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Preserving Nevada

The first Preserve Nevada conference was held in Ely on September 7-9, 2006. It was appropriate that Ely was chosen: the railroad is being considered as a National Historic Landmark and of course, the railroad will turn one hundred years old this coming September 29th. I was asked to give the opening speech for the conference and thought that my comments would be of general interest.

Hello, I’m Mark Bassett, Executive Director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and a board member of Preserve Nevada. I would like to welcome you to the first Biennial Symposium on Historic Preservation by Preserve Nevada.

This is an historic occasion and I congratulate each of you for making the trip to Ely. I’m sure it will broaden your horizons. And I imagine that it might have been a shock to some of you to learn that there is more to Nevada than Reno/Carson or Las Vegas.

Those of you in the preservation field know that preservation is not for the faint of heart. The hours are long, the work dirty, and at times seemingly impossible. It is not for the person who seeks instant gratification; putting it at odds with our modern society. Preservationists don’t just see an old building, a pile of rocks, or a pile of rusty metal. They see the potential that an old building, rock art, or a steam locomotive has in connecting us with our “roots.”

Our nation is a nation of immigrants. And of all of the fifty states, Nevada is perhaps the poster child for a state with the fewest native residents. It is an accepted fact that only one in five Nevadans were born here.

I am one of those immigrants. Prior to Nevada I had lived in Alaska, Colorado, and Wyoming. Each of those states has a strong preservation creed—a creed which appears to have been missing in Nevada.

I moved to Nevada twenty years ago to Elko, a Nevada city with a rich railroad history. When I moved there, the ice house still existed in Carlin, along with a portion of the engine house and turntable. In Elko, you could still see and appreciate the original Western Pacific Engine house and a Southern Pacific water tank.

In the course of seventeen years all of that history, and more, was torn down and bulldozed. But then, to add insult to injury, after everything of historical value was gone, a sign appeared on the lot where the water tank was, across the street from the engine house was.

The sign said, “Future Home of the Northeast Nevada Railroad Museum.” Huh?!

I found this confusing. After all, all activities to date made it apparent, at least to me, that Nevada’s preservation creed was, “Bring on the dynamite and bulldozers.” Want proof?

Looks what’s missing in our state: in Las Vegas, it’s the Dunes, the Landmark, the Hacienda, the Rancho, the Sands, and the Aladdin just to name a few. If you Google “Las Vegas Implosion,” you’ll get 241,000 hits. It’s almost its own little industry.

And northern Nevada is not immune. Our state holds the distinction of being the only state in the union to have a property that was on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered List be razed—and by local government! Of course, I’m referring to the Mapes, imploded on January 30, 2000.

Nor is Carson City immune. Perhaps the most significant railroad structure in the western United States was torn down and moved to California to become a winery, I am speaking of the legendary Virginia & Truckee engine house. The fight to save that structure struggled on for over ten years and in the end, the citizens of the State of Nevada were the losers. We let a significant piece of our heritage go to California.

And going to California is also a recurring theme. The ghost town Aurora is a case in point. Abandoned in the late 1930s, the town had significant brick buildings that survived until the late 1940s. Then scavengers from California came and pulled down the buildings so that the bricks could be reused to build chimneys in California. A pretty sad state of affairs to anyone who cares about our heritage.

But I’m happy to report the trend is changing and you here today are living proof of that change by attending this symposium: The Future of Our Past.

We have experienced successes in Nevada, such as the Riverside Hotel in Reno, the 4th Ward School in Virginia City, the Eureka Opera House/Eureka Historic District, Oats Park School in Fallon, the Las Vegas High School, the incredible Tonopah Historic Mining Park, Elko’s Pioneer Hotel Building, and the Adams House in Carson City.

Preserve Nevada was founded by an experienced and committed group of preservationists devoted to Nevada’s cultural and archeological heritage. Although the goal of historic preservation is common to all states, the diversity of Nevada’s heritage with its historical boom-and-bust cycles—coupled with the current vitality of its economy and rapid growth—present unique challenges and opportunities. Preserve Nevada’s Board spent four years developing an effective and sustainable organization to identify and meet the special needs of Nevada’s preservation community.

One of Preserve Nevada’s greatest assets is its partnership with the Public History Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The Public History Program at UNLV provides Preserve Nevada with office space and administrative support and of greater benefit is the expertise and outreach opportunities available at a large university. Because of this relationship, Preserve Nevada is able to rely upon graduate students to perform many duties that would otherwise be the responsibility of organization staff. This coordination of efforts is mutually beneficial. While being relieved of some of the ongoing financial burdens faced by other statewide organizations, Preserve Nevada assists in the training of a new generation of preservation professionals.

The Board’s priorities have been shaped by the belief, developed through experience and statewide workshops, that its long-term goal of preserving Nevada’s heritage can best be achieved by forging cooperative, non-competitive bonds with the existing diverse public and private community of preservation proponents. Preserve Nevada works to bring together both groups and individuals interested in long-term thinking and planning that benefits the cultural/natural resources of our state.

This thinking is reflected in structure of this symposium. Sessions range from such esoteric themes as “On Making the Green Movement Compatible with History” and the “Long Now Foundations’ 10,000-Year Clock” to the more mainstream and practical “Preserving Nevada’s Rock Art,” the “Main Street Program,” and “Repairing, Restoring, and Preserving Historic Masonry Structures,” just to name a few.

And this symposium is not about just staying inside and listening: You’ll learn with your feet. There are tours that I encourage you to go take: the Renaissance Village, McGill Drug Store, and of course the Nevada Northern Railway complex. These tours will show you the challenges of preservation up close and personal and perhaps give you food for thought on your own projects.

By Saturday, we will see that Nevada’s preservation ethic is changing. It is no longer: bring on the dynamite and bulldozers.

Little actions can have major impacts. Ask UNLV history student Joe Thompson; who, while working on a photo survey of the Las Vegas railroad cottages, contacted the owner of a cottage slated for demolition to ask if he was willing to help save the little house, if possible.

This simple phone call set in motion a process that quickly led to the dramatic move of the cottage to the Clark County Museum where it will be restored and preserved.

If you are concerned about our history, let your voice be heard! Attend community and neighborhood association meetings, contact the State Historic Preservation Office, Preserve Nevada, or your local historic preservation organization with your concerns about saving old buildings. Voice your opinion at county commission, town board, or city meetings. Write a letter to the editor about your concerns. The results of your efforts could be the preservation of an important part of our shared history. It would be saving our past for our future.

Thank you and welcome.

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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