Students learning in a crumbling 100-year-old school borne out of Nevada’s mining past. A warehouse containing repair shops significant to Nevada’s railroad history. Landmarks tied to winning women’s right to vote, the Civil Rights Movement, and the ingenuity of Chinese laborers who helped build a canal water system by hand.
Preserve Nevada, the first statewide historic preservation organization, is on a quest to save them and more with its annual list: the 11 Most Endangered Places in Nevada.
“For two decades, in the spirit of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of the 11 most endangered places in the nation, Preserve Nevada has listed our state's most endangered historic sites,” said Michael Green, an associate professor of history at UNLV and Preserve Nevada’s executive director. “We choose places and subjects that may be in imminent danger, may just be suffering from neglect, or may seem safe but are not. These regions of our past are important to protect, and to get to know better.”
From Reno to Las Vegas, rural to urban, and all points in between, read on for Preserve Nevada’s list of cultural landmarks that organizers say are important for the public to know and protect.
Preserve Nevada 2023 Most Endangered List
Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort
In 1855, Mormon missionaries from Utah built a settlement in what is now the heart of downtown Las Vegas and known today as the “Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort.” Often cited as the birthplace of modern Las Vegas, the historic site faces challenges. As the oldest part of the city’s Cultural Corridor evolves, including the loss of the Nevada State government offices across the street, preservationists worry that the fort might one day face the wrecking ball too. It boasts a rich history, with Indigenous people, Spaniards, and Americans traveling to the area due to a spring-fed creek flowing through the valley. In the 1800s, it changed hands several times, undergoing conversion into a ranch owned by Octavius Decatur Gass, then community postmaster Helen Stewart and her husband, Archibald. In 1902, Stewart sold the ranch to the Los Angeles-based Salt Lake Railroad Company, which built a train line between Utah and California. After multiple other ownership changes over the decades, the Nevada Division of State Parks acquired the land in 1991. The site is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Peehee mu’huh, or Rotten Moon (also known as Thacker Pass)
Peehee mu’huh — or Rotten Moon, as it is known to the Northern Paiutes — lies between the Double H and Montana Mountains in northern Nevada. According to tribal elders, in 1865 it was the site of a massacre by government soldiers who killed 31 men, women, and children. In 1968, a Bureau of Land Management District surveyor found five sites, which included the remains of Northern Paiute ancestors and evidence of a camp. Today, the area is known colloquially as Thacker Pass. Construction has begun on an open-pit mine designed to excavate what mining officials say is the largest lithium deposit in the nation. The redevelopment is mired in controversy, with some officials calling for economic development and preservationists calling for respect of Indigenous people’s history.
Winnemucca Grammar School
Many people think of Winnemucca’s history as being tied exclusively to the mining industry. But the Winnemucca Grammar School — a two-story brick structure designed in a prairie style based on the architectural works of Frank Lloyd Wright — was built in the late 1920s during a period of major growth in the city and documents the history of education in Nevada, especially in Humboldt County. Originally founded as a trapper’s outpost, Winnemucca evolved to become a stage stop along the Overland Trail. As the only established supply point from the north-central part of Nevada in the late 19th century, a schoolhouse was needed to sustain its growth. In the 1990s, the school district demolished and rebuilt the grammar school’s annex building. Today, the school is still in use, but is rapidly decaying with age, including water damage, a deteriorating foundation, loose bricks, and crumbling molding — and administrators are concerned with finding funds to adapt the old structure to meet modern standards, including installing an elevator to meet ADA requirements.
Southern Pacific Repair Shops (Warehouse)
The warehouse — which includes a tin, machine, blacksmith, and boiler repair shop — opened in 1904 when the Southern Pacific Railroad relocated its locomotive and roundhouse from Wadsworth, Nevada, to create shorter travel routes to Reno. The move played a pivotal role in the founding of Sparks, and the town experienced rapid growth almost overnight: Railroad employees swiftly built homes nearby within a matter of days, enticed by the opportunity to own a plot of land for only $1. Over the years, the Southern Pacific Railroad closed and demolished many of its structures. But the rectangular brick repair shop warehouse remains. Today, its imposing brick, metal, steel frame make it a prominent symbol of Reno's rich railroad history, years after I-80 expansion physically separated it from the rest of the city. The Southern Pacific Repair Shops were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982, but were subsequently delisted for unknown reasons. Recently, the Southern Pacific Railroad announced plans to tear down the warehouse’s machine shop, coinciding with the opening celebration of an art gallery by a new tenant. And preservationists fear more demolition could loom in its future.
Elko Water Company Canal System “Chinese Water Ditch”
Thousands of Chinese laborers built the Central Pacific Railroad, the western half of the United States’ transcontinental railroad project. After the final “Golden Spike” joining the train line with its eastern half was driven on May 10, 1869, most of the Chinese laborers were laid off. But, fortunately for them, mining and ranching were starting to boom in eastern Nevada and these industrious, ambitious men drifted toward these new communities. To help create a water supply, they hand-dug an 8.5-mile-long ditch from Osino to Elko with a 48-foot drop. In Elko, the water was stored in a reservoir banked into a hillside. The canal system served the Elko community from the 1870s to the 1920s, when the City of Elko purchased the Elko Water System. It was passed among several owners until July 1883 when Hop Sing, a Chinese immigrant, bought the system with Hi Loy. Both men rebuilt it with a new supply main from Kittredge Canyon with help from local merchant Wellington Treat Smith. Portions of the original ditch still exist, the most visible of which is east of Elko.The canal system is a physical record of the Chinese community’s presence, ingenuity, and resourcefulness in northeastern Nevada that has been largely unrecorded, and preservationists call for its protection.
Bethel Church and the City of Reno’s Northwest Quadrant
Reno’s northwest quadrant — which is bounded by the railroad tracks to the south, Keystone to the west, I-80 to the north, and Ralston to the east — is home to several significant historic structures, including Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church. The historic place of worship, built in 1910, long served as a religious, social, and political center for Reno’s African American community. Reno practiced non-legislated segregation until the 1960s. During the height of the Civil Rights Movement, many of Reno’s NAACP chapter members were congregants of Bethel A.M.E. Church, which was the chapter’s official meeting location. The church and other historic sites located within the northwest quadrant are threatened by Jacobs Entertainment’s redevelopment plans to make a “Neon Line District.” Locals are concerned about the absence of a specific development plan and fear that several pieces of the city’s history will be lost.
Lemaire Store, Battle Mountain
Originally known as Argenta, Battle Mountain became a town in 1869 when the Central Pacific Railroad Company decided to establish a stop between Winnemucca and Elko. Mining thrived in Battle Mountain with the discovery of substantial deposits of copper, silver, gold, turquoise, and barite near the town. The two-story Lemaire Store, built in 1876 and sold in 1879 to A.D. Lemaire, fronted the railroad tracks and is one of the earliest commercial buildings remaining in Battle Mountain. Over the years, the venue was used for events including fundraisers, dances, and the 1912-1914 campaign to secure voting rights for white Nevada women. The Lemaire family ran the store until the 1980s. The Battle Mountain Cookhouse Museum, which opened in 2012, is located within the restored 1920s cookhouse, and is making strides in highlighting the town’s cultural history, including the preservation of the Lemaire store. Preservationists say maintaining the store’s historical integrity contributes to our understanding of the community and one of its leading families.
1930s Motor Courts
On main streets of rural and urban Nevada, motor courts and motor hotels were once important places for long-distance travelers needing a break or those who preferred to stay slightly outside the heart of town. Following the Federal-Aid Road Acts of 1916 and 1921, which created a national network of two-lane highways, automobile driving and motor courts became popular among American tourists. The buildings, built from the 1920s to 1960s, often exhibit "Wild West" and Western lore. The buildings and marquees reflect a variety of architectural styles — including Mid Century Modern, Art Deco, and Googie. Due to their isolated locations, the now-aging motor courts today are often relegated to long-term residential use, if they’re used at all. They are threatened by rising land values and new development.
Historic Cemeteries and Burial Sites
In the 1850s, hundreds of short-lived mining towns began popping up around the Silver State — and the harsh conditions of living in these isolated locales made cemeteries an integral part of the communities. As silver and gold supplies ran dry and mines closed, families moved away and left their dearly departed loved ones behind. Later, relatives and fraternal groups installed headstones and occasionally visited to adorn their ancestors’ tombstones with lilacs, which stubbornly hung on decade after decade in the desert environment. These flowers and cemeteries are an important record of the towns’ existence. The Nevada Legislature completed a survey in 1962 showing 3,000 cemeteries throughout the state. Grave markers have faced vandalism and, in some cases, have even been removed. Preservationists call for public and private protection and stewardship to help keep the miners’ stories alive for future generations.
Mineral and Nye County Courthouses
Both structures hold historical significance for Nevada: The Mineral County courthouse is the only one in Nevada to have served two different jurisdictions, while the Nye County facility boasted one of the most expensive construction budgets of its time.
The Mineral County Courthouse’s storied past is entwined with that of Hawthorne, where it’s based. Hawthorne had served as the Esmeralda County seat until 1907, when Esmeralda’s county seat was moved to another city. The Nevada Legislature created Mineral County in 1911 and designated Hawthorne as its county seat. The Mineral County Courthouse remained in use until 1969, when county officials authorized the construction of a new 9,000-square-foot complex.
The Nye County Courthouse in Tonopah was built in 1905 at a cost of $55,000 on land donated by the Tonopah Mining Company. It remained in use until the late 1990s when a new courthouse was built. The historic building was largely abandoned, except for housing a few non-profit organizations and a state agency field office. Over the years, major water damage caused the ceiling in the original jury dormitory to collapse and Nye County commissioners pledged nearly $200,000 to stabilize and replace the roof. An environmental assessment that’s needed to get the roof work authorized has been performed, but the building still awaits restoration.
Austin — located on U.S. 50, also known as “the Loneliest Road in America” — retains a number of historic structures from its 19th-century mining boom. Neglect, vandalism, and a lack of economic support threaten the character of this remnant of Nevada's mining past. Several buildings in the commercial district were remodeled, comprising their historical integrity. A proposal to improve the commercial core with inappropriate awnings, street trees, and "period" fixtures now threatens to commercialize even more buildings. Preservationists are calling for the careful, thoughtful restoration of several buildings that are still in use, including: the Austin Courthouse (an 1871 Greek revival); Mark Twain International Hotel; St. Augustine's Catholic Church (now an events center); Methodist Church (now a community center); and St. George's Episcopal Church.