New book shares history on Reno
I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Biggest Little City in the World. It’s a place that over the years has boasted plenty of colorful characters and been the site of a number of seminal events and occurrences.
It’s where the Donner Party camped before embarking on their tragic attempt to cross the Sierra Nevada range, where denim trousers were invented, where the so-called Fight of the Century took place, where divorce became fashionable and where gambling moved out of the back alleys to become an acceptable pastime.
That rich narrative, in fact, is the subject of my newest book, “A Short History of Reno,” published recently by the University of Nevada Press. The work is a completely updated and revised edition of an earlier book of the same name written by Myrick and Barbara Land in the early 1990s.
In the book, I traced the history of Reno from fertile valley that once served as a seasonal home for nomadic tribes to small railroad community founded on the banks of the Truckee River to early 20th century center of business and commerce for the state of Nevada to the present day.
The book is divided into eight chapters, each of which tells a chunk of that story. In the early chapters, I focused on the region’s earliest settlers, Nevada’s native people, and then the explorers and, later, the emigrants who passed through the area on their way to California.
Along the way, I shared the stories of people like Reno founder Myron Lake, who successfully parlayed the purchase of a modest roadside inn and adjacent wooden bridge over the Truckee River into a thriving community (with the help and support of the Central Pacific Railroad), and Senator Francis G. Newlands, who saw Reno’s potential as a city.
Not surprisingly, in the course of researching the book, I discovered plenty of things that were new to me regarding Reno’s history. For example, I learned how Reno was first incorporated as a city in 1896—mostly so it could issue bonds to buy the local water and power company—and then dis-incorporated three years later when the water and power company persuaded the state legislature to do so. It wasn’t until 1903 that it was incorporated again for good.
I also learned about Reno’s once-thriving trolley system, which once stretched from Sparks to Reno, and later connected downtown Reno to Moana Hot Springs, and that the fist major professional world championship boxing match in Reno wasn’t the famous Fight of the Century between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in 1910, but rather a bout between Marvin Hart and Jack Root in 1905.
And perhaps the most interesting aspect of the story was writing about Reno’s dual nature as a place that has long permitted and profited from things considered scandalous by much of the rest of the country, such as easy divorce and legal gambling, yet also has sought to be accepted.
I opened the book with a quote from writer Max Miller, who, in 1940, wrote (in a book entitled simply, “Reno”) that Reno is a place that doesn’t care what others think of it because the city’s livelihood depends on mystery and having people talk about it.
He’s probably not too far off the mark, even today. Reno remains a fascinating place, a city with a rich and interesting past that only hints at what’s to come. In other words — still a place that depends on having that little bit of mystery
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.