth of rooms which included a complete locomotive shop with an adjacent foundry, boiler and engine rooms, a car building shop and vast areas for storage.
Although an unlikely location for an elegant social gathering, on July 4, 1873, one of the frontier’s grandest galas was held in the newly completed railroad shops building in celebration of its opening. It is alleged that ladies milliners and dress shops as far away as San Francisco and Sacramento sold out their entire stock of ball gowns due to the demand created by this grand affair.
According to Wurm and Demorro, “Revelers arrived by special trains from the Comstock towns; the elite of Carson were present in waistcoat and tails; and the heralded V&T Punch more than lived up to expectations. Colonel Curry’s Great Railroad Ball officially launched the V&T Railroad with an all-night party that no other short line in the world has even contemplated.”
Ironically, on Oct. 17, 1873, less than three months after completing this massive construction project and orchestrating the social gathering of the century, Abe Curry suffered a fatal stroke, dying two days later, an impoverished man.
Despite the untimely passing of its chief architect, the V&T Shops building lived on for many years, providing vital services to the V&T Railroad and catering to the industrial needs of all of western Nevada.
As an industrial complex during the height of its existence, it had no peer between Sacramento and Ogden, Utah. Although no semblance of the building remains today, its absence in no way diminishes its historical importance to the growth and prosperity of the V&T Railroad or to the capitol city it once called home.