With a glint in her eye and an infectious laugh, the lady at the Trading Post who stamped our Highway 50 booklets continued on with her story about the abandoned buildings in Austin, Nevada. The owner of the Main Street Shops who had to sell because of her son’s illness also owned the St. Augustine’s Catholic Church. She had deeded the church to the St. Augustine’s Cultural Center for them to renovate and restore for its use. The shopkeeper told us that it was abandoned for now and that we should go take a look.
Typical of many old mining towns, the building was situated on a steep hill so Sar decided to stay in the car and take a nap. Lex and I huffed and puffed our way up the road to see an imposing red brick church with a beautiful tall white steeple. The roof is quite tall and made an acute angle against the blue sky. The brick walls are 20 inches (50.8 cm) thick. To pay for the angular roof, tickets were sold for the midnight Christmas Eve mass in 1866. Enough tickets were purchased to finish the building in the same year.
St. Augustine Catholic Church is the oldest Catholic Church in Nevada and served the numerous mining communities in Utah as well as Nevada. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We looked around the property and saw evidence of the renovation going on. I began to peek inside one of the large windows when I saw a figure in the corner of my eye. I froze with my fingers locked tightly around the camera! Was that a ghost? A burglar? Maybe it was the spirit of a disgruntled old miner with a scraggly beard and bad breath but no. It was actually a pretty young woman beckoning to us.
The “restless spirit” introduced herself as Emily and she kindly invited us (red faced in embarrassment) to explore the old church. We entered through the basement where much of the renovations had already been done. A modern kitchen and lavatory had been created. There were still remnants of the original brick and granite on the wall. Climbing the stairway, we saw old photos of the church in 1895 when communion was being held. The little girls looked very solemn in their all white garb.
The main floor of the church had not changed much since the photo had been taken except that there were murals on the walls. In 1939, Rafael Jolly was commissioned by the church to paint the walls with the story of Christ with colors to match the organ pipes. They were in a bit of rough shape and needed restoration.
Lex and I walked up to the Choir Loft in order to get a better look at the organ. St. Augustine Church has the only surviving nine rank Henry Kilgen Pipe Organ which was custom built in St. Louis. It had traveled from the Mississippi River around Cape Horn to San Francisco where it was taken to the church and installed in 1884. It must have been quite a journey! It was beautifully restored by well-known organ builder, Charles Ruggles. We loved the bright cheery colors of the pipes and would have liked to hear it play.
Emily who was home from college, was helping to get the church ready for a Memorial Day service for the Lions Club where her father was a member. She was very sweet and again, we can’t thank her enough for her kindness to let us visit the historic St. Augustine Catholic Church.