Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013 | 2 a.m.
BELMONT — Rick Main settles comfortably into a wooden chair at the Belmont Inn and Saloon. The native Nevadan with a love for history is living his dream: owning an inn that goes back to 1866.
Originally a row of small, stone buildings, the inn was the center of a once busy mining town 50 miles north of Tonopah. Its original tenants included a mining company, the Nye County sheriff, a courtroom and a newspaper. Since, the building had been used as a telegraph office, a boarding house and a stagecoach stop. There’s a thick, rectangular slab of granite out front that was used to help people onto the stages.
He recalls a California family that, this summer, asked to peek inside his inn. During the tour, one of the children gasped and exclaimed, “You can own history?”
Main laughs at the memory; he sees himself as a steward more than an owner.
In February, he bought the inn and, after some encouragement from local residents, planned to reopen the five-bedroom bed-and-breakfast. But after spending more than $1,200 in various state and county fees, and still facing more costs and a dispute with the state fire marshal, he has put the bed-and-breakfast plans on hold.
And here’s the question: Is it worth the money and hassle and government doing what government does in order to reopen the inn? But what’s the point of owning the inn if people can’t come and spend a night?
In a state known for its Old West live-and-let-live ethos, it’s a strange situation: a fight over government regulation in the middle of nowhere.
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Nevada is dotted with ghost towns of once-booming mining camps that were quickly abandoned once a mine went bust. Wooden buildings were often carted off and rebuilt or reused. The original church in Belmont, for instance, now stands in nearby Manhattan.
But Belmont, tucked in the mountains, is a rarity. It attracts visitors because there’s plenty to see of the mining town that boomed in the mid- to late-1800s.
The road entering town passes the brick front of a large bank building; the home of Tasker Oddie, a lawyer who would become governor and a U.S. senator, is up the hill. A reconstructed church is farther up, and then there’s the sturdy, two-story red-brick Belmont Courthouse.
The few people who live here year-round — less than a dozen — have helped keep vandals at bay, and lovingly describe the small hamlet as being in “a state of arrested decay.”
Much of the credit in preserving the town goes to the hardy Rose Walter, who for years was the town’s only year-round resident. She became known as the town’s protector for two rules she used to enforce — don’t take anything and no camping in town.
Main keeps a portrait of Walter inside the inn, next to the front door. The inn was her home for years, and after her death in 1987, it was turned into a bed-and-breakfast.
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Ownership changed hands a few times, and the inn started showing its age. Time and neglect were taking a toll. Asked if he wanted to by the inn, Main jumped at the chance, describing it “like a baby child you find in the bushes, you’ve got to save it.”
By the time Main finishes the restoration work, much of which he has done on his own, he figures he will have sunk as much money into it as he paid for the property.
The work has been the easiest part of it for Main. The tough part has been overcoming people’s wariness of him.
He is an outsider, an online entrepreneur who lives in Las Vegas and rides motorcycles, and based on that alone, he doesn’t seem to fit. He understands it – he spent much of his life in small communities in northern Nevada, but it’s still frustrating.
He says Nye County sheriff’s deputies have stopped by the inn, just to make sure he wasn’t operating without the proper licenses. And there are rumors about what he plans to do with the place.
One official asked him if it was true that he was going to turn the place into a biker bar, complete with a motorcycle hanging from the ceiling. He later heard a rumor that he was going to fill the inn with prostitutes.
Main shakes his head.
Nye County Commissioner Lorinda Wichman, who represents the area, says some people may not want Main to reopen. “There are folks who want everybody to stay away” from Belmont, she said.
She would like to see the inn reopen because there is no other place to stay in Belmont.
“I love having a group of people there,” she said. “I think it’s fantastic to show off that little diamond we have there in central Nevada.”
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Main, who has a ranch in a nearby valley, is disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm for his renovation plans.
He was stunned, for example, when Wichman suggested creating a 9 percent hotel tax for Belmont, which would go to fund tourism efforts. Although it failed to gain the approval of the town’s advisory board, Main saw it as a “tax on me,” because only the inn would be targeted.
The final straw came as he tried to finalize his occupancy permit.
An inspector in the state fire marshal’s office had told Main to put up lighted exit signs. He said they weren’t there when he bought the inn, but he bought them and tried to comply. Then, on another visit, the inspector told Main told he needed emergency lighting in the saloon.
Main was concerned the lights and signs would hurt the building’s historic character.
State Fire Marshal Peter Mulvihill said his office didn’t want to take away from the building’s character, but that safety was still the main concern.
“If it’s dark outside and there’s smoke, could you get outside if the lights go out?” Mulvihill asked. He added that there had to be “some minimal level of emergency lighting should the power go out.”
Main wondered about that, too. The saloon is a small, a few paces wide at most, so he couldn’t imagine that it would be hard to get out. And when he bought the inn, he found no evidence that there had ever been emergency lighting or exit signs in the inn. Besides, there’s no electrical power running into Belmont. The previous owners used a generator. He installed a solar system and a windmill that generates electricity.
Regardless, it didn’t make sense to Main. He was concerned about cutting into stone walls or running conduit up them and hanging signs and lights in a building that apparently never had them.
So instead of putting up exit signs or more emergency lighting, he put up private property signs around the inn.
“I just went back to my original plan: save the place,” he said. “I don’t need a business, but I’d like to have one.”
The inn is now only open to “family, friends and restoration volunteers” — people who will help with work projects to preserve the history.
Main looks around the inn, the old pictures on the wall, the antique wood stoves, the refinished floors and pauses, thinking about what’s next.
“I want to share,” he said. “I don’t want to be stingy.”