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Place Names

Why is Reno Reno? Or Sparks Sparks? What's up with an odd name like Oddie Blvd.? Our list is mostly from Northern Nevada since that is the emphasis at, but there are some others we think are of interest. If you know of one that isn't here but you think should be, just use our Contact Us form and let us know.

Nevada: A Spanish word meaning "snow-covered." The name floated to the top among several that were under consideration as the territory worked its way through the bureaucracy to become an official state on Oct. 31, 1864.

Reno: Reno was named for Jesse Lee Reno, an American army officer who was killed in Civil War action at South Mountain, MD on Sept. 14, 1862. The choice of name was most likely a farewell gesture to Gen. Irvin McDowell, army Commander of the Pacific, when he returned East.

Sparks: Sparks was created in 1904 to replace Wadsworth as the switching yard on this section of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Originally named Harriman after the railroad tycoon, Sparks was rechristened to honor Governor John T. Sparks.

Black Rock & Desert: The Black Rock is a conspicuous volcanic feature rising above the flat plain of the Black Rock Desert playa. It was first described by Frémont in 1844, and subsequently used as a landmark by emigrants headed for Oregon and California on the Applegate-Lassen Trail. (Click for Black Rock Desert pictures.)

Carson City: Along with lots of other things with Carson in their name, the capital of Nevada was named after explorer and scout Kit Carson. Frémont and Carson traveled extensively through the area in the 1840's, naming things as they went.

Galena: South of Reno, Galena was established to provide timbers for the Comstock mines. Of course, mining was pursued here as well. The settlement was named for galena ores, which were abundant in the area.

Geiger Grade: This steep road, south of Reno, climbs over the Virginia Range to the Comstock Lode at Virginia City. It was named after a fellow named Geiger, who ran the tollhouse at the top.

Huffaker Hills: Named after Granville W. Huffaker, an early (1860's) pioneer and homesteader in the Reno area. Modern-day descendants say he lived in a dugout cave for a while before building a house. Today, the Huffaker Hills in south Reno feature public parks and hiking trails.

Lake St., Lake Mansion: Myron Lake is considered the founder of Reno. He established a small community around Lake's Crossing over the Truckee River. Lake lured the Central Pacific railroad to build a depot at Lake's Crossing, and in 1868 the town of Reno officially came into being.

McCarran Blvd.: The ring road around Reno was named after Patrick McCarran, a prominent Nevadan who, among other things, was a Nevada State Senator, Nevada Chief Justice, and a U.S. Senator. McCarran Internationl Airport in Las Vegas is also named after him. He died in 1954.

Oddie: Oddie Blvd. in Reno/Sparks, and Mt. Oddie near Tonopah, were named after Tasker Lowndes Oddie, twelfth governor of Nevada.

Peavine Peak: This prominent mountain northwest of Reno was named after the wild peavines growing near Peavine Springs.

Pyramid Lake: About 33 miles north of Reno, Pyramid Lake was named by Frémont in 1844 after the prominent, pyramid-shaped rock in the lake. Today, the lake is within the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation.

Spanish Springs: An area that is now the northern part of the city of Sparks, named for the Mexicans who took up residence during the 1800's mining activity.

Tahoe: Numerous locations have Tahoe in their names, with Lake Tahoe being the most well-known. Several sources say the English word "Tahoe" was derived from the local Washo tribe's word for "big water." Explorer John C. Frémont is credited with being the first white man to view the Lake Tahoe Basin in 1844.

Truckee: This name is applied to various features, including the Truckee River that flows from Lake Tahoe to Pyramid Lake, and Truckee Meadows, the valley wherein Reno and Sparks are located. It was named after a Paiute Indian guide and chief.

Verdi: Ten miles east of Reno, Verdi was originally named O'Neils Crossing for a man who built a bridge there. When the Central Pacific arrived, railroad officials named the place after Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi (guess they were opera fans).

Virginia: This name is part of many northern Nevada features. Virginia St. is the main drag through Reno, the Virginia Range rises east of the Truckee Meadows, and Virginia City is nearby. Story is it came from the nickname of an early Comstock miner, "Old Virginia" Fennimore.

Washoe: This word, applied to numerous places such as Washoe County, Washoe Valley, and Washoe Lake, is derived from Washiu, a group of Native American people that lived in the region.

Wingfield: George Wingfield was a Nevada banker, hotel owner, and political power in the first half of the 20th century. He was influential in developing Reno's gambling-and-divorce-related tourism. His influence was such that he acquired the nickname "Sagebrush Caesar." He was a most interesting character who lived a rags to riches to rags and back to riches life.


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