Fort Churchill is a historic Army fort near Carson City, NV. The fort was used as a Pony Express station and to deter Native American aggression.
A little more than 8 miles south of Silver Springs, Nevada on U.S. Highway 95 Alternate, Fort Churchill is situated in the quiet high desert landscape so commonly found in northern Nevada. The trip from Reno to Fort Churchill is about 57 miles and drivers have the option of taking the rough dirt Fort Churchill Road along the Carson River from the town of Dayton, NV. The high desert location of Fort Churchill means travelers should be prepared for hot days and cool nights in the summer, and very cold and snowy conditions during the winter.
Fort Churchill State Park
The first thing a visitor to Fort Churchill State Historic Park will see is the visitor’s center on the left side of the road. On the right side of the road just before the visitor’s center is the self-pay station for the entrance fee. In 2010 the entry fee was $7.00. The visitor’s center hosts an informative interpretive display and museum discussing the role of Fort Churchill and the life of soldiers stationed there.
Beyond the visitor’s center are the ruins of Fort Churchill. The ruins are in a state of arrested decay. Building walls and foundations, which were made of brick and adobe, are still present in varying states of decay. The wood from the floors and roofs were purchased and used for other projects when the fort was decommissioned. A paved loop circles around the ruins which occupy and a generally rectangular section of the fort. Gravel walking trails with interpretive signs wind through the ruins. Direct access into the ruins is prohibited in an effort to preserve and protect the structures. Visitors should bring along some water and wear appropriate clothes for varying weather conditions.
Fort Churchill Camping
The campgrounds at Fort Churchill sit along the bank of the Carson River. The campground has 20 sites with a fee of $17.00. Each site can be used by travel trailers, RVs, and tents. Sites cannot be reserved and are available on a first-come first-served basis. Freshwater is available at the visitor’s center.
Fort Churchill, the Pony Express, and the Indian Wars
Construction of Fort Churchill began in July 1860 in response to escalating tensions between settlers in the area and local bands of Native Americans. In May 1860 a major battle between soldiers and Native Americans at Pyramid Lake heavily influenced the decision to build the fort. Beginning in April 1860 the Pony Express became responsible for moving mail across America’s western frontier. This mail service was a vital link for the west because telegraph lines did not yet connect California with the Eastern United States.
Pony Express riders and the mail service were often harassed and even killed by Native Americans. After construction Fort Churchill became responsible, in part, for the safe passage of Pony Express riders through the eastern part of the Nevada desert. The fort’s headquarters served as a Pony Express office until October 1861 when the Pony Express mail service was discontinued. The fort’s headquarters building is one of the better-preserved ruins at Fort Churchill State Park.
Things to do near Fort Churchill
Lake Lahontan is another Nevada State Park that is close to Fort Churchill. At Lake Lahontan, a visitor can boat, fish and camp. Lake Lahontan does not have many trees for shade and charges a fee for its first-come, first-served camps. Buckland’s Station, built by one of the first settlers of the valley, used wood from Fort Churchill in the construction of a number of its buildings. Sam Buckland constructed a bridge across the Carson River here and charged a toll to cross.