The Nevada Traveler: Austin’s Churches Have Colorful Historical Stories
The St. Augustine Cultural Center in Austin is one of the oldest churches in the community, built in 1866 as a Catholic church.
The churches hark back to when Austin was one of the largest communities in the state, when, at its height in 1865, up to 10,000 people lived there.
Located 170 miles east of Carson City via US 50, Austin was established in mid-1862, following the discovery of silver in nearby Pony Canyon by William H. Talcott, a former pilot of the Pony Express.
In less than a year, Austin had grown enough to be the obvious choice for the county seat of Lander County (in the territory of Nevada).
By the late 1860s, the community had its own railroad, the Nevada Central, as well as several newspapers, banks, a thriving business district, its own mining stock exchange, and those impressive churches.
One of the oldest is St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, at the corner of Court and Virginia streets, which held its first services on Christmas Eve 1866.
Although it no longer belongs to the Catholic Church, St. Augustine’s Church is in remarkable condition despite its age. A local nonprofit group was able to receive state and federal grants to pay for the stabilization and renovation of the structure, which is now known as the St. Augustine Cultural Center, and hosts art exhibits and exhibits. other events.
Court Street Methodist Church was also built in 1866 and was considered one of the finest churches of its time. The neo-Gothic structure, now used as the town hall, is the tallest building in town.
Its construction was financed in a rather unusual way. Around 1865, the newly arrived Methodist minister, Reverend J. Lewis Trefren, discovered that his flock badly wanted a church but there was little money available to build one.
Trefren, however, had a brainstorm. He would form a trading company to fund the church, which would have as its asset a share of the mining claims that had been given to the congregation. Then he would sell stock in this new company and use the proceeds to pay the church.
Thus was created the Methodist Mining Co.. According to Thomas Wren’s 1904 “A History of the State of Nevada,” Trefren headed east and managed to sell some $250,000 in stock.
His sales pitch was simple: The Methodist Mining Co. would pay dividends in heaven and on earth.
Unfortunately, the fundraising plan collapsed before the work on the church was completed. Lander County briefly acquired the church to settle outstanding debts before selling it back to the congregation. In the meantime, Trefren decided to leave town, and in 1868 was transferred to a California congregation.
St. George’s Episcopal Church on Main Street was built in 1877-1878 and is the only one of the city’s historic houses of worship that is still in use as a church. The building was reportedly largely paid for within months of being proposed.
According to the local newspaper, the Reese River Reveille, about $300 was raised on Easter Sunday 1877, which started the project.
Soon after, Allen A. Curtis, one of Austin’s wealthiest residents, pledged to pay for the “framework of the building,” which included carpentry and carpentry, while another member of the congregation agreed to pay for an organ.
A local merchant donated a 900 pound bell for the church. The bell was made in New York and contains silver that was mined in Austin (which is said to give the bell a “silver” tone).
St. George’s still has its original Mills pipe organ, which traveled around the horn by boat to San Francisco and was brought to Austin by railcar. A rather unique feature of the church is that the entrance to the bell tower is also a bathroom. A person must stand above the toilet to reach the rope that rings the bell.
For more information, visit www.austinnevada.com.