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.
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.