Washoe County

Washoe County Courthouse Built 1910

The history of today's Washoe County begins almost a decade before the State of Nevada was created. Through the early 1850s, the border between California and the Utah Territory was poorly defined. As early as 1856, this ambiguity was taken advantage of by locals and the unofficial "Territory of Nataqua" was proclaimed between the Utah Territory and California. The movement was led by Isaac N. Roop and Peter Lassen, and a declaration of independence from Utah was made in 1859 - when Roop became the Governor of the "Provisional Territory of Nevada". On March 2, 1861, the Nevada Territory was officially recognized by Congress.

Nevada's first nine counties were created on November 25, 1861. Two of these were Washoe County and Lake County, with the border between them running just south of Pyramid Lake. Washoe takes its name from the Washo Indians that lived in the region, and its first county seat was Washoe City. Lake County was so named for the many lakes it held; these included Honey Lake, Pyramid Lake, and Winnemucca Lake. At this point, the western boundary still had yet to be determined and Lake County's seat was generally regarded as Susanville (though it was never official). In 1862, Lake County was renamed Roop County. In 1863, the border dispute between Roop County and Plumas County, California finally came to a head. The battle between the two counties became known as the Sagebrush War, and in the end two surveyors were appointed to settle the dispute. The final (and current) border was accepted by California on April 4, 1864 and by Nevada on February 7, 1865. It was established then that Susanville and the Honey Lake area were actually in California - not Nevada.

Bowers Mansion
Washoe Valley

Further south in Washoe County, growth continued through the 1860s in places like Washoe City, Ophir, and Galena. Communities were settled in the Truckee Meadows and surrounding areas. A prominent crossing of the Truckee River was at a toll bridge owned by Myron C. Lake. "Lake's Crossing," as it was known, soon became the largest town in Washoe County. In 1863, the Transcontinental Railroad was completed through the heart of Washoe County, and Lake's Crossing was renamed Reno. In 1871, Reno took the county seat from Washoe City, where it remains today. In 1883, Roop County was consolidated into Washoe County.

Throughout the years, communities have come and gone in Washoe County. Many of these have been railroad stations that (with the advent of diesel locomotives) have lost their use. Others have been mining communities where ore has played out. Much of Washoe County's current population resides in or around the Reno area; the second largest metropolitan area in Nevada; stretching from Carson City to the south up through the North Valleys, and from the California State Line east to Sparks and the Truckee River Canyon.

Outside of the Reno area, the northern two-thirds of Washoe County is sparsely populated. A few small towns (part of the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation) exist on the edge of Pyramid Lake. Gerlach is the farthest north town in Washoe County, with nearly 100 miles separating it from the Oregon border. Many of those miles are a part of the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge, created in 1931, and only a few ranches dot the landscape.

Return to Top