Lawton's Hot Springs
and Lawton's Station
March , 2010
By John Evanoff
For thousands of years, the Indians in the Truckee
Meadows who lived along the base of Peavine Mountain used to spear
cutthroat trout in the Truckee River as they made their way up to
the spawning beds at a special wide gravel spot which bent around
a hillside coming down from Hunter Canyon. In the summer, the Indians
also used this spot to ford the river and cross to the other side
where game was plentiful in the forest canyons of the Sierra. When
the 49’ers began to come up along the river, they found the
river full of fish and springs running warm from the hillside nearby.
The years passed and the narrow dirt trail became a railway in 1868
and at this bend in the river about four miles west of Reno, a large
camp called Hunter’s Crossing was set up to move rail and
timbers to the mountain pass to build the transcontinental railway.
At the cliff side, just west of this spot where a large granite
outcrop protruded into the river, the site was called Granite Hot
Springs for its warm mineral waters that emitted from a large crevice
in the granite. The Central Pacific, moved to a site a little larger
several miles east. The Hunter’s Crossing rail camp was eventually
replaced by a large lumber camp and sawmill at what became Mayberry’s
Crossing. Many of these spots were called “jerkwaters”
because the steam engines needed to stop and fill their large boilers
with water kept in water tanks alongside the track. A train crewman
would walk atop the engine, swing the water flap to the open boiler
tank and fill the boiler until the next stop. They were also stops
for loading coal or wood for the steam engines. One of the coal
stops was at Verdi just around the corner from Mogul and Hunter’s.
These jerkwater named stops were as close as five to seven miles
from one another in the mountains where the engines used large amounts
of steam power to move up the grades. All that changed of course
when diesels came on line in the mid 1930’s. As a side note,
the Verdi great train robbery of 1870 actually took place between
Granite Hot Springs (Lawton’s) and Hunter’s Crossing
which later became Mayberry’s Crossing.
During the time the road was being used and the
railway was built, a number of holes were dug in the ground near
the hillside close to the river bend to hold the warm waters spewing
from the springs. A man by the name of Sam Lawton bought up the
land and built a station house and his own home right next to the
spring. This station was used by rail passengers and locals as a
pleasurable stop to relieve their pains in the hot spring waters
in the early 1900’s. Funds were raised by entrepreneurs and
the federal government in 1916 and the Victory and Lincoln Highways
were built. This spot became important again as a rest stop and
watering hole for thirsty radiators and steam powered automobiles.
The Lawton’s spent money to enlarge the station into a motor
inn and added a second outside pool for guests near the small rooms
next to the river. By 1930, they now had an inside pool, large bar
facing the river with an accompanying wooden patio, a comfortable
sitting area with a large fireplace and small dining room.
Lawton’s Station and the river bend where
the river actually spread around a small island attracted more attention
during the period when Reno became the divorce capital of the world.
Business picked up dramatically. Divorcees awaiting six weeks for
their divorce to be heard at the Washoe County Courthouse, lived
at this and many other small motor inns and dude ranches throughout
the Truckee Meadows. People flocked to the pool in the summer and
enjoyed the warm mineral water and if you paid fifty cents, you
could go to the indoor pool and swim in the winter.
The depression hit and many businesses went under
and with time, the outside pool fell in disrepair. Successive owners
throughout the 1950’s tried to keep the old hotel and pools
alive but to no avail. In the 1970’s, another owner, who was
not really the owner of the land or buildings, tried to obtain enough
money from local well-to-do’s to reopen the resort as a high
class casino resort. A lot of money was spent and there was hope
it would open as one of the more opulent resorts in all of Nevada.
Many employees from casinos in the area dressed up in fine gowns
and tuxedos to apply for the jobs and fine dinnerware and extravagant
crystal and silverware was laid out to show off the new dinner house
and an elaborately decorated bar overlooking the river. The fellow
was found out though and a judge put an immediate cease and desist
order on the construction of the River Inn. Bankruptcy followed
and the land was held by the courts and banks to settle outstanding
One can only wonder if one day this spot will see
a grand beginning again. Until then, the earth still shakes along
this fault line as was felt quite strongly in 2009 and the spring
still spews hot mineral waters.