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Reno - History

Reno History

In the 1850s, travelers on the Humboldt Trail to California crossed the Truckee River at Truckee Meadows (where Reno now stands), followed the river up into the mountains north of Lake Tahoe and crossed the Sierra at Donner Pass - basically the route of today's I-80. Several people established river crossings and charged tolls; the most enterprising of them, Myron Lake, also built a hotel, saloon and several miles of road to steer people to his bridge. When the mining boom began in Virginia City, Lake's crossing became a busy thoroughfare, and Lake became rich, acquiring most of the surrounding land.

When the Central Pacific Railroad came through, Lake offered to donate land for a town if the company would establish a passenger and freight depot. A deal was struck and, in May 1868, lots were auctioned in a new town named after Jesse Reno, a Union general killed in the Civil War. In 1870, Reno became the seat of Washoe County, and in 1872, the Virginia & Truckee Railroad linked it to the boomtowns of the Comstock Lode. By 1900, Reno was a rough railroad town of 4500 people, though it had acquired a university, thanks to some generous mining magnates.

As the mining boom played out and most of Nevada stagnated, Reno made an economic virtue of social vices. Gambling and prostitution were frontier traditions that became attractions in Reno while they were suppressed in increasingly respectable California. During Prohibition, Reno not only tolerated the speakeasies, but became a place for mobsters to launder their money. The other major 'industry' was that of divorce, easily finalized after a short six-week residency requirement.

Irrigation in the Carson Valley, agricultural development, light industry and warehousing have since helped to diversify the economy. The regional economy has become increasingly dependent on gambling revenues, and associated tourist income, centred around the principal attractions of Lake Tahoe and the region's history.

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