Settled in the flat valley of the Carson River, the little town of Genoa could not be more different than its Italian namesake. Originally known as Mormon Station, Genoa was the first recorded settlement in Nevada. The town brags about having the first courthouse, hotel and newspaper in Nevada, as well as the oldest ‘thirst parlor’ in the state.
The Sierra Nevada mountain range was a fearful barrier for travelers coming from the east and trying to get into California. But long before the great pioneer migration had begun, the Sierra territory was inhabited by the Washoe Indians who were fierce protectors of their land. After the many challenges encountered along the journey, the weak and famished travelers had to face not only the obstacle of the Sierra Nevada mountains, but also the Indian attacks. For a time, a seasonal trading post was established on the east side of the Sierras where the travelers would stop to rest and purchase supplies before continuing their journey across the mountains. With the discovery of gold, more and more people from the east began traveling toward California’s gold fields.
The necessity of a permanent settlement became obvious. In 1851, a small group of Mormons traveling from Utah built a permanent establishment next to the California trail, creating the first community in Nevada. The community was first known as Rees’s Station – after John Reese who opened the first store here. Since most of the men in Reese’s party were Mormons, the settlement was later renamed Mormon Station. But before long, people began calling it Genoa (pronounced as “gen-OH-ah” by Nevadans.)
Genoa may be a tiny little town, but it bustles with activity. Thousands of tourists are attracted here every year by the Courthouse Museum, the walley’s Hot Springs, the Mormon Station State Historical Park that features a replica of the original trading post built by John Reese.
Genoa’s venerable bar is most likely the biggest attraction in town, dating back to 1853 when it was known as Livingston’s Exchange. Later on, in 1884, the bar was renamed Fettic’s Exchange after its owner at the time. Today the Bar is held by Willy and Cindy Webb who proudly share the ‘thirst parlor’s‘ history with their guests. The bar is still being warmed up by a wood stove and since the stove is its only source of heat, the locals often bring in firewood when the hosts’ provisions get low.
Among the many famous guests that have visited Genoa Bar over the years were Mark Twain, President Ulysses S. Grant and celebrities like Carol Lombard, Clark Gable, Lauren Bacall and Raquel Welch. The story goes that when Raquel Welch visited the bar in the 1960s she saw over 100 bras hanging from the saloon’s ceiling. She asked the bartender what was with those bras and he replied that –in the tradition of the saloon– the bras were left there over the years by the many patrons of the bar. After serving her a few drinks, the bartender asked Raquel Welch if she would accept to leave her bra as a souvenir. She agreed on the condition that all the other bras exposed be taken down – and they were! I can’t validate the accuracy of the story, as I haven’t seen any bra at the Genoa Bar.
Genoa Bar has been used as a set for many movies, like “The Shootist” with John Wayne, Honky Tonk Man” with Clint Eastwood, and “A Place Called Home”, starring Ann Margaret. In summer, Genoa is home to numerous cultural events, workshops and festivals, like the Outpost Barn Dance & BBQ, Cowboy Fast Draw Instructional Workshop , or Genoa Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival.
But more than the town’s oldest bar, museums or hot springs, Genoa was home to a poor Norwegian immigrant who delivered mail between California and Nevada for 20 years, across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Snowshoe Thompson, as he was nicknamed, was not only the first mailman of this area, but he was also a hero. No wagons or horses could cross rugged mountains of Sierra Nevada in winter. But harsh weather conditions were not the only obstacle. There were also hungry wolves and indian attacks, but Snowshoe Thompson didn’t fear anything. Twice a month he would load an 80-100 rucksack on his back, stacked with letters and packages and would cross the mountains on his skis in only 3 days. And he did this until his death in 1876, without receiving a dollar for his 20-year work.