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Town fumes after developer razes historic Nevada site

SHARE Town fumes after developer razes historic Nevada site

A California developer is under fire for leveling the ruins of a historic stage station to make room for a subdivision in this rural community 25 miles east of Carson City.

Angry Stagecoach residents and Lyon County officials have accused Paul Thompson of Walnut Grove of breaking a promise to protect Desert Wells Station, a welcome stop on the Overland Stage and Mail Route in the 1860s for thousands of travelers, including Mark Twain."It's the classic case of a California developer coming in and having no regard for Nevada or its history," resident Mary Dreeson said. "It's gone, and you can't bring it back."

The station joins a series of privately owned historic sites that have vanished in recent decades. The 117-year-old V&T Railroad roundhouse in Carson City was torn down stone by stone in 1991 for use in a winery in California's Napa Valley.

Dreeson said she's especially upset because Thompson promised county commissioners last year he would protect the station ruins.

John Evasovic, county community development director, said Thompson reneged on his word, but was not required to keep it because no conditions regarding the historic site were included in commissioners' final motion to approve the subdivision.

State and federal law provide no protections for historic sites on private property.

But Thompson is not entirely off the hook because he illegally began site preparation work without a conference with county building officials and without an approved set of street and drainage plans, Evasovic said.

"Information has been turned over to (District Attorney Robert Estes) and it's up to him whether he wants to pursue criminal charges against him," he said.

Estes didn't return a phone call. Thompson has no listed phone number in the Walnut Grove area, and attempts to reach him through a business associate were unsuccessful.

Ed Johnson of Stagecoach said two hand-dug wells, a portion of a rock wall and a wooden floor of the original station remained at the site before it was leveled by a blader last month.

The ruins may not have been extensive, but they stirred memories of the Old West and deserved to be spared, he said.

But Stagecoach real estate agent Mac Calico, broker for Thompson's Desert Wells Estates, defended the decision to level the site about a half-mile south of U.S. 0.

The wells probably were original but posed a safety hazard because of their depth, Calico said.

Native rock at the site could have been the remnants of the station's walls or corral, but the floor seemed more modern, he added.

"What's the big deal? There was nothing there," Calico said. "One hundred years isn't that old in the makeup of things any more. If we start preserving every 100-year-old building, we won't have room for new buildings."

But Johnson, who is Dayton's justice of the peace, said the ruins were a rare link to early Nevada history commemorated by a historical marker and mentioned in many books, including Twain's "Roughing It."

Desert Wells Station began as a trading post for covered-wagon pioneers on the California Trail in the 1850s and became a station on the Overland Stage and Mail Route in 1861, when Twain passed through on his way to Carson City to begin a three-year stay in Nevada, according to historians.

Twain chronicled a frightful night he and two companions spent in a blizzard only to realize at daybreak they were 15 steps away from the station.

Dreeson said county commissioners share the blame for the site's demise because they failed to require its protection as a condition of approval for the 23-house subdivision.

Johnson said the incident points out the need for a state law to deal with historic sites on private property.

"You can destroy anything if you own it, and there needs to be something done," he said. "We won't have anything left at the rate of development in Nevada."

But Ron James, state historic preservation officer, said it would be tough to get such a law through the Nevada Legislature.

"It's my impression Nevadans don't like to be told what they can do on private property," he said. "Clearly, we're losing historic resources and it's up to local governments to provide some sort of protection if there's an appetite for it."