Guy W. Farmer: A new Carson City history book
“Lost Carson City,” by author/historian Peter B. Mires, is a valuable addition to existing literature about the colorful history of our Old West capital city. He adds his own research to that done by others who have written about Carson City’s colorful history, including Willa Oldham, Robert Laxalt, Sue Ballew, Trent Dolan, Richard Moreno, Guy Rocha, and more recently, Bonnie Boice Nishikawa, among others.
Mires graciously credits those authors for paving the way for his more comprehensive, in-depth treatment of Carson City history. His introduction explains the book’s unusual title: “Lost Carson City is best described as a book-length look at what might not be readily apparent about the city and its hinterland. … What has been written about Carson City pales by comparison to its more flamboyant and celebrated neighbor, Virginia City.” In that adventurous spirit, Mires has unearthed some little-known facts about our hometown.
Mires starts in the 1840s, when intrepid explorer Christopher “Kit” Carson guided exploration and mapping expeditions into the West. By 1850, “Several valleys immediately east of the Sierra Nevada — Carson, Eagle and Washoe — attracted the attention of settlers,” he writes. “In the fall of 1851 six unsuccessful miners settled on land about ten miles north of Mormon Station (now known as Genoa) and established a trading post … in the vicinity of what is now the corner of Thompson and West Fifth streets in Carson City.”
The author goes onto identify the four men who founded Carson City: Abraham Curry, Benjamin Green, John Musser and Francis Proctor. “Of these Curry was clearly the most enterprising, and historians often referred to Carson City as “Abe Curry’s town,’” according to Mires. “Curry soon found himself sole owner of most of Carson City,” and he quarried native sandstone to build the Warm Springs Hotel, where the first Territorial Legislature met in 1861. Of course that site is now the location of the old Nevada State Prison.
Now what about the “lost” part of Carson City? Others have written about Chinatown and our own Red Light District, but Mires provides additional details about those lesser known parts of town. More than 27,000 Chinese headed for California’s Gold Country, Mires writes, and some 1,000 of them settled in an area just southeast of our State Capitol, but all that’s left of Carson’s Chinatown today is a historical marker at the corner of South Stewart and East Third.
As for our local Red Light District, Mires says the brothels were located just behind Jack’s Bar “until they were closed by federal order in 1942,” and credits the late Willa Oldham for revealing the elegant Rinckel Mansion, located near the Red Light District, was sometimes mistaken for a brothel, much to the chagrin of the proper Marcella Rinckel.
Mires mentions a recent Carson City history book, “My Life as a ‘Home’ Kid,” by my good friend Bonnie Boice Nishikawa, who grew up in the Nevada State Children’s Home in the 1940s and ’50s. The orphans “were full-fledged members of the Carson City community,” he notes, and so they were.
And finally, Mires praises Bob Laxalt’s wonderful novel, “The Basque Hotel,” as an accurate depiction of downtown Carson City in the 1930s, “when the business people… came out to sweep the sidewalks in front of their shops and stores and little hotels (like the Greeno) … as the sun cleared the desert mountains to the east.” Downtown Carson hadn’t changed much when I arrived here 30 years later.
Mires dedicates his book to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, “who became Mark Twain in Carson City.” Nice touch.
Guy W. Farmer moved to Carson City in January 1962.