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Kit Carson, for whom the city was named
Photo courtesy of Western History/ Genealogy Department, Denver Public Library

The first European Americans to visit the Carson City area were John C. Frémont and his party of explorers in January 1843, during their survey of the far West for the U.S. Topographic Engineers. While exploring and mapping the area, Frémont named the Carson River in honor of his scout and mountain-man companion Kit Carson. The area had been traditionally inhabited by Washoe and Northern Paiute people until the influx of European American settlers in the 1860s. The first European American settlement with permanent structures in Nevada was established 13 miles south of Carson City in 1851, at the townsite of Genoa. Soon afterward, all the land was claimed surrounding Genoa, and settlers began claiming parcels one valley north of the original permanent settlement.

[photo] Home of settler Abraham Curry, date unknown
Photo from Nevada State Museum in collection of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, Reproduction Number HABS, NEV,13-CARCI,12-1

The original Carson City settlement was known as "Eagle Station" after the initial trading post, which sported an eagle killed by the original settlers. Carson City was officially established in 1858, seven years after the first white settler moved into Eagle Valley. Newly arrived settler Abraham Curry bought the Eagle Station and Ranch in 1858 (with several business partners), established the town of Carson City, and had it surveyed and platted, including a 10-acre parcel for a capitol. Curry named his townsite Carson City, after the nearby Carson River and Kit Carson. The boom of the Comstock Mining District, beginning in 1859, brought hundreds and then thousands of settlers into the area.

The Inyo, an engine of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad
Photo courtesy of Nevada State Railroad Museum
The Comstock mining industry resulted in the development of related businesses and industry in nearby Carson City. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad established between Carson City and Virginia City in the 1870s, made Carson City an integral link in transportation between mines and their ore, equipment and lumber from the Sierra Nevada. A wooden flume was established between Carson City and the Sierra to transport the much-needed lumber on its way to the mining district. East of town on the Carson River, several ore mills sprung to life to serve the need to process ore for the Comstock mines. Soon Carson City was an industrial and commercial center. The "Rush to Washoe" in 1860, spurred by the gold and silver strikes, helped make Carson City, only 14 miles west, an obvious choice for establishing the seat of government.

[photo] King St., Carson City, c. 1880
Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division Historic American Buildings Survey, Reproduction Number HABS NEV,13-CARCI, 2-2

Once Nevada gained its territorial status in 1861 (this area had been part of the Utah Territory previously), Carson City was the designated territorial capital. Carson City has always been the only territorial and state capital for Nevada. President Abraham Lincoln chose James Nye, a staunch supporter of the Union, as Nevada's first Territorial Governor. The Territorial Secretary position was given to Orion Clemens, whose brother Samuel migrated to Nevada to assist the Secretary in his new duties. Soon Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, was reporting on the Territorial Legislature for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. The legislature created Ormsby County in 1861, where Carson City is located, making the town the county seat as well. The county draws its name from Major William B. Ormsby, who died in battle during the Pyramid Lake Indian War of 1860. This was the first of two battles between U.S. troops and Northern Paiute warriors (along with some Bannock associates) at Pyramid Lake that year.

[photo] View of east and north façade of the Capitol in 1872
Photo from Nevada State Museum in collection of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Historic American Buildings Survey, Reproduction Number HABS,NEV,13-CARCI,4-3, f
Several years passed before Abe Curry's vision for a prominent capitol in the center of Carson City was realized. Although Nevada obtained statehood status in 1864, it was not until 1870 that construction on the state capitol began. During the early 20th century, growth in other regions of the state resulted in the growth of the capital. For instance, many wealthy elite who gained their fortunes during the mining boom in Tonopah (southern Nevada) moved to settle in Carson City. Growth around the state also meant more railroad service in and out of the capital.

The Ormsby County Courthouse was built in the early 1920s by Frederic DeLongchamps, 60 years after the county was created. In 1969, Ormsby County and Carson City became incorporated as one governmental unit, thus the county finally shed its "Ormsby" title.

Essay by Terri McBride, Historic Preservation Specialist, Nevada State Historic Preservation Office
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