Historic Structures

Stewart-Nye House, Carson City Nevada

Date added: August 3, 2017 Categories: Nevada House

William Morris Stewart (1827-1909), was one of the first two Senators to the United States Congress from Nevada. He was born on August 9, 1827 in Wayne County, New York. In 1835 the family moved to Trumbull County, Ohio. In 1848, Stewart entered Yale University, where he stayed a year and a half.

In January 1850, Stewart obtained passage from New York to Panama, crossed the isthmus, set sail again and arrived in San Francisco in April 185O. He immediately joined the rush to Nevada City, California, where he remained until 1862; amassing a sizeable estate in mining, selling water to the miners to aid in their operations, and operating a sawmill. In addition to these enterprises, Stewart found time to read law, was granted a license, and in 1854, at age 27, was appointed Attorney General of California. In 1855 he married Anna Elizabeth Foote, the daughter of one of his law partners Henry S. Foote, ex-governor and United States Senator from Mississippi.

The Stewarts moved from California to Nevada in 1859, where Stewart soon became one of the leading lawyers in the Territory, settling first in Genoa, then in Virginia City, In 1860, Stewart moved his family to Carson City from Virginia City, and settled in the house herein described.

Though Stewart and his family resided in Carson, he admitted that most of his practice was in Virginia City. One of the reasons he gave for living in Carson City was its good water supply, compared to the then erratic and unhealthy supply in Virginia City.

Stewart realized that Carson City, rather than Virginia City, would be the more logical choice for the capital of Nevada Territory. At the first Territorial election in August 1861, Stewart was chosen a member of the Territorial Council, He was elected as the member representing district No. 3, Empire City and vicinity, just outside Carson City. Due in great part to Stewart's activity and influence, the Territorial Legislature declared Carson City the capital. During the first session of the Territorial Legislature, Stewart introduced more bills than any other member, and all were adopted. In 1862, as mining litigation was taking most of his time, Stewart resigned from the Territorial Council.

In August, 1862, the Stewarts sold the Carson City house to the Nyes and in 1863 moved back to Virginia City, where they built on Stewart Street, which had been named for him and which is the highest street in the City. The frame home cost $30,000, and was considered far more elegant than the one in Carson. Stewart is said to have given his wife $40,000 to spend in San Francisco on furniture for it.

On October 31, l864 Nevada became the 36th state of the Union. The first legislature convened on December 12 and elected Stewart as the first Senator on December 15. James W. Nye, the other Senator, was elected the next day. Stewart served two terms in the Senate from 1865-1876. It was during this time that his activities won for him the title "Father of the Mining Laws of the United States." He also, during this time, worked for enactment of the fifteenth amendment. Upon its passage in the Halls of Congress, Stewart telegraphed the news to Carson City, and the Nevada legislature became the first of the State legislatures to ratify it.

In 1875, Stewart resumed his private law practice in San Francisco. In 1885, however, he was back in Carson City, having bought a house at the corner of Robinson and Minnesota Streets, four blocks from his former home. It was known, and was stated in the local press, that Stewart had come back to live in Nevada so he could once more run for the Senate. One of Stewarts most urgent reasons for running was to rectify the "Crime of ' 73" (the Mint Bill of 1873) by which the gold standard had been decreed, much to the detriment of Nevadians.

Stewart was elected in 1887, and in 1892, the old law relating to silver was repealed. In 1896, however, McKinley was elected President, and the pro-silver forces were defeated. Meanwhile Stewart had been elected for another term as Senator on the Silver Party Ticket, serving from 1893 to 1899.

In 1898, Stewart was again back in Carson City, this time renting a suite of rooms at the Ormsby House, to campaign for re-election, again running on the Silver Party ticket. He was elected yet again and served until 1905. Retiring from the Senate after 30 full years of service, and 78 years of age, Stewart again returned to his beloved Nevada, this time to Rhyolite, where he lived with his second wife and daughter until his death in 1908.

The Stewarts sold their house on August 22, 1862 to Mrs. Elsie B. Nye of New York City. Mrs. Nye was the wife of James W. Nye, of Madison County, New York, who had been commissioned Governor of Nevada Territory on March 22, 1861, by President Lincoln. In addition to his appointment as Governor, Nye was also commissioned Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Superintendent of Indian Affairs. Prior to his appointment, Nye had been the Police Commissioner of New York City and had been campaign manager for William Seward. When Seward became Secretary of State, he recommended Nye's appointment to President Lincoln.

Nye arrived in Carson City on July 8, 1861, having come by way of the Isthmus of Panama. Three days after his arrival, Nye proclaimed the organization of the Territory completed and announced the Territorial officers. Nye's first official act was promptly followed by others, and in short order the machinery of the Territory was well organized and in full operation. A census was taken in July and election of members of the Territorial legislature was held on August 31, 1861. Nye issued a proclamation that the newly elected legislators would meet on October 1, 1861 at Carson City. From that time Carson City's bid to become the capital was practically sealed.

Much of Nye's term as Governor was taken up witli issues involveing the War Between the States. Nye, known as the "Gray Eagle" steered the course of Territorial government in a firm and steady manner throughout these years. In March 1864, President Lincoln issued the Enabling Act, by which the people of Nevada Territory were given the right to form a constitution and State government, prior to being admitted to the Union as a State. By September of that year, the Constitution had been adopted and approved by the citizens of Nevada, and on October 31, 1864 Nevada was admitted to the Union as the 36th State. Governor Nye carried on as Governor for the first five weeks of statehood. On November 8, 1864 an election was held, and Henry G. Blasdel became the first elected governor of the State.

In December 1864, a joint session of the new State Legislature was held to elect the two United States Senators. William Stewart was elected on December 15 as the first, and Nye was elected on the 16th, as the second. The two men drew lots to decide the length of terms; Stewart drew the four year term and Nye the two year one. Two years later, in November 1866, Nye was again elected U.S. Senator, to serve the full six year term from 1867 to 1873.

In 1872, Nye again ran for the Senate, but was defeated by J.P. Jones, known in the state as "The Commoner". After his defeat, Nye went to live with daughter in New York City. He became senile and was committed to an asylum in White Plains, New York, where he died on December 25, 1876. In his notebook was found a penciled message "come up tonight and swap jokes (signed) Lincoln."

The house on Minnesota Street was sold by Nye's children after his death, and was purchased by Jacob Klein, a well known Carson City figure who at one time was President of the Bullion and Exchange Bank, and owner of the Carson Brewery. Klein left the property to his daughters, who kept it until 1903, when it was purchased by George Frederick Talbot.

Talbot was born in Connecticut in 1859 and came to Nevada in 1869 with his parents. They settled in Elko. Talbot went back East to study law and on his return was admitted to the State Bar in l88l. He was elected District Attorney in 1884 and 1886. From 1895-1902, he was the Judge for State Judicial District No. 4 which included Elko, White Pine, and Lincoln Counties. In November 1902 he was elected a Judge of the State Supreme Court, and moved to Carson City the next year. Under the State Constitution, by virtue of being the senior Justice, he became Chief Justice in 1907. Talbot was also an early President of the Nevada Historical Society. He sold this house in 1917, three years after the expiration of his term on the Supreme Court. Since that time, the house has served as the rectory for the Roman Catholic Church of St. Teresa of Avila which is located directly across King Street.