Though the area was a stop for thousands of emigrants traveling west toward California as early as the 1840s, a town didn't develop until December 1868 when the Central Pacific Railroad arrived. Within the first months of 1869, a tent community quickly sprang up with a post office and stage routes to Tuscarora, Cope, Hamilton, and other regional mining camps. Due to its quick growth, Elko became the seat of its own county on March 5, 1869, when Elko County was carved out of Lander County. By June, Elko had a wide array of stores, blacksmiths, and restaurants, eight doctors and attorneys, and two banks and hotels. The Elko Independent (today the oldest continually-published newspaper in the state) went into publication on June 19, and before long construction was underway on a brick courthouse.

By 1871, Elko's population exceeded 1000. Over 120 businesses were open, including the eighty-room Cosmopolitan Hotel, and the town also had a brick school, hospital, and Presbyterian church. Unfortunately, that October a fire started at the Elko Hotel and wiped out much of Elko's business district, including Chinatown. Only four buildings remained standing, but Elko was quick to rebuild. Soon, plans were made for railroads to be constructed connecting to Hamilton and other mining towns further south, but despite Elko's growth these never came to fruition. In 1874, Elko was chosen as the location for the new University of Nevada, the first university in the state, and it remained here until 1885 when it relocated to Reno. In 1895, Elko again became home for an educational first when the first county high school in Nevada was opened.

Elko continued to boom as an important railroad and ranching center into the twentieth century. The Central Pacific was joined by a second set of rails in 1908 (the Western Pacific), and in 1913 electricity was brought to town. In 1917, the City of Elko was officially incorporated, with J.A. McBride serving as the first mayor. In 1920, Elko continued its tradition of being a transportation center, this time becoming a station with the establishment of the first Transcontinental Air Mail route.

Elko's largest growth increase began in the late 1960s with the discovery of microscopic gold along the Carlin Trend. Numerous mining companies arrived, bringing with them a surge in population, business, and revenue; today three of the world's largest gold mines are located near Elko and Carlin. In addition, the completion of Interstate 80 through town brings travelers through town at all times of the year, and annual events such as the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering bring visitors from around the world. Today, Elko is a thriving city of around 20,000, making it the largest city in northeastern Nevada by a wide margin, and numerous historic buildings remain in the downtown corridor surrounded by newer developments.

Central Pacific Railroad
← Avenal • Elko • Coin →

Western Pacific Railroad
HunterElko • Pardo →

See Also
Sherman Station