Historic Preservation Bills Passed by the Nevada State Legislature

The 2015 Nevada State Legislature passed a couple of bills that make changes to the state law regarding issues of historic preservation.

Assembly Bill 377 – Preservation and Development of the Historic Nevada State Prison

Aerial view of Nevada State PrisonThe Nevada State Prison, which was operated in Carson City from 1862 to 2012, has been recognized as a historically significant site by the Nevada Legislature with the enactment of Assembly Bill 377. This bill establishes the Silver State Industries Endowment Fund and the Endowment Fund for the Historic Preservation of the Nevada State Prison, and contains provisions for the preservation, development and use of the Nevada State Prison as a historical, cultural, educational and scientific resource.

The proposed plans for the prison site include operation of the prison as a museum, where visitors can learn about the long and colorful history of the prison. One of the more interesting historical facts about the prison include that, with the legalization of gaming in Nevada, the prison allowed inmates to participate in organized and sanctioned gambling, including providing space for gambling games and establishment of inmate game “owners”. The prison “casino” was finally closed in 1967 when new administration took over operation. 

In addition, the prison suffered a couple of fires that burned all of the buildings to the ground in 1867 and 1870. This led to the rebuilding of the prison using sandstone quarried on site at the prison by inmates. The quarry operated for many years, and was the source of the sandstone used to build many of Carson City’s most historic buildings, including the Nevada State Governor’s Mansion and the original Nevada State Capitol building.

Some other fun facts about Nevada State Prison:

  • In the early 1880’s, inmates working to quarry stone at NSP discovered the fossilized footprints of prehistoric creatures, including prints from the Pliocene era, which are estimated to be approximately 50,000 years old. The prints include those of mammoths, native horses, large birds, dire wolves, sloths, big-toothed cats, elk and deer.
  • The primary means of support for the prison during the 19th century was the shoe shop where inmates were engaged in the construction and sales of footwear.
  • In 1928, the Prison became the State’s site for automobile license plate production, and remains so today.
  • Perhaps in support of the gambling, the prison coined its own money, in the form of brass coins in denominations from 5 cents to $5. These coins were minted from 1945, to 1964 on the coin presses from the old U.S. Mint.

Assembly Bill 194 – Clarifying the Definition of “Historic”

Nevada law provides for the preservation of prehistoric and historic sites. For example, a permit is required to investigate, explore or excavate a historic or prehistoric site on federal or state lands or remove any object from such a site, and vandalizing any historic or prehistoric site is a criminal offense. This law, as it was written, however, created some confusion as to what lands and structures should be treated as “historic.” This is because the law simply defined “historic” to mean “after the middle of the 18th century,” as a way to differentiate between “pre-historic” (before the middle of the 18th century) and “historic.” The problem with this definition is that it did not provide for a minimum age of a resource to be defined as “historic,” so that newly built structures could be mistakenly considered to fall under this definition.

The 2015 Nevada legislature, with Assembly Bill 194, amended the definition of “historic” to limit the term to include only resources created at least 50 years before the current year. This change creates clarity for the public, state agencies, and the construction industry on the definition of “historic” resources for purposes of preservation and protection of historic sites. As explained in testimony by Rebecca Palmer, Nevada State Historic Preservation Officer with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the 50-year period selected is “consistent with nationally accepted standards” for a “period that is long enough to assure sufficient historical perspective in the evaluation of the resource.”

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