Vault full of saucy secrets expands
October 1, 2001
Not really. But depending on who you talk to, Douglas County has the equivalent of Area 51 in its own back yard.
And it’s getting bigger.
But instead of alien secrets and black operative government aircraft, inside the hull of the Douglas County Records Building are some of the county’s most telling stories dating back to the 1850s.
The building, located near Minden-Tahoe Airport, is getting a facelift, in the form of an 1,800 square-foot addition to accommodate more records. The expansion costs about $150,000.
“We saw all the growth in this area coming and thought we’d better start putting some money away because sooner or later we’re going to run out of space,” said Records Manager Werner Christen.
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The brick building, known simply as “records management” to county employees, has no identifiable features. There are no signs. No “welcome” door mats. And only one window.
In fact, the public isn’t allowed inside.
“We have a couple of tours a year, but really it’s off limits,” Christen said. “Everything is pretty secure.”
There’s a motion detector and a smoke detector, both of which have direct links to 911 emergency dispatch. The place is so secure that even trash containers are secured with two locks.
The secrecy is really about confidentiality, said Douglas County Recorder Linda Slater, who oversees the operation.
“There’s sealed records from the court and district attorney’s offices and juvenile matters the public cannot view,” Slater said. “We are essentially the custodians of Douglas County departments. What they provide is important. But it is up to them to decide what is permanent.”
And part of what is permanent is history. Local history. Thousands of names and stories behind those names inside hundreds of boxes containing affidavits, deeds, trust information and lawsuits.
Most have been microfilmed. But many of the documents, especially those historically rich to Douglas County, remain intact and filed away.
Rosemary Petersen, whose job for 7 1/2 years has been to microfilm material, eight hours a day, five days a week, finds the job tedious at times, but mostly fascinating.
“There’s so much history,” she said. “Most of the time I’m not really reading it, but sometimes I’ll come upon something very interesting.”
Like the time a judge asked her to research a divorce that happened decades ago. It turns out a woman who filed for the divorce in Douglas County was a well- known silent film actress in Hollywood.
She’s also heard that a marriage involving Clark Gable is somewhere, buried inside boxes or on microfilm inside the records center.
“I don’t go out of my way to look for things. Sometimes you just stumble on them like I did with the actress,” Petersen said.
Also interesting is the origins of Douglas County’s first settlers. Much of the ranch land owned in Douglas has been passed down from generation to generation, she said.
Still, not even the records department personnel is quite sure what’s inside some of the more historic files.
While most information that has been deemed historic has been moved to the state archives office, much of it probably hasn’t been read in 50 years.
Those boxes could contain historical documents involving land trades, gun fights, public floggings and just about anything associated with Nevada’s Wild West past.
Not many counties in the state have their own records management division. That’s why it’s been a source of fascination with county leaders from throughout the state.
“Sometimes, we’ll do private tours of the facility with county officials who are looking to set up their own records office. They are amazed at how we have it organized,” Slater said.
The place is so organized that only those who work there know where to find materials, Christen added.
“That’s the simplicity of it. We know where to find things. So if someone were to get in and had something in mind to look for, they couldn’t find it,” he said.
n Staff Writer Jeff Munson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org