Silver State, Golden Life: The Ultimate Guide to Carson City’s Museums
Three reasons to explore Carson City’s museums:
- You need an indoor activity on one of Carson’s 43 total annual precipitation days. You read that right. There are only 43 of them.
- Arts and Culture inspire you!
- You’re visiting, or maybe you’ve been here a while and you’re absolutely blown away by this epic underdog of a Capital City and you need answers. How did Carson City get to be so great? Who lived here first and where are their people now? How, like literally how, was this place built?
We’ve got answers for you. Look no further than Carson City’s lineup of informative and beautifully curated museums!
Personally, I find myself gravitating toward Carson City’s museums for reason #3. In the year’s I’ve lived here, I’ve been repeatedly surprised and delighted by the layers of local culture available for discovery. The following will be a twenty-something’s highlight reel of attractions and exhibits from Carson City’s many museums. Got little ones? While the majority of the museums below are child friendly and oriented, see HERE (https://visitcarsoncity.com/attractions/test-childrens-museum-of-northern-nevada/) for details on our local children’s museum!
The Nevada State Museum
A natural jumping off point for your arts and culture exploration, the Nevada State Museum has it all. Prepare to be greeted by highly knowledgeable and intelligent tour guides who would be sincerely honored to answer your questions and share their gusto for our beloved state. After your chat, grab your maps and head off exploring!
The first stand-out experience for me was walking through an underground mining installation. Let’s be honest, in the fully curated exhibit without windows, I can neither confirm nor deny if we were indeed actually underground, but the trek down creaky wooden stairs complete with stone walls and low ceilings certainly delivered the feeling. I will never drive past the neatly presented exterior of the Nevada State Museum again without the memory of trying to visualize just how the miners must have felt being so far underground. Once you’re back in the daylight, continue through the Silver exhibit to be educated on just what those miners were working for, and how their efforts landed us with the name “The Silver State.”
The most noteworthy and globally renowned aspect of the Nevada State Museum is that it is home to the last functioning coin press of its era, the historic Coin Press No. 1. Our tour guide, Willie, reveled about the joy many coin collectors feel upon seeing it, even going so far as to quote a traveler from England saying he could “now return home and die a happy man” after witnessing a coin pressing demonstration here in Carson City. Demonstrations of the coin press take place on Saturdays from 11am to 3pm.
Stewart Indian School Cultural Center & Museum
Self-recognized as an eco-museum, the Stewart Indian School Cultural Center and Museum was formed as an act of collaboration with alumni of the school to honor the past, present, and future of the people who attended, as well as their families. I cannot recommend a trip to this museum enough. The value of the visit comes in the fact that the history of what truly took place here within city limits is not watered down or made comfortable. The collaborators of the Stewart Indian School found it of the utmost importance to allow those with lived experience here to tell their own stories in their own way, and the result is a raw and honest representation of a group’s fight for dignity and equality. While the genesis of the Stewart Indian School stems from a dark place, you’ll be surprised to learn tales of joy and connection that unfolded the ninety-year run of the school as well.
The museum invites connection heavily through the power of spoken word. While there are plans for live storytelling events with alumni and Tribe members, stories and testimonies given by some of the living students can be viewed and listened to every day at various stations within the exhibit. Prepare to be moved by the stories of a people whose driving message today is, “We’re Still Here.”
Nevada State Railroad Museum
If tactical and experiential learning is for you, look no further than the Nevada State Railroad Museum. Zoom back and forth between admiring the multiple full-sized retired train cars and reading about how our city and the surrounding areas were brought to life by this transportation. I’m going to come out and say that its perfectly acceptable to relive your childhood and play with the magnet train table for a minute (or ten) when you get to it, too. Friendly to all ages, the Railroad Museum is sure to have at least one sight or factoid that will blow your mind. Here’s your scavenger hunt question: Which train car at the Nevada State Railroad Museum used to be a diner? Engage with the highly knowledgeable staff to learn the backstory, and even see old images not displayed in the exhibit! Be sure to check their website for ride times and events as well.
Capitol Museum: Battle Born Hall
Battle Born Hall packs the essence and key players of Nevada’s history into one polished exhibit. Free to the public and recently renovated with universal accessibility in mind, the exhibit highlights the people and resources that helped shape this place into what it is today. After reading the bite sized presentations of the likes of Chief Truckee to the riders of the Pony Express, you’ll walk away with a deeper understanding of rich stories this land would tell if it could speak. What’s not to enjoy in the high ceilings and detailed artistry of our Capitol Building?
Charlie B Vase Finder Gallery and Museum
“The possibilities of clay combined with the human need for self-expression can grab onto our very souls with an unrelenting grip. This is evident in the high quality of work submitted. True expression, creativity, and innovation are deeply seated in knowledge of the past.” – Bob Nelson, 2010
The above quote is proudly hung in the Charlie B Vase Finder Museum. Located near the heart of town on Curry Street, what appears to be a pottery shop out front holds stories and artistic renderings from around the world in the back. Charlie is passionate not only about the artistic aspect of pottery, but about the community that a love for the practice can facilitate as well. Tell him where you’re from, and Charlie will tell you of a well renowned potter from your area. Ask him about any piece in the museum, and before a technique is discussed, Charlie will likely open with stories of the person who crafted the piece, where they studied, who they mentored under, and perhaps what they were like. The Vase Finder Museum boasts pieces from around the state as well as around the globe. In a way that only a passionate person can, Charlie invites the visitor to the community and connect through the practice of art. Arrive in search of a new mug—leave in search of a pottery class. Hint: Charlie will recommend one to you!
While you could plan the ultimate Carson City museum tour in a single day, I would recommend allowing yourself time to take it all in. Remember reason #3 from above? How did this place become a hub for arts and culture, a jumping-off point for adventure and a wonderful place to call home? The answer is rich and waiting for you at our many local museums. Don’t wait for one of the only 43 annual precipitation days to go. You might be waiting a while.