Writing Class Field Trip Reveals Nevada’s Lesser Known History

Students learn about Nevada statehood and Pony Express in Genoa


Ann Marie Brown

Students enjoy sunshine outside the Genoa bar

Carissa Priebusch, Editor

Escaping for the day from a snowy, wet spring day in Incline Village, SNC students enrolled in the Travel and Adventure Writing class made their way down Highway 50 to Genoa, Nevada, on April 14. Led by historian Kim Copel and professor Ann Marie Brown, the students took a walking tour of the historic town and learned about Genoa’s importance in western U.S. history.

Copel explained that Genoa was “the first major settlement in the state of Nevada, which at the time was not yet a state, but a part of Utah Territory.” It was settled in 1851 by a group of Mormons from Salt Lake City, who established a trading post called Mormon Settlement south of modern-day Carson City. The post served miners traveling back and forth from the Nevada and California mines. Although the majority of Genoa’s Mormons were called back to Salt Lake City in 1857 to aid in the Mormon Rebellion, “a few stayed behind to run the businesses they had started, and the town of Genoa grew around them,” Copel said.

Benjamin Lewis, a junior who participated in the field trip, said, “It was interesting to learn how much of the gold and silver from mining was going back to build Salt Lake City.”

Copel informed the students that thanks to the telegraph, Nevada become a state just before the Civil War. Union sympathizers were pushing Nevada to become a state, and Nevada need to get their state constitution to Washington D.C. before the presidential election occurred, just in case Lincoln didn’t win re-election.

“The telephone was not invented yet, and the mail to Washington D.C. would have taken 10 days. The only option was to send the state constitution by wire,” Copel said. “That telegraph in 1964 was the longest telegraph ever sent. It took two days to send with 16,543 words.”

Similar to better known Virginia City, the town most often associated with Nevada history, Genoa’s preserved buildings serve as museums, commercial buildings and private homes. Because the town is on the National Register of Historic Places, all building exteriors are strictly maintained. It takes money and dedication to keep Genoa looking like it’s still in the 1850s.

Junior Nicole Ross, who joined in the field trip, was most interested in the restored Pink House, a Gothic Revival Victorian that was constructed in 1855. The building had many owners in its century-plus history, but by the early 2000s it had fallen into disrepair and was slated for demolition. The current owners purchased it in 2014, restored it to its former glory, and opened a deli and charcuterie on the first floor.

“The Pink House is a good example of the rebirth of Genoa,” Ross said. “The Pink House almost died. No one was there to take care of it, and they saved it and turned it into a very classy restaurant.”

Throughout the year, Genoa holds events and festivals to celebrate its history and the people who made the town great. Genoa was a stop on the 1860s Pony Express Trail, in which horseback riders would travel 24 hours a day for 10 days to deliver mail from Sacramento, California to St. Joseph, Missouri. Every year the National Pony Express Association reenacts the ride with a celebratory stop in Genoa.

A few students said the field trip’s highlight was the Genoa Bar, the “oldest thirst parlor in Nevada,” established in 1853, which has been visited by celebrities including U.S. Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt, writer Mark Twain, actors Clark Gable and Lauren Bacall, and singer Johnny Cash. Walking through the front door on the plank floor boards, the musky smell of history is evident. An inch of dust covers almost everything, from the diamond-dust mirror to the oil lamps to the bison head mounted on the back wall. Artifacts on the walls, like an autograph from 1970s actress Raquel Welch, give patrons bellying up to the bar much to look at.

“The oldest saloon was really cool,” Lewis said. “I didn’t know that in the old days they would hang bras from the ceiling.”

Keifer Bly, a senior who went on the field trip, said he was amazed to stand inside the 164-year-old saloon, where so much history—and so many drunken brawls— had taken place. “Not many people get to say they got to do that,” he said.