Historic Church Saved For Now

By  | 

Plans to demolish a 142-year-old Carson City church that Mark Twain raised money to build have been put on hold.
The city's Historic Resources Commission agreed Thursday night
to continue the First Presbyterian Church's request for a
demolition permit pending the outcome of talks on a compromise.
"I think the chances for an agreement are good," said Jennifer
Pruitt, city senior planner. "There's been a willingness from the
church to work with the city. The city also has a willingness to
work with the church, so we're hoping for an agreement."
Twain raised $200 - worth $2,200 today - to help complete
construction of the church in 1864 by charging admission to his
"roast" of Nevada legislators in Carson City.
At the time, Twain was a newspaper reporter in nearby Virginia
City, and his brother, Orion Clemens, was a church member and
secretary of the Nevada Territory.
Under a proposed agreement, Nevada's oldest church building
would be spared the wrecking ball while Presbyterian leaders would
be allowed to build a bigger church next to it.
But the city would be charged with rehabilitating the old church
within two to five years, and also would be required to provide
upkeep and liability insurance for it.
The proposal also calls for church officials to retain ownership
of the old building. They have said they could use it for weddings,
small religious ceremonies and Sunday School classes.
The interior of the old church would have to be gutted to
reinforce the walls, said Ken Pearson, chairman of the church's
building committee. But the building's exterior would appear much
the same.
The church's openness to compromise represents a shift from
early this year when it opposed plans to save the original church.
"Certainly, our first choice was what we originally proposed,"
Pearson said. "Now, we think it's in the best interest of the
community to proceed" with a compromise.
Historic preservationists have said it would be a mistake to
tear down the building at a time when local and state officials are
stepping up efforts to promote heritage tourism.
They said it's one of only four known buildings linked to Twain
in Nevada. The others are Orion Clemen's house and the Stewart-Nye
house, both in Carson City, and Theodore Winter's house in Washoe
Church officials have said it would cost as much as $5 million
to restore the old church, more than double the cost of building a
new one.
Pruitt said the proposed agreement is under city review, and the
cost of rehabilitating the building must still be determined.
Church officials want the city's Historic Resources Commission
to take final action at an April 13 meeting so they can begin
construction of the new church sometime this summer.