Pony Express Stations, Part 3: Carson City

By 1851, a trading post and a small ranch were established on the Carson Branch of the California Emigrant Trail in what is now Carson City. Frank Hall, W.J. Hall and George Jollenshee operated the station near what is now Fifth and Thompson streets. They called the place Eagle Station due to a large stuffed eagle that had been shot by Frank Hall mounted on the wall of the station. The property operated as a successful stopover for travel weary gold prospectors headed for the California gold fields.

In 1858, Abraham Curry bought Eagle Station after he found lots in Genoa to be too expensive. Curry was a man of incredible vision who believed the area surrounding the property he had bought would some day become the center of activity for the region. Curry set out city streets and a 10-acre plaza for a future city center with the prediction the place would become the territorial capital.

One year later in 1859, gold prospectors in the hills east of Carson City discovered one of the greatest silver strikes in world history. Tens of thousands of miners and other fortune seekers poured into Carson City, Virginia City and the Comstock region. Abraham Curry later became the driving force to have a branch of the United States Mint established in Carson City to coin the gold and silver from the Comstock mines.

By 1860, Carson City was a regular stop on the Overland Mail route serving both the Butterfield and Wells Fargo Stage lines. When the Pony Express started operation, their regularly scheduled stop was at a hotel on Carson Street near where the original Ormsby House later stood. I have never found out the name of the hotel where the pony Express relay station was actually located.

A nearby historical marker at the corner of Carson and Third Streets indicates the stables and corrals for the ponies were located across Third Street from the still existing St. Charles Hotel, the stage stop after 1862. This building is now the Firkin and Fox Restaurant. There have always been conflicting historical reports on exactly where the Carson City Pony Express stop was located. Many written accounts place the station between Fourth Street and Fifth Street. The Historical Marker at the corner of Third and Carson Streets places the station between Second and Third Streets.

Both the St Charles Hotel and the original Ormsby House Hotel were built in 1862, the year after the Pony Express ceased operation. Carson City was named by Abraham Curry after Captain John Fremont’s scout, Kit Carson. In 1860 when the Pony Express began operations, Carson City was described as having just one main street that was little more than a double row of saloons, a few assay offices, a general store and a hotel that served as the relay station for the Pony Express. Nothing remains today of the original buildings of the station. In 1860, a crude boarding house without a name could be described a hotel.

In October 1860, Sir Richard Burton wrote in his notes of places he stopped including Pony Express Stations, while traveling along the Overland Trail, concerning Carson City. “After a day’s rest at Carson City, employed in collecting certain necessaries of tobacco and raiment, which intrinsically vile, were about treble the price of the best articles of their kind in the Burlington Arcade…” The Carson City station was the headquarters of the western superintendent, William Finney.

When people who travel U.S. Highway 50 near Moundhouse or when they ride the V & T Railroad train between Carson City and Virginia City, they can see a monument commemorating the Pony Express riders just east of Carson City. Located on a hill south of the highway is a metal silhouette of a mounted Pony Express rider created by Carson Valley artist Bill Muerle. The idea for the memorial came from Lyon County Commissioner Larry McPherson, Past President of the National Pony Express Association. He had seen similar silhouettes near Marysville Kansas where these silhouettes greet visitors.

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