Daniel Zapata 2021, Churchill County Cultural Overview, Extension, University of Nevada, Reno

Churchill County, Nevada is uniquely located. East of California, Reno, and Carson City, Churchill spans 5,024 square miles encompassing mountains, valleys, ranges, lakes, channels, and ponds. All throughout the county’s west side and center you can find many bodies of water, ranging from Lahontan Reservoir to the marsh area of Little Mallard Pond. The mountains lie further east, past the county seat of Fallon. Perhaps most telling of Churchill’s unique positioning, is the route of Highway 50, which comes into Churchill from popular Lake Tahoe, passes through Fallon, and then goes on to run through the rest of Nevada as “The Loneliest Road in America,” leaving Churchill in the middle, with access to the rural and the urban.

History

Churchill was founded in 1861 as one of Nevada’s original counties. In Churchill’s earliest years, the boundaries changed several times. In 1864, the boundary between Lyon and Churchill was established, and in 1869 part of Humboldt was ceded to Churchill.1 The county seat has also changed, from Bucklands, to La Plata, to Stillwater, and then in 1904 (some sources say 1903 to Fallon, which remains Churchill’s county seat today.2 Accordingly, many attempts were made in the 19th century to eliminate Churchill as a county, due to its small population,3 until this 1904 move to Fallon helped Churchill’s cause. To this day, the Fallon Metropolitan Statistical Area comprises most of the county’s population.

Western mining history relates that in the early days of the county, settlers headed towards California for gold had to cross Nevada by two main routes, both of which went through Churchill.4 At the time, in the early 1860s, the hot, dry areas were not inviting, and deposits remain undiscovered. Soon enough, discoveries nearby in Tonopah, Nye, and Esmeralda led to a spillover of prospectors into Churchill. Although 1904 production records are incomplete, “the value of gold mined from 1890 to 1903 was estimated at $32,300, or 1,600 ounces.”

The U.S. Data Repository provides the full text of the History of Nevada by Thompson and West, and, as a chapter, the History of Churchill County (1881). Here the historians examine all aspects of Churchill’s beginnings, such as early emigrants; initial boundary-setting; the first mining districts; and original impressions, like the theory that county’s many bodies of water ran to the ocean through subterranean channels. The historical account even includes detailed biographical sketches of the county’s earliest citizens, including a superintendent of public schools, a county commissioner, a district attorney (Lemuel Allen, overall representative man who stopped the above mentioned attempts to eliminate Churchill as county), and a state senator.

In the same vein of biographical accounts, the Nevada Women’s History Project has compiled biographies of Nevada women that have played critical roles since the state’s founding. A biography of note, especially here in this current report, is Mary Daisy Allen’s, daughter of the above mentioned Lemuel Allen. In her service to the State Assembly, she was the chair of the State Institutions Committee, and a co-sponsor to the Amend Public Highways act, which was approved in 1925.

The Churchill County Museum acts as the county’s historical hub. Their mission is to “collect, preserve, exhibit and share those artifacts, photographs and documents that serve to illustrate the story of humans and nature in Churchill County.” In addition to these historical resources, there are hundreds of geological studies being conducted on Churchill to this day (and various other reports, like the 2020 Fallon Transportation Plan), as well as published books on the history of Churchill available online and through several university library databases. Here are a few example books:

“The History of Churchill County, Nevada” M.A. Thesis by by Buel F Enyeart, 1928.

“The Story of Wonder, Churchill County Nevada,” by Hugh A Shamberger, Geological Survey, Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, 1974, Nevada Historical Press, 1974.

“Pioneer History of Life in Churchill County, Nevada” by Cecyl Allen Johnson, Oral History Project Reno, University of Nevada, Reno Library, 1970.

Landscape and Climate

As hinted to in the introduction, Churchill’s landscape is unique. Thompson and West describe it as “peculiar. [Churchill’s] sinks, sloughs, lakes, salt beds and alkali flats have long attracted the attention of travelers” (Source 1, p. 359). In January, the county’s average minimum temperature is 28° F, and in July the average maximum is 100° F. Annual snowfall averages around 6 inches. Churchill’s climate is extremely dry, like much of Nevada.

There are many sights to see in Churchill, and things to do for residents and travelers. The Sand Mountain Recreation Area is a sand dune and designated off-highway vehicle fee site located east of Fallon. The sand mountain itself, the dune’s largest feature, is around 3.5 miles long, one mile wide, and 600 feet in height, “making it the largest single dune in the Great Basin.” On the west side of Fallon lies Lahontan State Recreation Area, which includes the area around the Lahontan reservoir where folks camp, picnic, boat, fish, and hunt. More on the historical-adventure side there’s Lovelock Cave, the archeological find and landmark. In her day, Northern Paiute author Sarah Winnemucca wrote of the famous myth re-told of the sighted red-haired cannibal giants being driven back into Lovelock Cave. As Richard Moreno with Nevada Appeal points out, “Even ignoring the giants, the cave has an interesting backstory.”5 He goes on to point out that in 1911, two goldminers, Hart and Pugh, mined bat guano before encountering human mummified bodies and many Native American artifacts, furtherly uncovered by L.L. Loud and Mark Harrington from the University of California. To this day, Lovelock Cave is open to visit, together with the Lovelock Cave Days event. Nevertheless, the Bureau of Land Management has a guide to a safe, self-guided tour.

Churchill is packed with points of interest: Stillwater National Wildlife Refuge, Cold Springs, Carson Lake, Grimes Point Archaeological Area, and the Hidden Cave, to name some more. For art and culture appreciation, Churchill has the Oats Park Arts Center, and the Churchill County Library. Historical buildings stand tall in Churchill, such as the Robert. L Douglass House with its Queen Anne architecture and the neo-classical Churchill County Courthouse. Lastly, some well-renowned restaurants have made a name in Churchill, such as Julio’s Mexican Italian, Susie’s BBQ, and The Courtyard Café & Bakery.6

Community

Year-round in Churchill, family-friendly events are hosted that bring together the county as community. In Fallon, for example, there’s the New Year’s 5K Fun Run; Tractors and Truffles which mixes ranching, farming, vineyard facilities, and theatre; an all-out rodeo event in the DeGolyer Bucking Horse and Bull Bash; the 4th of July Parade; and the monster truck, dirt track racing, drag racing Octane Fest. On the natural side, in May and June tens of thousands of birds stop in Fallon for migration, making for a birdwatching haven.

Community activity in Churchill is evidenced by the frequent events and comings-together. The school district, which is transparent like no other county in its district strategic plan, . These hearty events are coordinated by the local social and governmental groups like Churchill County 4-H, Churchill County Social Services, the Churchill County Sherriff’s office, and the county itself. The Parks & Recreation Department, for example, works closely with the community to host events and keep citizens updated on what’s new in Churchill. For 2020 this included COVID-19 updates, the Churchill County Parks and Recreation program (CARE) that helps children learn in out-of-school hours, and week-to-week events such as the Dust Devil Triathlon and Drive Thru Community Day, both in August. At the same time, the Public Works Planning & Zoning Department helps with regulations, licensing, and protection, on the county’s grounds where the events take place. All around in Churchill there’s a helping hand. From the Concerts in the Park to the Fallon Cantaloupe Festival and Country Fair, and from Lattin Farms to Middlegate, it’s clear that Churchill is an interconnected and active community that takes its unique location and runs with it.


The NEAP is an on-going project that greatly benefits from community input. The authors wish to express that If any information here on the county is inaccurate or any impertinent information is missing, an email may be sent to econdev@unr.edu with information, additions, or edits.


 

Sources Cited

  1. http://www.us-data.org/nv/tw/churchill/
  2. http://genealogytrails.com/nev/church/
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churchill_County,_Nevada#History (not further sourced)
  4. https://westernmininghistory.com/articles/119/page1/ (by A.H. Koschmann and M.H. Bergendahl, USGS 1968)
  5. https://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/a-place-of-legend-and-lore-lovelock-cave/
  6. https://visitfallonnevada.com/explore-fallon/

Sources Used

  1. Churchill County, Nevada - Wikipedia
  2. District Strategic Plan - Churchill County School District
  3. Churchill County, NV - Official Website
  4. Churchill County Library, Fallon, Nevada
  5. Churchill County Museum and Archives
  6. Parks & Recreation | Churchill County, NV
  7. Public Works, Planning & Zoning Department | Churchill County
  8. 2020 Transportation Plan, Fallon
  9. Things to do in Churchill County - Google
  10. Churchill County Seats | ONE
  11. History of Churchill County from History of Nevada, 1881, Thompson and West, Chapter 41. U.S. Data Repository, Nevada Records, USGenNet Inc.
  12. Churchill County Museum & Archives | Facebook
  13. Churchill County, Nevada Genealogy and History
  14. Mary Daisy Allen Williams White – Nevada Women's History Project
  15. History of the Museum – Churchill County Museum and Archives
  16. Churchill County, NV Weather - USA.com™
  17. Sand Mountain Recreation Area | Bureau of Land Management
  18. Lahontan State Recreation Area | State Parks
  19. Visit Fallon
  20. Middlegate Nevada | Middlegate Station
  21. Food And Family Fun | Lattin Farms | United States

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