Genoa is a small town with a lot of history! Settled in the flat valley of the Carson River, at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Genoa couldn’t be more different than the Italian town that bears the same name.
Genoa brags about having the first courthouse, hotel and newspaper in Nevada, as well as the oldest ‘thirst parlor’ in the state. But first, let’s find out more about its history.
A Brief History of Genoa, Nevada
Originally known as Mormon Station, Genoa was the first recorded settlement in Nevada. 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 Sierra Nevada mountains. The post served as a place 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. As a result, 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.)
Things to Do in Genoa
Genoa may be just a tiny settlement, but it bustles with activity. Thousands of tourists visit it every year. We pass through Genoa when we go skiing to Lake Tahoe, in winter. We also pass through on our way to Carson City, when we stay in Lake Tahoe. It’s a beautiful town to visit and considering how small it really is, there are quite a few nice things to do in Genoa.
Stroll Down Main Street
By far the nicest things to do in Genoa is stroll down Main Street and notice the charming old buildings that line the street.
Stop By the Oldest Saloon in Nevada
Yes, that’s right. Genoa is home to the oldest saloon in Nevada. Built in 1853, the Genoa Bar was initially known as Livingston’s Exchange, a ‘Gentleman’s Saloon’. Later on, in 1884, the bar was renamed Fettic’s Exchange after its owner at the time.
Today Genoa 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 back in the 60s, when Raquel Welch visited the bar, she saw over 100 bras hanging from the saloon’s ceiling. She asked the bartender what was with those bras. The Bar tender told her 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 be taken down – and they were! Hard to tell whether the story is true or not. Thing is that we haven’t seen any bras hanging from the ceiling at Genoa Bar.
Visit the Courthouse Museum
One of my favorite places in town is the Courthouse Museum. This was originally the Douglas County Courthouse (from 1865 to 1916), the first courthouse in Nevada, and later it became the Genoa School.
Among other things, the museum display exhibits that highlight the Emigrant Trail through Nevada and the Pony Express. You can also see an old-fashioned parlor, a post office, a school classroom, and the original courtroom and jail.
The Pink House
The Pink House, which stands near the center of Genoa, has a very ‘colorful’ history. This was one of the first homes built the settlement of Genoa—but it wasn’t always pink. It was originally painted white and located just up the street. However, the family who bought it a few years later, had it oxen pulled to its current location. They also painted it pink.
Over the years, the Pink House in Genoa was the residence of several prominent Nevada families. But its most famous resident was Lillian Finnegan, the founder of the Candy Dance, a celebration that is Genoa’s largest annual event to this day.
The Pink House is today a modern restaurant serving a fantastic menu. We highly recommend anything that highlights their cheeses!
The Mormon Station Historic Park
The Mormon Station historic park is an interpreting the site of the oldest establishment in Nevada. The site was once a trading post providing supplies to weary emigrants heading to California in search of gold.
The structures in the park are replicas of the original 1851 Mormon Station trading post that burned down in 1910.
A small log cabin museum, built in 1947, houses artifacts and displays of information from Nevada’s early days. Among these artifact are the skis of “Snowshoe” Thompson, Lake Tahoe’s first mailman. The site also includes a stockade area with several wagons, meandering pathways, individual picnic sites, and a small pavilion.
This local and historic cemetery is worth a visit as an add-on to your Courthouse Museum visit. It is well-maintained and easily accessible and helps paint the story of old-time life and hardships.
There are some notable grave sits such as that of “Snowshoe” Thompson, who was famous for delivering the mail in the Sierras. The grave site of David Walley of David Walley Hot Springs Resort is also here.
Where to Stay in Genoa, Nevada
The nicest place to stay in Genoa is the David Walley’s Resort, a relaxing retreat surrounded by the picturesque Sierra Nevada Mountains. The resort features five on-site hot spring mineral pools.
There are also several bed and breakfasts to stay at in Genoa, many of which are located in restored Victorian houses. One of these is the White House Inn, which is filled with antiques.
Genoa is only 20 miles down the road from the beautiful Lake Tahoe and about 12 miles from Carson City, so either of these two cities would work out for lodging as well.