The Stewart Indian School is an intact complex of sixty-five extant stone buildings located three and one-half miles south of Carson City. Although the 110-acre complex was once isolated from the town, new subdivisions now encroach upon the site. The school operated between 1890 and 1980 as Nevada's only non-reservation boarding facility founded to educate Native Americans. It began as the Stewart Institute, established by the Nevada state legislature in 1877. In that same year, U.S. Senator William Stewart of Nevada sponsored legislation requiring the federal government to provide funding for accepted students and to operate the school to teach trades that would foster economic self-sufficiency. As was typical at the time, the school also promoted cultural assimilation by prohibiting the use of native languages and the practice of traditional religions and rituals. Initially the school served students from the nearby Washoe, Paiute, and Shoshone tribes, but later accepted students from tribes throughout the West.
The original two-story, wood-frame building no longer stands. By 1919, students learned stone masonry from their teachers, including Hopi stone masons from Arizona, and eventually constructed over sixty stone buildings. The majority of the institution's surviving structures, erected from 1922 to 1944, were constructed of native rhyolitic stone in hues of pink, green, and brown joined with dark mortar. Frederick Snyder, school superintendent from 1919 to 1934, designed many of the stone buildings, drawing on the Craftsman style to establish a unifying form for the complex. In the 1930s the construction division of the U.S. Department of the Interior took over the design of the school's buildings, but the chief architect, Carl Sederstrand, continued to follow Snyder's basic design program in a simplified form. Stonemasons James and John Christopher constructed many of the masonry buildings at Stewart. When the complex ceased to function as a school in 1980, it was initially administered by a patchwork of federal, state, local, and tribal government managers. This arrangement has not always resulted in good stewardship of the structures, many of which are deteriorated or vacant. Others have been rehabilitated in recent years, showing possibilities for the site's adaptive reuse.
During the 1990s, the State of Nevada bought the campus and began using the buildings for classrooms, training, and agency offices. In 2003, the Nevada Indian Commission moved into the former Superintendent's Cottage. Currently the Stewart Community, established by the Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California, occupy some of the buildings. In 2017, the state legislature allocated $4.5 million to create a new cultural center and museum. H+K Architects developed the master plan and renovated the Administrative Building to create the new Stewart Cultural Center and Museum, completed in 2020. The firm is also planning a future restoration of the Auditorium. This represents the repurposing of one of the few extant Indian school campuses into an important cultural heritage site.
"History." Stewart Indian School. Accessed January 17, 2020. https://stewartindianschool.com/.
Rahder, Bobbi, Museum Director, Stewart Indian School. Email correspondence with Ann Gilkerson, September 13, 2019 and January 21, 2020.