When the first white men passed through the Reno area in the 1840s, Washoe and Paiute peoples inhabited the land along the Truckee River. In the late 1840s and 1850s, thousands of travelers on their way to the California gold fields lingered a few days in the Truckee Meadows before crossing the Sierra Nevada. The first permanent white settlement along the Truckee River was Jamison's Station. Jamison reportedly was among the contingent sent in 1855 by Territorial Governor Brigham Young to establish agricultural settlements in what was then the western part of Utah Territory.
The discovery of the Comstock Lode in 1859 brought a reverse migration from California in the "Rush to Washoe." A gold strike in an isolated canyon soon became one of the richest silver strikes ever discovered. Boomtowns like Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City and Dayton sprang up overnight. The growth of the Comstock resulted in the development of towns in the outlying area, including Carson City, the Nevada state capital, and Reno, which had become an important agricultural center and transportation hub for people and goods, to and from the Comstock.
Although gaming now plays a key role, historically Nevada's economy was tied to mining and agriculture, and inherent in these industries is the inevitable cycle of booms and busts. Over the years, Nevada has found several creative means to support itself through the down times, and early on Reno earned the title "Sin City." It was a wild and woolly town that placed few restrictions on human behavior. Until the U.S. Army petitioned City fathers to ban prostitution in 1942, Reno tollerated several brothels. Nevada attempted to control gambling from the beginning, and although numerous laws were passed, it managed to flourish in back streets and alleys. Seeking ways to survive the Great Depression, the Nevada Legislature legalized gambling in 1931. Casino gaming, as we know it today, developed in Reno.
From the beginning, transportation has been an important theme in the history of Reno and the Truckee Meadows. The emigrant trails, stage roads, the Pony Express and the railroad have all served to bring people and goods through the region. By the early 20th century, however, a new means of transportation was making an impact on the area's development. The Lincoln Highway came through Reno, on its way to the California state line. With the establishment of the Lincoln Highway, automobile tourism became an economic force in the region, and by the end of World War II, easy automobile access to Reno's casinos thrust gambling into the forefront of the local and state economy. Drawn by gambling, the ease of divorce and the area's beautiful natural setting, automobile tourists flocked to Reno.
Essay by Mella Rothwell Harmon, Historic Preservation Specialist, Nevada State Historic Preservation Office