While the first person to erect a bridge over the Truckee River was Charles William Fuller in early 1861 — planting the seed for what would eventually become the city of Reno — the man who took it to the next level was an ambitious businessman named Myron Lake.
Fuller, who also built a trading post and crude lodging house, sought to profit off all the travelers and pack trains heading to Virginia City and its fabulous mining wealth. While his idea was a good one because he was provided a franchise to collect tolls, nature proved troublesome and kept washing away his bridge.
Tiring of the struggle, in June 1861 Fuller swapped his holdings, known as Fuller’s Crossing, to Lake in return for the latter’s small ranch near Honey Lake, Calif.
Lake is often referred as the father of Reno. Born in Sterling Township, N.Y., in 1828, he grew up in the village of Paw Paw, Ill., located about 70 miles west of Chicago.
After serving with the Illinois volunteer Company D, First Regiment in the Spanish-American War of 1846-48, he returned to Illinois, where, after receiving a 160-acre land grant from the U.S. government for his military service and acquiring additional land, he established a 300-acre farm in western Illinois.
In 1852, a restless Lake, who had tired of farming, struck out for California to try to make it as a gold miner. By 1857, he had moved to Honey Lake, near Susanville, Calif., where, for $50 and a horse, he acquired a cabin on two acres of land.
Four years later, Lake agreed to swap his Honey Lake spread for Fuller’s holdings on the Truckee. Unlike Fuller, Lake recognized the site’s potential.
On July 20, 1861, he placed an advertisement in Virginia City’s Territorial Enterprise newspaper, proudly proclaiming that he had purchased the bridge and hotel at Fuller’s Crossing, renamed it after himself and was open for business.
Initially, Lake’s Crossing seemed as doomed as when it was owned by Fuller. The bridge again was damaged in the winter of 1862 and needed to be rebuilt. Lake, however, also persuaded the Nevada Territorial Legislature to grant him a 10-year exclusive franchise to operate the only toll bridge and road at that location, which provided him considerable revenue.
In September 1864, Lake married Jane Conkey Bryant, whose family had been Lake’s neighbors at Honey Lake. While the union produced one child (Charles Myron Lake), it was not a happy marriage. Lake reportedly was verbally and physically abusive to his wife, who filed for divorce in 1879.
Between 1862 and 1868, Lake’s bridge monopoly proved lucrative. He continued to invest in the Truckee Meadows, increasing his land holdings to some 140 acres on both sides of the river, as well as purchasing a gristmill and kiln above the north bank and making improvements to his inn, which he renamed the Lake House, to include stables and a large barn.
In 1868, Lake reached out to Charles Crocker, construction superintendent for the Central Pacific Railroad (CPRR), which was, at the time, constructing the western portion of a transcontinental railroad line across the United States, with an offer that would prove to be a financial boon to both Lake and the railroad. In return for a promise by the railroad to build a depot at his crossing, Lake agreed to provide the railroad the right-of-way through the area and to sell about 160 acres to the CPRR.
As part of the deal, the railroad also agreed to deed to Lake 109 acres south of the river and, at a later date, reconvey back to Lake alternating lots north of the river. The arrangement was finalized in March 1868 and within weeks the railroad had surveyed the boundaries of the new community as well as named streets and divided up the land into 25-feet-by-100-feet parcels.
It all eventually made Lake a very wealthy man.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.