A tale of two counties: What ever happened to Ormsby?
Trivia question: how many counties does Nevada have? It’s tricky. We have 17, but one county, Ormsby, was consolidated with Carson City. It’s the fiftieth anniversary of that happening, AND the centennial of the creation of Nevada’s youngest county, Pershing. Let’s talk about both.
What became Pershing had been part of Humboldt County from the beginnings of Nevada Territory in 1861. A little bit of eastern Humboldt County had been chipped away in 1873 for Lander County, but, other than that, Humboldt had pretty much been left alone.
Now, not long ago, we talked about the origins of White Pine and Elko Counties, and controversies over government funds. The issue contributed greatly to Clark County separating from Lincoln County in 1909. Pershing County has similar origins. Lovelock residents felt Humboldt County leaders favored the county seat, Winnemucca. When the county courthouse burned in 1918, the people of southern Humboldt County wanted it rebuilt in Lovelock. In the end, the groups fought and lobbied in the legislature. The result was the new county’s creation in 1919. It was named for General John J. Pershing, who commanded the American forces in Europe in World War I.
For the county seat, lawmakers chose Lovelock, built as a railroad town when the Central Pacific came through the area in the 1860s. And county officials decided to give Pershing and Lovelock a distinction: a new and special courthouse. They made an agreement with Nevada’s most prominent architect at the time, Frederick DeLongchamps, who had designed several courthouses around the state. This one was different—indeed, unique. It was round. DeLongchamps modeled it on the library Thomas Jefferson designed for the University of Virginia, a circular hexagon. There’s a dome over the courtroom, which is at the center.
Pershing was the seventeenth county created in Nevada. Exactly half a century later, the state sort of lost a county. When Nevada became a territory in 1861, the first legislature created nine counties. One of them was named for William Ormsby, a rancher who had died while commanding the militia in the Pyramid Lake War between whites and Northern Paiutes the year before … which was ironic in a way. A couple of years before he had welcomed into his home a young girl named Sarah Winnemucca, whose family led the Northern Paiutes.
The seat of Ormsby County was Carson City. But by the 1960s, Carson City was pretty much IT when it came to Ormsby County. Local and state officials talked more about changing the situation and, in 1968, Nevada voters approved a constitutional amendment to consolidate. Ormsby County ceased to exist in 1969, and Carson City became a hybrid city and county.
A few weeks before the vote, a couple of Ormsby County officials asked Las Vegas city commissioners to endorse the move, and they did. Two things are interesting about that. One, the Ormsby district attorney who spoke was Bob List, who preceded me as attorney general and governor. Two, the newspaper account said “it is theorized that a similar type of consolidation may take place here (Clark County) someday and local officials may be able to learn from the experience.” There actually had been some discussions earlier in the decade. One of the outgrowths of this was the consolidation of the city and county police into the Metropolitan Police department in 1973. History has a way of coming full circle.