Churchill County Museum and Archives

Far off the beaten path in western Nevada sits the small town of Fallon. Blink, and you’ll miss it — as Interstate 50 briefly cuts through alfalfa fields, dairy farms, and a five stop-light-town. Fallon may be small, but its culture is rich and welcoming. Take a stroll down its charming Maine Street, and you will stumble upon unique restaurants and shops. Keep an open mind, and you may be greeted by the “rural wave” or even welcomed into a conversation at a local bar. 

Nestled towards the end of Fallon’s downtown area, marked by a sign “The Best Little Museum on The Loneliest Road in America,” lies the Churchill County Museum and Archives. At first glance, the museum seems modest and unassuming. But after several hours wandering through 6,000 square feet of well-curated exhibits, it appears there is much more than meets the eye.

View in front of the museum

Churchill County Museum and Archives was established in 1956 when Margaret and Alex Oser purchased a Safeway Grocery Store and filled it with artifacts from community member donations. Since then, the museum has expanded its collection and curated its exhibits around local history, western expansion, Native American history, and environmental issues affecting the area. The museum holds many of the town’s community memories and family genealogies, and for this reason—it is local treasure.

Entrance of museum, pre-history exhibit.

Upon arrival, visitors will learn about the local area’s pre-history through a combination of geography, native stories, and native social objects. They can experience a virtual reality program of the town’s “Hidden Cave,” a sacred space that indigenous people used to store objects for thousands of years. The Bureau of Land Management preserved the cave’s archeological dig site, and guests can tour it for free every second Saturday of the warmer months.

View of Stillwater Marsh exhibit, specifically of a cattail house (Toinabi) and a Tule Boat (Saisake).

As guests wind through the labyrinth of exhibits, they will encounter a spectacular space dedicated to the local Paiute people. While Native American history is an essential narrative to Nevada’s Great Basin area, it is sometimes overshadowed by western expansion, geological history, agriculture, and industry. The Churchill County Museum wanted to prioritize the rich native history in Fallon by designing this spacious exhibit to interpret the local Paiute history through social objects, re-constructions, photos, and personal narratives. Visitors will feel as if they stepped into the Stillwater Marsh, surrounded by local wildlife and interesting social objects telling the story of the Paiute.

The "DAM" exhibit, including an interactive touch table.

A unique aspect of Churchill County Museum is its interpretation of local agricultural and environmental history. Beginning with the western expansion, the museum tells how people settled in the Great Basin and established farming communities. But the museum expands on this history, analyzing the challenges and problems that now pose modern agriculture. For example, its “DAM” exhibit showcases just how important water conservation is to the area. It interprets the Newlands Project, a complex development proposed to the Nevada government by Francis. G. Newlands in 1902 aimed at irrigating more farms by diverting existing waterways.

Museums should not just be places where guests walk through, read plaques, look at objects, and leave with vague memories of “old stuff.” Exhibits should make them stop, think, consider, and walk away with new perspectives. Churchill County Museum accomplishes this well with many engaging exhibits that ask guests to contemplate the past and the future. So, if you find yourself wandering down Highway 50 and are looking to immerse yourself in the history and culture of the West—I suggest starting here!

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Lauren Harlow

Lauren is a public historian based in California. She holds a masters in American History from Arizona State University. She has worked at historic sites since 2017, helping small museums with education, interpretation, and collections. When she isn’t visiting museums, Lauren enjoys curling up with a good book, ideally with her cat Einstein.