Built by a state assemblyman and later owned by the Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, the Belknap House is a well-preserved example of Second Empire architecture in Nevada.
Constructed during Carson City’s heyday by state assemblyman Henry Hudson Beck in 1875, the Belknap House remains a well-preserved instance of the Second Empire style. Its distinguishing mansard roof, which curves downward from its flat top on four sides, includes two arched windows on each side, creating a more refined appearance, while also yielding additional light and living space in the second story. The exterior embraces decoration, particularly on the porch with ornamentation above the posts, alongside the motifs running above its first-story windows, called gingerbread. The bay windows facing John Street give the house greater dimension and character and provide more natural light. Most Second Empire homes are built with brick, but Beck went for the more economical wooden siding, giving the building a distinctive appearance in comparison to other residences of the same era. In 1876, only a year after finishing the house, Beck moved to Reno, looking to fund the creation of a new sawmill, and he lived there until his death.
Oscar Barber purchased the property, lived there until 1881, and sold it to Charles Belknap, a five-term Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court and former Mayor of Virginia City. Around 1890, Belknap opted to construct a single-story addition onto the western façade, adding an extra dining and living room. He also matched Beck’s exterior designs, particularly the inclusion of a look-alike porch for the second entryway. However, Belknap decided to top the add-on with a gable roof, which slops on two sides leaving a gable (the wall) in between the roof’s sides. This design decision indicates the fashionable shift towards other architectural styles in the 1890s, as Second Empire gradually became outdated. Belknap retired from the Supreme Court in 1905 and subsequently moved to the California coast, where he died in 1926.
The residence is substantial at 2,600 square feet, containing three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It went through other expansions after Belknap’s ownership, including two garages built around 1920 and 1954. Interestingly, the house also contains a 1960s-era nuclear fallout shelter, now used as a guest house. It is the only privately-held fallout shelter in Carson City. None of these additions, however, contribute to the historical significance of the site, according to the National Register of Historic Places, as they fall outside the boundaries of the original home and additions. As one of the few examples of Second Empire architecture in Carson City, the Belknap House holds a special place in Carson City’s local history and western American Architecture. Its owners successfully added it to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997. At the time of writing, it is not open to the public for visitors.