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RENO HISTORY

As early as the 1850s a few pioneers settled in the Truckee Meadows, a relatively fertile valley through which the Truckee River made its way from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake. In addition to subsistence farming, these early residents could pick up a bit of business from travellers along the California Trail, which followed the Truckee westward as far as Donner Lake, where the formidable obstacle of the Sierras began.

Gold had been discovered in the vicinity of Virginia City in 1850 and a modest mining community developed, but the discovery of silver in 1859 led to one of the greatest mining bonanzas of all time as the Comstock Lode spewed forth treasure. The Comstock's closest connection to the outside world lay in the Truckee Meadows.

To provide the necessary connection between Virginia City and the California Trail, Charles Fuller built a log toll bridge across the Truckee River in 1859. A small community to service travellers soon grew up near the bridge. After two years, Fuller sold the bridge to Myron Lake, who continued to develop the community with the addition of a grist mill, kiln, and livery stable to the hotel and eating house. The tiny community acquired the name Lake's Crossing.

In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad, building tracks across the west to connect with the Union Pacific, built from the east to form the first transcontinental railroad. Myron Lake, realizing what a rail connection would mean for business, deeded land to the Central Pacific in exchange for its promise to build a depot at Lake's Crossing. Once the railroad station was established, the town of Reno officially came into being on May 13, 1868. The new town was named in honor of Major General Jesse L. Reno, a Union officer killed in the American Civil War. (Had Jesse Reno not changed the spelling of his name early in life, presumably the biggest little city would today be Renault, Nevada.)

The extension of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad to Reno in 1872 provided another big boost to the new city's economy. In the following decades, Reno continued to grow and prosper as a business and agricultural center and became the principal settlement on the transcontinental railroad between Sacramento and Salt Lake City. However, political power in Nevada remained with the mining communities, first Virginia City and later Tonopah and Goldfield.

As the mining boom waned early in the twentieth century, Nevada's centers of political and business activity shifted to the non-mining communities, especially Reno and Las Vegas, and today the former mining metropolises stand as little more than ghost towns. Despite this, Nevada still accounts for over 11% of world gold production.

Nevada's legalization of casino gambling in 1931 and the passage of liberal divorce laws created another boom for Reno. The divorce business eventually died as the other states fell in line by passing their own laws easing the requirements for divorce, but gambling continued as a major Reno industry.

 

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