Proposed rendering, Image courtesy of The American Institute of Architects Archives, Washington, D.C.
Long before gaming and divorce made Carson City and Reno a tourist destination, the area was known for its curative hot springs. Historically people have visited the hydrothermal mineral springs and geysers that extend north and south along the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada. (see image 2) By the 1850s homesteaders claimed ownership to most of the springs and began the serious business of developing and promoting the area. Primitive bathhouses and simple tents were quickly replaced with elaborate Victorian hotel/spa complexes that harnessed the escaping steam and hot water in vapor baths "used with great advantage in the cure of diseases." (Virginia City, Territorial Enterprise, March 10, 1860)
The hotel and health resort built at Steamboat Hot Springs near Carson City was an early mineral water spas, hosting many of the 19th century's rich and famous. Visitors were drawn to the remote area for its western allure as well as its promised cures for blood disorders, rheumatism or "nervous imbalance." Visiting in 1863, writer Samuel Clemens described the hotel as "pleasantly situated on a grassy flat" with the sound of the erupting geysers "a constant rumbling and surging, somewhat resembling the noises peculiar to a steamboat in motion— hence the name." (letter from Mark Twain to the editor Virginia City, Territorial Enterprise, August 25, 1863)
By 1901 the steamboat's noise was silenced...the springs quieted by earthquake activity. The hotel and bathhouses were destroyed by wildfires and the area abandoned by the owners. In 1909 a young woman recognized an entrepreneural opportunity. Dr. Edna Jackson Carver knew that modern engineering could bring the mineral springs back and provide a fitting setting for her osteopathic practice.
Born in Kansas but practicing in Denver, Edna Carver was a new 20th century woman. Trained in osteopathy, Edna was dedicated to the treatment and healing of the total patient. With an entreneural spirit, big ideas and a charming personality said to be " the greatist tonic possible" (The Santa Fe Magazine, December 1914), Carver was driven to spread the philosophy. She used every opportunity to deliver her message of "keeping the right mental attitude" and the close, sympathetic relationship of the mind and body. At the International Conference of Farm Women in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1914) she emphasized to a predominately female audience how a "well-poised, happy, and contented mind plays an important part in maintaining the physical health of the body...It is a great thing to earn a living, but it is a greater thing to live a life." Edna was a dynamo.
When Carver took possession of the Steamboat Hot Springs on 1918, she rebuilt the hotel and reopened the baths. Though she did not allow drinking or gambling on the grounds, Edna promoted the healing power of the mineral waters and muds to broken-hearted divorce-seekers, professional boxers and even the race horse Man o' War. Though isolated from the excitement of Reno, the facility was a popular health resort.
In the early 1940s, Carver's next big idea was to replace her complex and build a major resort at Steamboat Hot Springs. To attract financing she wrote a prospectus outlining the powerful healing nature of the mineral springs, its accessibility from all parts of the country and the potential for profit.
In 1942 Paul R. Williams and Adrian Wilson provided Dr. Carver with renderings and site plans for an additional rehabilitation facility. Both men were experienced in the design of hospitals and medical offices and had worked together previously on large projects. Carver believed their reputations would attract investors.
The Williams and Wilson plan for the Rehabilitation Center was never realized. Edna Carver continued her work at Steamboat Hot Springs, dying at her home in 1954. The work of the two architects was forgotten and the drawings filed away. Included with Adrian Wilson's papers preserved by the American Institute of Architects, the drawings were recently rediscoved by researcher Steven Keylon.
Thanks to Mella Rothwell Harmon for her early work on the Steamboat Hot Springs Spa.