Ghosts of Carson: Children’s Home Cottages

You’ve probably driven by them dozens of times, or even hundreds, without giving them much of a thought. They are close to the heart of town yet easy to overlook. Right there along Fifth Street is a cluster of houses in a park-like setting. Wide expanses of grass, ancient cottonwood trees, with meandering paths between them. The houses themselves have been boarded up for years and have a general look of decay about them. Yet this land, and these houses, are an important part of the historic fabric of Carson City. These are the old Nevada State Children’s Home Cottages.

The cottages were used by the State Division of Child & Family Services as group homes for children who were wards of the state. Some of the children were orphans, others were in the foster system, and others came from unstable homes. Wherever they came from, they came together here as a family. Each building housed 10 children and two “house parents”, a couple who was employed to live on site and care for the children. While living here the children attended school, went on field trips, made friends with other children in town, and got jobs if they were old enough. The Children’s Home provided them with a place to have a home and a relatively normal childhood.

The cottages were built in the 1960s to replace a large stone orphanage that used to sit on this land. The orphanage was a grand stone building; it was constructed in 1903 to replace a wooden building that had been the previous orphanage. That one had been built in 1870 and lost in a fire.

The original wooden orphanage.
The new stone orphanage in 1910.
The orphanage in 1940.
The orphanage in the 1950s, after a remodel that included demolishing the cupola.

1870 was only a decade after the founding of Carson City and 6 years after statehood. So that means that this land has always been dedicated to the care of children.

In 1992 the cottages were closed for good. The concept of state-run group homes had fallen out of favor and the move was made to place children in foster homes instead. After the children moved out, State employees moved in. Since the cottages were still in decent shape they were converted to office space for the Division of Child & Family Services. Some of the buildings were also used as the Carson City Boys and Girls Club. This complex was the headquarters for both organizations until the mid 2000s, when the age of the buildings finally caught up with them.

Citing the deteriorating conditions of the buildings, the State vacated the cottages in 2006 and moved to office space elsewhere. The Boys and Girls Club remained here until 2009, when their new facility was finished on Russell Way. As the buildings were vacated they were boarded up, and to this day they remain vacant and abandoned. It has been the wish of the State to demolish the buildings, but they haven’t been able to come up with the funds for demolition. So the buildings sit here in limbo, unused and doomed, but still standing.

The cottages are not completely derelict, though. They are kept free of graffiti and weeds, though the landscaping is a little overgrown on some of them. The grounds are tended to and open to the public as a park. People come here to jog or walk their dogs, or stroll underneath the cottonwoods. One day the money will be found in the budget to remove the cottages, and in the long term the State has plans to use this land for more office buildings. But for now, despite its proximity to downtown and the Capitol, this is a forgotten corner of town.

This article is going to take you on a photo tour of the cottages as they exist today. At any point the State could decide to allocate the money to demolish these buildings, and this history will be gone forever. This is my effort to preserve them in their last days.

I have written about the home before, in 2006 as part of a Then and Now article about the stone orphanage. I didn’t expect that post to get much traction, but it has become one of the most visited and most commented upon on the whole website. People who grew up at the orphanage and cottages came to leave comments about their memories and their experiences. Some of them were good memories, some of them were bad, but all of them were very heartfelt. I will sprinkle some of these memories throughout this article to give some context to the images. They may be little more than abandoned buildings now, but lives were lived here, and those memories should be preserved.

I have also created a map of the grounds. I was unclear at first about which cottage was which. All the cottages used to have numbers, from #1 to #7. When they were converted to State offices, the buildings were given names instead, named after Pony Express stations. Some of the buildings still have these numbers affixed to them today, some right in the open, some hidden and fading. Other buildings no longer have their cottage number marked on them. With the help of former residents on Facebook I was able to create this map which details what the function of each building was while the cottages were in use. I also marked the Pony Express name, if it has one.

This article is broken up into multiple pages. The first page looks at Cottage #1.

Cottage #1
Cottage #2
Cottage #3
Cottage #4
Cottage #5
Cottage #6
Cottage #7
Administration/Boys and Girls Club
Gymnasium
Other Buildings

14 comments

  1. I think it is a horrible idea to demolish part of Carson City’s history. So many buildings have been lost to demolition and fire. I can’t believe something can’t be done to renovate these buildings back to some sort of useful purpose for our community. How about asking your readers what they would suggest if we could save them?

  2. Have you seen the book..”my life as a home kid: Nevada State Orphan/Children”s Home” ?The author Bonnie Boice Nichkawa lived there from the age of 3 till she was 18.

  3. This is a much needed home again for children can’t we keep it for children in need again. No matter how but it should be kept for kids. The foster care system in this city needs to be expanded there is so much need how can we use this property to help somebody.

  4. I grew up in Carson City, I had a lot of friends from the home. I Loved them all. we all need a little love and friendship from time to time. I wish I could find some of them Like Kenny Medeiros he was a great friend, who taught me how to walk again after falling off a horse, he got me through a really hard time and I would love to say thank you after all this time. Great People came from this place. I think is should still be open for the children.

  5. I would love it if they could restore them, but the cost is so high to remove the asbestos. It is hard to see them rot and will be sad if they tear them down. So many of us in the community are connected to these cottages. Mine was cottage #4 and am so thankful for the love and care I received!

  6. I agree that these homes should again go towards troubled youth in Carson City!! I grew up here, and I still live here now and i see homeless people with young children all over! Can’t we maybe use these homes for those families if not for the kids in general?? Why do they insist on destroying everything around here?? We dont need more office spaces…there are buildings with space open for rent all over town we need to fill those first!!

  7. The last stop in my time as a ward of the state was cottage 6, with Mom and Dad Gay. They were really good people, who did right by me. I wish I had given them the thanks they deserve.

  8. I’ve got so many memories from here. Met a lot of friends living at the homes when I lived in Carson City. I wish I could reconnect with everyone.

  9. I was in Cottage 5 from 1965-1978. My first cottage parents were the Lennox’s but not for very long. We then were blessed with Ad & Stew Osborne, what amazing people. My sister, Kay, was in cottage 5 as well and my brothers, Dale, Carl & Jay were in cottage e2with the Rex’s then the Smith’s. We had Hattie Becker loved her, hated that vacuum. I remember the Christmas dinner that the Harold’s Club employees did every year, Jack Kogen & Wilber May’s generosity. Two weeks at the 4-H camp every summer. Vacations in August,going to Europe. But mostly I remember the kids. Katy, Peggy, Diane , Gayle, Sandy, Debbie, Chris, Erin, Sarah & Cheryl, Rusty, Eugene, Jimmy, Zephas, and so many others. And some not so fond, Pat Reddick, but mostly I have great memories. I hope when some start to think only bad thoughts that they remember what their lives were like before they ended up at NSCH. Find the good stuff and let the rest go. ( well, except for Pat Reddick😉).

  10. The long building in section 11was the original commissary. The wood building was the new commissary. The old commissary has a side door where we took all our sheets on Saturday to be sent to the prison for cleaning.

  11. My sister worked there when 1 house was used for an emergency shelter for kids thru Volunteers of America. I agree they should not be destroyed wish they could be used for the homeless or someone in need. I wish they could remodel them and use them for a service for people. Not for office building.

  12. The seetest thing in the world to me at that time lived in cottage 7. My father a very predjudiced man even to this day says horrible things about the Native American indians in particular the Piaute Indian. But i really love one her name “Jennifer Zuniga” she was beautiful and soft spoken. There were a few times I tried to let her know , but this blond haired blue eyed kid well just wasnt her type lol. I have told my father about her in the most possitive way I could , but he is old and set in his ways.

  13. I lived in this cottage for 2 years 1972 -1974 directly accross from cottage 7. We used to store our bikes on the patio, and I also remember the year they put in that stinky tennis court. Used to play every hour imaginable in the basketball courts up near the main office, and remember the commissary, the special suckers on the sticks that we used to be treated to. My trips to my best friend Rico james’s home down the road. jumping kids with our bikes and make shift ramps. I believe jumping 6 was the limit for me. the baseball field, and the little playground is gone. I had my first french kiss on that baseball field lol. I forgot her name she was sweet but myself a little scared of the whole thing. Going to the public pool in the summer where I learned how to swim after almost drowning in the Carson City River with the guys looking on stunned because i didnt come back up after falling into a fish hole lol. The trip to San Diego, the Worlds fair in Spokane Wa. The trip I took with Mom and Dad Head to san francisco with their two grand daughters. I missed my brothers and sisters at home but I didnt miss the abuses. If i had had it my way . I have pictures of me outside of Cottage one back in the day. A blonde haired blue eyed kid with leathery skin from all the time spent outside. I have a good memory and i can recall many things about being there, just as if it happened yesterday. Like the time I got caught by motorists fro throwing snowballs at traffic. I in my big old snow boots just couldnt run fast enough to get away lol. But i never told who was with me when we were diing these kid things lol !!!

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