Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013 | 2 a.m.
As small history museums go, there are more than a few surprises inside the brimming Lyon County Museum in the pint-sized farming community of Yerington.
Like, a bound version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 musical “The Mikado,” relegated to a storeroom with old clothes and land-sale documents because there’s no room to publicly display it among the seven buildings that make up the museum complex.
And Yerington wouldn’t necessarily seem to be the most obvious place to research the practice of medicine in the Wild West. But the accoutrements of Dr. Mary Fulstone, the first female physician in Nevada, fill a wall. Some 5,000 baby Nevadans are said to have passed through her hands, quite literally.
Indeed, for a town of about 3,000 people, the museum gives more than a token nod to the region’s history. Sure there are photos of the old days and family keepsakes. But there also are three one-room schoolhouses, including one that had to be gutted after it was used as a bee house, leaving it filled with wax and dead bees.
Add to the museum mix an old gas station (with a rug that advertises six Cokes for 25 cents “not iced”), a diesel train engine, a blacksmith shop and a random mastodon tusk — what’s a museum without a mastodon tusk? — and there’s plenty to engage adults and children alike.
Yerington, about 80 miles outside Reno, sits in the Mason Valley, which locals brag is the seat of Nevada’s pioneer spirit. Local families claim roots to Nevada that date back six generations and before statehood.
So when museum visitors see the re-creation of an old ranch house kitchen, there’s no question about its authenticity.
The region’s story is still tied to mining, ranching and farming, as it has been since the pioneer days. The boom-and-bust cycles that have nurtured a strong strong sense of community.
Like any good museum, this one certainly reflects a fascinating bygone era: a carved wooden roulette wheel, a collection of long rifles dating to the late 1800s, cattle brands, an Anaconda Co. stock certificate, woven Native American baskets and headdresses, and fossils and minerals of all sorts.
And then there’s the tribute to the good Dr. Fulstone, who started practicing medicine in Lyon County in 1919 and retired in 1983 at age 91. Along the way, she founded a hospital, served on the local school board and the state Board of Education and saw thousands of patients.
Her part of the museum includes her old rolltop desk, stethoscope, baby scale, exam table and a cabinet for medical supplies.
Making the rounds of such a large area toughened her but still she was known by the endearment “Dr. Mary.” Well-wishers leave kind remarks on the guest registry “for Dr. Mary’s babies” next to her display — a binder filled with pink pages for girls and blue pages for boys.
The launch of the Lyon County Museum — starting with a converted church — was born out of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. Volunteers also restored the small diesel train engine that operated on the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad in the 1940s through Yerington, and they’ve built or created many of the displays. The volunteers’ focus these days: natural history and a search for fossils.
So what’s to come of the miscellaneous stuff in the storeroom, like the bound copy of “The Mikado”? The museum apparently took the items without much thought as to what it should do with them. But Mary Page, treasurer of the foundation that operates the museum, is grateful; they’re in the museum should there ever be a researcher interested in looking.
“We’re so thankful the people who started the museum were so foresighted,” she said. “They did a wonderful job preserving and setting things up.”
It’s that kind of foresight in creating small-town museums across Nevada that now allows people to look back.
See the project home page at: lasvegassun.com/findingnevada. On Twitter, follow Matt Hufman @mattatthesun and Mike Smith @smithtoons. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/lasvegassun.