For many decades, Carson City, Nevada was known as the smallest state capital in the United States. Although it was a small town, thanks to the nearby Comstock Lode many of its residents were wealthy and its buildings well constructed. While the city has outgrown its “smallest capital “ distinction, those buildings have endured. As a result, Carson City contains the largest number of historic buildings in the Silver State.
Along the Trail
The best way to see the buildings is by following the city’s Kit Carson Trail. Maps can be obtained at the Visitors Center at 1900 S. Carson Street (next to the Railroad Museum). Also available at the center are CDs that feature commentaries about buildings along the route (a podcast with the same information is available online).
Voices portraying notable Nevadans who were associated with the buildings relate facts concerning their construction and functions as well as other information. Among the “speakers” is William Morris Stewart, first Senator from the state and Frederick DeLongchamps, considered to have been Nevada’s most distinguished architect.
The buildings designed by DeLongchamps include the Ormsby County Courthouse, former Nevada Supreme Court and the Heroes’ Memorial Building. DeLongchamps served as State Architect from 1919 to 1926 and designed 550 buildings – most of them in the Beaux Arts-Neo Classical style from 1904 to 1967.
Public Buildings and Private Homes
The Stewart-Nye House at W. King Street in 1860 was occupied by William Morris Stewart, who served in the U. S. Senate from 1864 to 1905. Until 1914, Nevada senators were appointed rather than elected. The former U. S. Mint (1869) on North Carson Street is now a part of the Nevada State Museum building. Several of the other buildings along the route are now occupied by businesses, including law offices and a wellness center.
Among the most attractive buildings are the Governor’s Mansion at 600 N. Mountain Street, which cost $40,000 to build and furnish in 1909. The Southern Colonial-style mansion, which has undergone subsequent additions and modification, is especially lovely when decorated for the holiday season.
Across the street, the 1879 Bliss Mansion was built by lumber and railroad magnate Duane Bliss and his wife, Elizabeth Tobey Bliss, who also had homes at Lake Tahoe and in San Francisco. Three stories high with almost 8,000-square feet of living space, the mansion was the first in Carson City to have gas lighting and a telephone system. The house has been converted into a Bed and Breakfast.
From Brewery to Arts Center
The former Carson Brewing Company, established in 1864, was the home of Tahoe Beer for more than a century. Now, the building houses the Brewery Arts Center, a visual and performing arts facility that offers classes, presents cultural performances and includes an Artisans Store. The latest addition to the Center is the Artisans Cafe, which opened in autumn, 2008.
Sketched But Not Numbered
The twenty-four historic sites that are numbered on the tour map are the subject of the commentaries of the CD. However, drawings of almost two dozen additional buildings of architectural interest are also on the map. The route – which is marked by a blue line down the sidewalk — is approximately two-and-a-half miles long and takes about an hour for strolling.
Many of the buildings that are sketched on the map, but not numbered, are residences, ranging in style from Carpenter Gothic to Italianate. Four of the points of interest are churches: St. Peter’s Presbyterian (1864), United Methodist (1865), Episcopal (1868) and St. Theresa (Catholic; 1871).
On various days throughout the year, costumed guides take participants on “Ghost Walks” to explore buildings along portions of the Kit Carson Trail (prices vary). The best place to get information about these walks is the Carson City Visitors Center.