An exploration of Genoa’s historic district

The Genoa Town Church was the beneficiary of a fundraiser on Saturday.

The Genoa Town Church was the beneficiary of a fundraiser on Saturday.
Photo by Kurt Hildebrand.

Some of the oldest and most important structures in Genoa’s history don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the Genoa Historic District Commission.

That’s because they are residences, which have been beyond the commission’s authority since it was formed in 1974.

The original commission was made up of three residents appointed by county commissioners and the three Genoa Town Board members.

Proposed in 1973 by the town board after Genoa’s listing in the National Register of Historic Places, the commission’s charge was to ensure Douglas County’s first commercial district was preserved.

When the county formed the district, it followed the boundaries of the L.S. Hawkins Map of 1874.

“If you set up a grocery store, they can tell you what it must look like from the outside, and that’s all,” one county commissioner was quoted saying in The Record-Courier at the district’s Feb. 20, 1974, approval.district’s Feb. 20, 1974, approval.

Three years later, the Legislature enacted the state’s historic district statute, that largely focused on the Comstock, and formed the State Historic Preservation Office.

A proposal to develop Sierra Shadows as condos in 1978 brought its first challenge, when then District Attorney Steve McMorris determined that the historic panel had the first right of review on projects in the district.

County commissioners added a fourth at-large member to the district commission in 1984 after the six-member panel deadlocked over whether to allow Coldwell Banker’s blue awnings at the local real estate office. The seventh member was Genoa attorney Dave Gamble, who would soon be elected district judge.

In 1985, a letter from the state office informed the district that Genoa might be de-listed if it didn’t include historic homes.

State Historic Preservation Office spokesman Matthew D. McDaniel said that would be unlikely to have much effect, since the town was recognized by the National Register of Historic Places.

“A request for delisting can come from any party (either because it no longer exists or has been significantly and irretrievably altered), it is not an action the office takes lightly, especially considering a listings ability to receive federal rehabilitation tax credits and other benefits,” he said.

An effort to expand the district to include homes never came to anything.

The state does have a Nevada Certified Local Government Program that includes Carson City, Storey County, Reno, Las Vegas, Boulder City and Winnemucca, but interestingly not Nevada’s oldest town.

Douglas County would have to apply on behalf of the town.

Douglas updated the historic district’s ordinance earlier this month.

Commission Vice President Marian Vassar said she thinks keeping the district is critical to preserving the town.

“If we don’t keep it protected the national historic folks could come in and take it away,” she said.

Candy Dance celebrates the town’s history Sept. 23-24.

Kurt Hildebrand is editor of The Record-Courier. Contact him at


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