Nye County

Old Nye County Courthouse
Completed 1905

Nye County was established in 1864, carved from a part of Esmeralda County. It was named for the Nevada Territory's first governor and first state senator James Warren Nye. Ione was selected as the county's first seat, before being moved to Belmont in 1867. The seat finally moved to Tonopah in 1905.

The county's major boom was experienced just after the turn of the 20th Century, when the towns of Tonopah and Rhyolite grew, exceeding 10,000 each by 1906. Goldfield, in nearby Esmeralda County, also grew to 30,000 during this time period, and all three cities were connected by both the Tonopah & Tidewater and Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroads. When that boom ended, Nye County's population dwindled. By the middle of the century, few more than 3000 lived in the county.

Old Wagon in Ione,
the First County Seat

In 1940, a large chunk of the middle of Nye County was withdrawn from the public for use as the Tonopah Bombing Range, a name which changed several times before settling on Nellis Air Force Range. This range would also become home to the Nevada Test Site beginning in 1950, and from 1951-92 928 nuclear tests were conducted there.

Another oddity in the history of Nye County is the creation of Bullfrog County. The Nevada Legislature created Bullfrog County in 1987 from the area surrounding Yucca Mountain. The federal government was paying to use the land to dump nuclear waste, but the money went directly to Nye County. Once created, Bullfrog County had a population of zero and the money went directly to the State Treasury. In the midst of potential legal problems, Bullfrog County was deemed unconstitutional in 1988 and retroceded to Nye County in 1989.

Striped Hills near Amargosa Valley

Today, Nye County is the third largest county in the United States, and is largely remote and unpopulated. Most of its growth in recent years has been near the southern tip of the county in Pahrump, which has grown to become a bedroom community to Las Vegas. The Nellis Air Force Range makes a large part of Nye County inaccessible, and serves effectively in dividing Nye County into North and South. The Northern part of the county is fairly mountainous and is home to a large amount of forest land, while the Southern part of the county is mostly hot and dry; the epitome of a desert region.

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