Preserving Nevada’s Infamous Legacy

It looks like historic preservation is taking a prominent place in the negotiating of the 2015-17 Nevada State budget! While the budget is oh so far from being set and decided, the Legislature and Governor are looking at funding two full-time positions – a museum director and a curator – at what will become the Stewart Indian School Living Legacy.

American Indian Boarding School Project

The Stewart Indian School, which ran from 1890 – 1980, was part of the American Indian Boarding Schools project that began in the late 19th century. Located in Carson City, it was part of an expansive system of schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs that frequently forcibly removed Native American children from their families in order to raise them as Euro-Americans. Often the children were forbidden to speak their native languages, given European-American names, made to wear their hair in European-American ways, and generally were encouraged and even forced to leave behind their Native American culture. The Stewart Indian School and others like it were run on the assimilation model with the notion that Native Americans needed “civilizing.” Over the more than 100 years these schools existed in the United States, schools transitioned from forced attendance and cruel conditions to some becoming optional for local Native American children. While experiences may have varied, there is little doubt that the American Indian Boarding Schools project is a dark chapter in our country’s history. At the height of these schools in the 1970s, something like 60,000 Native American children attended these often harsh schools and were rarely allowed to see their families.


The Stewart Indian School

Stewart Indian School GroundsThe Stewart Indian School – named after Nevada’s first senator, William M. Stewart – opened on December 17, 1890 with 37 students from Washoe, Paiute, and Shoshone tribes. There were only three teachers staffing the school. The peak of enrollment for the school was in the early 20th century when 400 students attended. Students and staff, though, were not the only residents of this almost 50 acre campus. Just outside the school’s fence, many of the children’s families traveled far from their own homes to put up tents and temporary homes in order to be near their children.

The students at the school studied reading, writing, and arithmetic but focused mainly on vocational training. In the early decades of the 20th century, students learned stone masonry from teachers and Hopi stone masons, working to construct many of the 60 buildings on the campus. The stone that was used in buildings at the Stewart Indian School was also used many other prominent buildings in Carson City, like the now closed Nevada State Prison and the beautiful Governor’s Mansion. Quarried locally, it was a common material for buildings in Carson City during this era.


Stewart Indian SchoolWhen we think about the terrible conditions that Native American children experienced at the school not to mention having been taken away from their families, first reactions to places like the Stewart Indian School are to demolish them as a way of recognizing the injustice these places perpetuated. However, it is important to remember even those uncomfortable parts of our country’s and state’s history. By saving such places as this, we can reclaim them, educate younger generations, and recreate them into positive community spaces. This is the plan for the Stewart Indian School. Should the two new positions be funded during this legislative session, the work will begin to transform some of the buildings into a cultural center and a visitor center. According to the budget proposal presented to the legislature, “plans for the facility include interpretation trails and exhibits, guided tours and overnight experiential stays.”

What is the Next Preservation Project for the Legislature?

The Nevada Preservation Foundation is hopeful that as our state recovers from the recession, we might begin to see more such projects in the coming years. As NPF’s Northern Correspondent during the legislative session, I would love to see some preservation of the Nevada State Children’s Home, the first orphanage in Nevada.


The buildings currently on the site were built in the 1960s and replaced the much larger 1903 building with small cottages, leaving the old gymnasium intact. The 1960s and 1900s buildings would be another great historic preservation project. Do you have ideas for state buildings in need of historic preservation in other parts of Nevada? We would love to hear about them! Click on the button below and tell us what you would like the Legislature and Governor to preserve next!

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