Nevada Church Opens for Tours
By Dana Magliari | Online Only | Aug. 25, 2008
In a tiny central Nevada town, the state's oldest Catholic church opened for tours this summer, offering visitors a sneak peek of a restoration in progress.
"The goal," resident Jan Morrison says of restoring St. Augustine's church, in Austin, Nev., "is not to make it look brand new, but to look like it's 140 years old." To be exact, the long-vacant church, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, turns 142 this year. It sports a new steel roof and granite support wall that fend off further decay without altering its original Gothic Revival and Italianate design.
But while form remains, function will change. When Morrison bought the building in 2004 from the Reno Diocese for $26,000, she formed the nonprofit St. Augustine's Cultural Center, envisioning a venue for hosting conferences, art performances, weddings, family reunions and other events.
Four years and $353,000 in state grants later, Morrison still has plenty of restoration work left to do. "I had no idea how much was involved," she says, "but I knew it would be a great centerpiece for Austin tourism."
The tiny town of 300 people can use a boost. A bustling silver mining center back in the 19th century, Austin has dwindled to a remote outpost with no bank or grocery store.
Morrison isn't the town's only active preservationist and booster. Restorations are also planned for the local Masonic Hall and an engine house that once served the Nevada Central Railroad. The Austin Historical Society recently opened a new museum, and local merchants received a state grant to spruce up some of the main street storefronts with a historic town square look.
All of which should finally bring to Austin what Morrison (who also owns a local motel) says the town needs: "a reason for people to come and stay overnight."
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