Carson City prides itself on preserving and celebrating its past—a big reason why the editors of True West magazine recently named it the “Best Western Historical Site.” When visiting Nevada, Carson City is an opportunity to catch a glimpse of Nevada’s rich and colorful history. The city’s origins are closely linked to the creation of the state of Nevada. In 1861, when the Nevada Territory was established, Carson City was named the capital of the territorial government. Three years later, when statehood was bestowed, Carson City was designated the official state capital. Carson City’s first residents, however, were ranchers, not politicians. In 1851, a trading post was established in Eagle Valley, in which Carson City is located, to provide goods and services to travelers visiting Nevada on their way to California. A few years later, Abraham Curry, B.F. Green, J.J. Musser, and Frank Proctor purchased the trading post and most of the surrounding area. The four laid out a town site, which Frank Proctor named after the Carson River, which flows through the area. In 1844, explorer John C. Fremont had named the river in honor of his scout, Kit Carson. Early Carson City was a classic frontier town. Writer Mark Twain, who arrived in the community in August 1861 on a stagecoach, wrote, “visibly our new home was a desert, walled in by barren, snow-clad mountains. There was not a tree in sight. There was no vegetation but the endless sagebrush and greasewood. All nature was gray with it.
By and by Carson City was pointed out to us . . . it was a “wooden” town; its population two thousand souls. The main street consisted of four or five blocks of little white frame stores . . . They were packed close together, side by side, as if room were scarce in that mighty plain. The sidewalk was of boards that were more or less loose and inclined to rattle when walked upon. In the middle of the town was the “plaza” which is native to all towns beyond the Rocky Mountains—a large, unfenced, level vacancy, with a liberty pole in it, and very useful as a place for public auctions, horse trades, and mass meetings, and likewise for teamsters to camp in.” Curry eventually bought out his partners and became an energetic promoter of his community, which prospered as a supply point for miners working in nearby Virginia City. In addition to selling lots and developing a number of businesses, Curry set aside 10-acres of land in the middle of his settlement, which he donated for a state capitol, which was completed in 1871. The gift proved to be worth its weight in silver as Carson City became the state capitol and the center of Nevada state government. As a result dozens of government buildings, many built in the 19th century, have been erected in the city, and state government remains one of the community’s largest employers. In the early 20th century, Carson City was the quintessential small American town. In “Basque Hotel,” writer Robert Laxalt, who grew up in the capitol city in the 1930s, recalled, “The capitol dome was not much of a dome, but then Carson City was after all the smallest capital in the United States. This was drummed into the children of Carson from day one by townspeople and schoolteachers and the Carson City Daily Appeal. The children accepted the boast and repeated it to each other as dutifully as if it were one of the Commandments.”
Today, the best way to explore Carson City’s historic sites is with a stroll or drive on the Kit Carson Trail. The 2.5-mile tour, which is marked with a bright blue line, passes more than 43 of the community’s most historic buildings and homes, many constructed in the 1860s and 1870s.