NevadaGram #36 – The Earth is Round, and there are Four Nevadas

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Wendover and the gently curving Bonneville Salt Flats.

At Wendover you can see it for yourself: the earth is round. The broad expanse of the Bonneville Salt Flats allows you to see the curvature of the earth from Wendover Boulevard above town. The curvature is visible both day and night but is easier to see at night because of the lineal trail of headlights on Interstate 80. Here are the directions you’ll get at the Visitor Center across from the Peppermill: Proceed west on Wendover Blvd 2 miles to the crest of “Three Mile Hill”. Turn around at the water storage reservoir and head east something less than 100 ft. and pull off the pavement. From here you can look east across the Bonneville Salt Flats and see the wrapping affect of I-80. The highway was built level and flat, or so it seemed. From up here you can see otherwise.

Economically depressed Nevada, Missouri, is the seat of Vernon County, about 15 miles from the Kansas border. That’s Robin, checking the map outside the Court House.

There are four Nevadas. One of course is the state that we love despite everything, and the other three are towns elsewhere on the map of the USA. One is in Iowa, near`Ames, one is in Wyandotte County Ohio (pop. 814), and the third one is the county seat of Vernon County Missouri, just a few miles from the Kansas border.

A few springs ago Robin, Chris and I were driving across country, and took the opportunity to visit this midwestern Nevada. It is a very attractive town, although it was profiled last year by the New York Times as an example of severe economic hardship. Nevada has a county court house of majestic proportions, wide streets of two- and three-story buildings downtown, and the fabulous W.F. Norman Company.

This is America’s last surviving manufacturer of “original” pressed tin ceilings, produced with the same machinery and techniques as a century ago. They also make wainscoting and gargoyles, along with restoration fancy-work for landmark buildings all over the country.

Much of the W.F. Norman Co. business nowadays is restoration work.
You can buy this copper lion assembled or put it together yourself.

Their factory is a dark brick dungeon straight out of Dickens, and they still use the original 19th century belt-driven machinery. The only modern note is the huge electric motor that has replaced the steam boiler to power the belts, otherwise it’s just the way they did it when the process was new: men pouring molten metal from ladles to coat the patterned sheets.

Oh, and they pronounce it Ne-VAY-Duh. That’s right, Ne-VAY-da. It sounds even sillier than Ne-VAH-dah, but that’s the way they say it. They even have buttons for sale at the Nevada-Vernon County Chamber of Commerce with “Say Ne-VAY-Da” printed on them. Of course we stocked up.

The W.F. Norman Co. makes pressed tin ceilings the old-fashioned way.

But they have no idea how the town got its name or why it’s pronounced like that.

It turns out it was all a mistake. My research (which I recite here from memory and in broad strokes) revealed that this section was one of the most violent in the country in the 1850s.

Bushwhackers and Jayhawkers shot one another and burned each other out. The little crossroads settlement here was burned twice before the Civil War and again during it. And every time it was burned, someone would rebuild and rename the little burg. By 1868, someone suggested they rename the town and try again, this time without burning it down.

So the town fathers solicited suggestions for a new name, and one of them came from a man who’d been to the California gold fields and come home to Missouri with some money. He suggested they call it Nevada City, after the

source of his wealth, and they did.

Nevada MO is a calm, attractive midwestern town with a charred and ashen past.

But the town failed to prosper anyhow, and over time people forgot it even had a name. When something finally came up that required a name for the place, everyone scratched their heads and wondered what it ought to be. Finally they restored the 1868 name, but modestly left off the “City” part, and since no one remembered how the name had originated, they mispronounced the other part Ne-VAY-da.

They still do. People there root for the Ne-VAY-da Tigers. No joke.

Everyone we met was friendly, and I’d like to suggest that every Nevadan stop here on cross-country trips, just for the fun of saying Ne-VAY-da out loud. And don’t forget to stock up on buttons at the Chamber.

Overheard in the Pete’s Restaurant at the Winners Casino in Winnemucca: “Not only should they install metal detectors at the entrance to government meetings, they should put lie detectors on all the microphones.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll



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