Nevada History by John C. Evanoff is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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The Lake's Crossing Trail

The Road that Became Reno's Main Street
October, 2008
By John Evanoff

In early 1857, before Reno was even thought of yet, Charles Gates and John Stone built a toll bridge near where the Lake Street Bridge now stands. Regular spring flood waters washed away the bridge and a Missouri emigrant by the name of Charles Fuller saw the possibilities and built another bridge only to have the same thing happen to him that very next spring. Fuller rebuilt two more bridges only to finally give up after the regular spring runoff of the Truckee River tore through its timbers in 1859. The area then became known as Fuller’s Folly. Very few cities can boast of a river running through the middle of it let alone a river as beautiful and inviting as the Truckee River. Reno began its path to the present because of the Truckee River. The river was named for the well regarded and respected Chief Truckee, a local Paiute Indian who had helped guide the great pathfinder Captain John C. Fremont through western Nevada and kept the peace among the tribes and settlers in the northwest. The early emigrants, including the Donner Party, moved through the region to California and actually forded the river in several areas just east of the Truckee Meadows in the canyons where the Truckee Meadows Waste Water Plant now sits and then traversed the valley south around what is now Rattlesnake Mountain, up along Thomas Creek and back to the Moana Lane area and then back along hills to the river at Lawton’s Hot Springs. They then moved up over the Sierra at present day Verdi and Dog Valley.

People from the Susanville area and beyond in Northern California needed to get their goods and cattle through the valley and on to Virginia, Washoe and Carson City which were startup boomtowns exploding with gold mining activity. A Honey Lake resident living near Susanville named Myron Lake saw the opportunity to make the toll bridge enterprise work and traded land he owned for land that Fuller owned along the Truckee River. Myron had a knack for architecture and the tools to build a strong overpass. He enlisted the help of some Washoe Indians in the valley to help build the bridge using granite boulders from the locale as support for giant Ponderosa timbers. He also graded a road for several miles on both sides of the river. Then, he built an inn and tavern next to the bridge with a corral, stable, a mill, tack barn, blacksmith kiln and small store. He made one horse riders pay a dime to cross the bridge and up to five dollars for a large heavily loaded twenty-mule team wagon.

Lake’s ferocity for business and financial gain allowed him to purchase most of the land within a four mile area around the bridge allowing him to impose a toll upon travelers coming both ways through the area. When the Comstock Lode was discovered, Myron upped the ante and increased the toll to fifty cents for a one horse rider and a dollar for a carriage. When ranchers drove their cattle from the pastures of Honey Lake and Susanville, they had to pay a dollar a head to get them to the slaughter houses at Washoe and Virginia City. With the installation of the telegraph line from Sacramento to Salt Lake City in 1861 and the end of the Pony Express, Lake’s Crossing became a busy enterprise with people moving through at a constant pace. Needless to say, Myron was making a lot of money and started more businesses including setting up his own cattle ranch and range land that extended for miles north, east and south into the Truckee Meadows. He built his first large ranch house in 1862 and was traveling to Sacramento and San Francisco on a regular basis communicating with politicians and railroad tycoons. On one of these occasions, he met his future wife, Jane Bryant and began to court the widow for a couple years leading to their marriage in 1864.

Myron bought a large house in San Francisco and entertained on a regular basis. He worked the politicians and financial district to his benefit and before long he made a deal with Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific Railroad who he had become close friends with during his many social gatherings. Crocker had been working closely with Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins and Collis Huntington to raise funds for the western portion of the Transcontinental Railroad. Lake set up a deal to hand over to the railroad tycoon about six hundred acres adjacent to Myron’s bridge on which he could build a train depot. Crocker knew he would make a fortune with a hotel and business next to the depot and the town site was born. The deal was made with the railroad financiers and Crocker then handed back more than a hundred lots to Myron and began to produce the outline for the proposed city.

All they needed was a name and Lake’s Crossing would not fit because of its length on printed railroad timetables. Crocker was a devout historian of Civil War Union Army battles and recalled a little known Union General named Jesse L. Reno, who was ambushed and killed at South Mountain, Maryland in an 1862 campaign where 4,500 soldiers lost their lives. Union Major General George McClellan of the Army of the Potomac had led an attack against Confederate General Robert E. Lee at Frederick, Maryland and then advanced on South Mountain to defeat confederate troops at three different passes. It was there that Reno had been shot. Crocker named Lake’s Crossing for Reno in recognition of the heralded general’s honorable passing.

The rails were slow to reach the area primarily because of the financial drain of the Civil War, the perilous crossing of the desert and mountain terrain and the treacherous winter weather. Finally, in 1867, the trains pulled into the Truckee Meadows. It was a momentous period for the two entrepreneurs and Reno was finally born in 1868. Crocker and Lake made plans to expand their interests while the railroad was completed over the Sierra with the help of a couple thousand Chinese workers. In 1869, the railroad was completed and in 1870, Myron completed the first two-story hotel in the region. Lake’s tax charter with Washoe County expired in 1872 and his bridge and toll road became toll-free. Wealthy beyond most men’s wildest dreams, Myron was enraged over losing his lucrative tolls and put up a gate across the bridge for a time, defending it with his revolver and shotgun. Eventually, the Sheriff and friends calmed him down and he relinquished the path but then sold the bridge to another entrepreneur named Seymour Kimball.

All the three hundred or so businesses along Commercial Row next to the railroad depot became extremely successful between 1868 and 1878 and Myron’s businesses were doing well also, allowing him to buy houses and other business enterprises throughout the region. He now owned a fairly large ranch house in the Truckee Meadows, a large house in downtown Reno and houses in various other cities in California and Nevada. But for all his business savvy, Lake had problems as a husband and father and in 1879 to try and save his marriage to Jane he bought a mansion owned by Washington J. Marsh built in 1877 on the northwest corner of Virginia Street and California Avenue. He never lived in the house but left it to Jane to do whatever she saw fit with whatever funds derived from their divorce, the first divorce of prominence in Nevada. The two story house became one of the preeminent properties in all of Reno.

Myron Lake died in 1884. Jane Lake kept the property up for awhile until she could not handle the expenses whereupon she sold it in 1899 and lived on the proceeds until her death in 1903.

At the same time, because of the rail spur that moved goods and people south on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad from near where Center Street intersects South Virginia Street all the way to Carson City, most of the businesses along Commercial Way began to expand their enterprises south along that route. Two more bridges were constructed, then a third and a fourth, all to aid in the growth of the Biggest Little City in the World. As more businesses sought land on or near the lucrative road that eventually became Highway 395, Virginia Street became the main street of Reno. Today, most of the world has seen little more than the Reno sign over Virginia Street. But once upon a time, Myron Lake and Charles Crocker stood with a dream, shaking hands to the birth of a Wild West American success story.

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