If you want to get an unfiltered snippet of early settlement in the American West, a trip to Fort Churchill should be high on the adventuring list. Fort Churchill State Park, just eight miles south of Silver Springs, is a former United States Army Fort that was erected in an effort to protect early settlers in the American West. Today, all that stands are ruins that have fallen victim to time and harsh elements. The sky is the limit when imagining what life must have been like here over 150 years ago, and you can’t take a bad photo of the place, trust me.
A Fort Is Constructed
It all started in 1860, when two proprietors who ran the Williams Station along the Carson River kidnaped and raped two young Paiute girls. Naturally, a band of Paiutes and Bannocks retaliated. A small group of volunteer soldiers and vigilantes [led by Major Ormsby himself] attacked the American Indians in response yet again, which ultimately led to the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake.
As there was clearly some unsettled vibes happening in the region, Fort Churchill was erected in 1861 to provide protection for early settlers making their way West. The Fort was also constructed to protect Pony Express riders who rode through the area. Named in honor of Sylvester Churchill, the Inspector General of the U.S. Army, the Fort soon became a permanent installation comprised of adobe buildings in the form of a square. Later, the fort became a supply depot for the Union Army during the American Civil War, which meant that the Fort was well equipped with soldiers. Although difficult to imagine, a staggering 200 soldiers called Fort Churchill home when it was in full swing. The fort was deserted just nine years later, and ruins—fascinating ones—are all that remain today.
But that’s not where the history ends. In 1859, Samuel S. Buckland came to the area to begin ranching. The Central Overland Route passed nearby, and his ranch soon became known as an integral resting place for early pioneers. By the time Buckland showed up, Fort Churchill had already been abandoned and was in the process of being dismantled. As building materials like these were few and far between in the high desert of Nevada, Buckland saw the opportunity and sprung into action by salvaging materials to build the current two-story building that stands today. The stop became even more well known, and even served as an official Pony Express station. The station is now operated as a museum and serves as a reminder of the industrious spirit of Nevada’s early pioneers.
While the ruins at Fort Churchill have basically been in a state of arrested decay for nearly 150 years, the Daughters of the American Revolution took interest in the area and in 1932, managed to have 200 acres transferred to the state. The National Parks Service helped with some restoration soon thereafter, and the Civilian Conservation Corps built the visitor’s center that still stands today. Fort Churchill became an official Nevada State Park in 1957, and Buckland Station became part of the park in 1994.
Visiting The Park Today
Aside from visiting the original CCC constructed visitor's center and Buckland Station museum, visitors can revel in outstanding hiking, camping, and picnicking. The park also divvies up unmatched photo opps. A trip to Fort Churchill during golden hour will prove that it’s difficult to take a bad photo of the place. The park also offers a horse camp, where riders can camp with their mounts near Lake Lahontan.
Fort Churchill State Park is located along the Carson River, just a few miles south of Silver Springs on U.S. 95A. The park is 40 miles east of Carson City and 36 miles west of Fallon. The best way to access the park is on U.S. 95A on a short, paved access road. The road along the Carson River from U.S. 50 is scenic, but is 16 long, unpaved miles.