Your history is next on the county chopping block

Nye County taxpayers subsidize two museums and, surprise, surprise, they are probably going to have that funding cut by the next budget cycle.

I’m a big fan of museums. Any time I travel I seek out a museum, whether it’s the Denver Art Museum or Louisiana’s Civil War Museum in New Orleans.

But I’m also a realist. If the county’s financial situation has forced officials to cut funding to health clinics and senior nutrition, what hope do the museums have being spared the county’s hatchet?

I have been to both museums involved in these discussions: the Central Nevada Museum in Tonopah and Pahrump Valley Museum on Basin Avenue. The Tonopah location has been operating 34 years, and the Pahrump location for 23 years.

Both are very different although their missions are the same, preserving history.

For me, the part I enjoyed most about my visit to the Central Nevada Museum earlier this year was their research room. Being a newspaper guy, I looked through their bound volumes of newspapers going back to the early days of the state. Multiple newspapers from Goldfield, Belmont, Austin and Tonopah are part of the rich collection.

The museum also has a comprehensive collection on the Tonopah Army Air Field, mining exhibits, videos. More than 1,000 books and thousands of maps, photos, and documents fill the museum’s archives. I could go on and on.

When I visited, I talked with Allen Metscher, one of the founders of the museum and president of the Central Nevada Historical Society. His passion is infectious. He has volunteered much of the past three decades of his life to build up the museum in Tonopah, with the help of others, of course.

He has also helped write numerous books with the U.S. Air Force Civil Engineer Center on Central Nevada, including histories on the Nevada Test Site before and after the federal government claimed the land for nuclear testing.

On my desk, I have a copy of his co-authored book, “Notable Crimes During the Central Nevada Mining Boom 1905 to 1910.”

While the books are not directly affiliated with the museum, Metscher used the vast archives to help research the material and gathered more artifacts for the museum from researching the books in the field.

If the doors close, we will lose access to that history.

Closer to home, the Pahrump Valley Museum, in the midst of its third decade, is an important chronicler of this area’s history. Started with an impressive Abraham Lincoln collection, the museum now has the most extensive history and documents on the Yucca Mountain project.

One of the Pahrump museum’s loudest champions (it has many champions) is researcher and writer Bob McCracken. You might recognize his name from the brothel history series that ran in the Pahrump Valley Times last year and part of 2015. He also writes a monthly article on the history of the Pahrump area. His latest column was Aug. 21 on the life of Rhyolite miner Frank “Shorty” Harris.

McCracken was one of the first people who sought me out when I arrived in Pahrump nearly one year ago. He handed me a copy of his history of Pahrump, which I read cover-to-cover in a few days.

On my desk I have copies of his histories of Tonopah, Beatty, Round Mountain and Manhattan, all released on the now defunct Nye County Press.

Like with Metscher, McCracken’s writing uses the archives at not only the Pahrump museum, but also the museum in Tonopah. Many of the photos we ran in the brothel series came courtesy of the Central Nevada Museum.

I have also used the archives for use in the newspaper. When Jacque Ruud, a member of one of the most prominent families in the settling of Pahrump Valley, passed away in July, I called the museum for help. In their archives was an oral history conducted by McCracken, as well as a 1964 photo of Ruud at the old cotton gin that we published in the newspaper.

It is clear that these two important institutions face a tough road ahead to stay open. One idea being discussed is trying to get a ballot measure for a 1 cent per $100 of assessed value property tax that would go to the museum. Right now the Museum Fund is taken from the county’s general fund by approval of the County Commission. A ballot approval would make a support tax permanent and keep the doors open.

But considering how many readers lost their minds when I backed a gas tax increase to help maintain roads (which is basically a done deal), it is obvious talk of even the smallest tax increase sends people into a frenzy on our comments section and Facebook page.

But I’m hoping that is a loud minority of people. Maybe a push for county property owners to support the museums would succeed.

Cutting county funding to Pahrump and Tonopah’s museums would save the county less than $100,000. But as I said in the beginning, with everything from health care subsidies and senior nutrition already defunded, what hope do the museums have except a vote of the people or outside benefactors?

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times.

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