by Janet Ross
If Virginia City brings to mind the old, wild West, Genoa is its old, mild West counterpart. Dating to a trading post operated by John Reese, a Mormon from Utah, in 1851, Genoa has had a relatively gentle history compared to many Western settlements influenced by California's gold rush.
The name, Genoa, was bestowed on the settlement by another Mormon, Orson Hyde, in 1855. He was an admirer of Christopher Columbus and wanted to honor the explorer's birthplace in Italy. (Why the pronunciation varies from Italian – Gen-o-ah, to Geno-ah – isn't generally known.)
Genoa grew beyond the original trading post to include a saw mill, grist mill, churches, hotels, blacksmiths, barbershops and saloons (there was even a poorhouse) to become the Douglas County Seat with a handsome courthouse.
The small town lost its status as a county seat in 1916 following a disastrous fire in 1910 and a general decline as businesses and population moved East to Minden and Gardnerville. New “settlers” began arriving in the late 20th Century (many from California we're told). These new Nevadans appreciated the serene beauty of the Sierra and Carson Valley, a slower-paced life-style, two fine golf courses and, in one new development, handsome Gothic Revival style homes (with all modern conveniences, of course).
These days you'll find a pair of interesting museums in Genoa worth a visit. First is the elegant Courthouse with exhibits that feature the old Jail, Pony Express, Emigrant Trail, Showshoe Thompson and Native American artifacts. The Courthouse Museum is open daily from May to October, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 5th and Main Streets (admission charge). Mormon Station Historic State Park sits on the East side of Main Street and has a replica of the original 1851 trading post with a small museum featuring pionee-era artifacts. (Admission to the museum is $1 and hours vary with the seasons.) The Park itself has a large picnic area with a stockade and wagon shed, open daily throughout the year at no charge.
For an historic place to quench your thirst, Genoa boasts the State's oldest saloon at 2282 Main Street. Equally historic for a meal is the Pink House (193 Genoa Lane); the restored interior alone is worth a visit and, if the weather is fine you can relax in a period rocker on the front porch.
Genoa has more than its share of places to shop. There's Antiques Plus/Drake house Emporium at 2242 Main Street, the Dancing Deer and Genoa Country Store at 2299 Main Street, Petersunn Antiques at 2292 Main Street, Sweet Repeats/Genoa Trading Company at 2285 Main Street, Rock Garden of Genoa at 2291 Main Street and the Trimmer Outpost at 2276 Main Street. Should you want to spend the night in Genoa, there are three unique options. Just South of Genoa at 2001 Foothill Road is 1862 David Walley's Hot Springs Resort. Or, The Genoa Country Inn at 2292 Main Street is in a historic building, as is the White House Bed & Breakfast, next door to the Pink House Restaurant, at 195 Genoa Lane.
Today Genoa's economy benefits from the annual Cowboy Festival in May and the Candy Dance & Craft Fair in September. Both draw huge crowds and the Candy Dance is truly famous for its locally made candy (which always sells out early) and the unique selection of arts and crafts booths that fill the streets of this tiny town. However, the best time to visit Genoa if you've never been, will be on a festival-free day so you can easily park in the town center and enjoy a leisurely exploration of Nevada's oldest town. Genoa is located to the West of Hwy 395, south of Carson City. If you're arriving from the North, consider driving to Genoa via Jacks Valley Road. From the South, Genoa Lane from Hwy 395 will deliver you right to Main Street.