I wish I could time travel. My family has been in Elko since its early days, and I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve heard all the stories from this city in the heart of northeastern Nevada, but wouldn’t it be fun to take a peek at what went on in the olden days? Think of the insight you could gain as a fly on the wall in all the action, noise and chaos of a pioneer town.
When I walk down the sidewalks of old Elko, I try to imagine what it must have looked like in the early 1900s. Many of the historic buildings would still be there—like the A.W. Hesson & Company building at 6th Street and Commercial Street built in 1909—but horse-drawn wagons would be kicking up dust as they prattled down the old roads. I can picture the driver “whoaing” the horses to stop in front of the building so he can unload the shipment. Citizens could find everything from hardware and dishes to salt blocks for animals, haying equipment and Studebaker wagons in this building. A little later on, as the country began to embrace motorized cars, the wagons in the Hesson building were replaced with Studebaker automobiles. Although I do yearn to be able to see that time of change, I certainly wouldn’t want to be on the road as drivers first took the wheel of these new-fangled autos!
As I look up at the brick exterior of the historic two-story building, though, I realize I don’t even need to time travel to see it in its glory. This century-plus-old building recently underwent a beautiful restoration—even using original building materials and its iconic sign.
Just a short walk down the block, I stop in front of the G.S. Garcia building on Commercial Street between 5th and 6th streets. G.S. Garcia was a master saddlemaker from California, who moved to Elko with the vaqueros after the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1894. Working out of a smaller shop in Elko, Garcia won a gold medal for his craftsmanship at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, and again in 1905 in Portland, Oregon. After cowboys around the country began chomping at the bit for his wares, a new building for Garcia’s shop was built in 1907—what I wouldn’t give to see the construction of all these historic buildings along Commercial Street! I imagine it was quite the sight to see Garcia hard at work crafting these acclaimed saddles. I do know that the same methods used during Garcia’s time are similar to tooling methods done today—why fix what isn’t broken?
Again, the gift of time travel isn’t needed to learn all about Garcia’s handiwork. Today, the G.S. Garcia shop is home to the newly opened Cowboy Arts & Gear Museum, honoring the arts, craftsmanship and heritage of the American cowboy. Many Western enthusiasts have come in to see the masterful artifacts in person. They run their hands over the 100-year-old pieces with the same reverence and longing to own as, I’m sure, cowboys in 1918 did. A cowboy would save for a year to purchase a coveted Garcia saddle, and it’s still the same today! It’s fun to watch them and know that they, too, wish they could travel back in time.
Just a few blocks away from my walk back in time down Commercial Street, I found myself in front of the Elko County Courthouse at 6th Street and Idaho Street. This stately neo-classical building was constructed in 1911 to replace the smaller courthouse to keep up with the growing needs of the city. With its dramatic pillars, portico and dome, the building looks like it could be the capital building for all of Nevada, or maybe even a replica of the White House—though the cream hue of the paint is definitely more suited for the desert surroundings. The fact that the historic building looks so impressive even now is a testament to its craftsmanship, but I wonder what it would be like to work on the construction of such a building. If I could go back in time, I wonder what the builders would say if I said their work would be appreciated more than 100 years into the future.
The courthouse is also the site for some of Elko’s most famous ghost story, Mrs. Elizabeth Potts. Convicted of a murder in Carlin, Nevada, she was hanged in 1890 at the original county courthouse—the only woman ever executed in the state, and the last person executed in Elko County. Some have claimed to see her ghost wandering nearby—maybe she and I share a love for time travel since it seems her spirit can travel forward in time.
Living in Elko my whole life, I’ve heard and researched a lot of our local history. I’m always happy to share these stories with others, because these snippets give us all a connection from the past to the present. Maybe this is as close to time travel as we are going to get!