Winnemucca’s General Development:
The first documented non-Native people through this area were trappers and explorers such as Peter Skene Ogden in 1828 and Joseph Walker in the 1830s. Explorer, John C. Fremont is credited for naming the Humboldt River in the 1840s. The 1840s also saw the beginning of emigrant travel through this area as the United States western expansion began and thousands of men, women and children made the trek along the California Trail. Initially, they were lured by tales of the rich western lands that had proven successful for trappers and settlers. After 1848, many were on a mission to reach the California Goldfields in hopes of finding their piece of the new prosperity. The emigrants, in need of campsites and supplies during their journey, found both in the vicinity that is now Winnemucca. 1850s Emigrant journals mention camps along the Humboldt River and even a few trading posts, but no permanent structures at the time.
In 1860, silver was discovered in the Humboldt Range (the range Unionville is located in), and people began to return to the area they had hastily passed up on the way to California. By 1862, Pride of the Mountain Mine was in operation on Winnemucca Mountain. Around this time, silver was also discovered in Idaho and traffic began to increase between Idaho and California. Many of the travelers at the time crossed the Humboldt River at a small camp known as “the community at Frenchman’s Ford”, or simply “French Ford”, on their way to and from the Idaho silver mines. (The river fording site here was operated by Frenchmen, hence the name.) Finally, in 1865, three years after the Pride of the Mountain Mine was established, Joseph Ginaca built a bridge over the Humboldt River.
In 1866, Winnemucca Post Office opened and the community officially became known as Winnemucca, in honor of Old Winnemucca, a well-known Paiute Chief. 1866 is a notable time in the development of Winnemucca, as it is also the year Winnemucca Hotel, was established to serve the traveling public.
In October 1868, the construction of the transcontinental railroad reached Winnemucca and service began to points west. In May 1869, the railroad was completed at Promontory Point, UT and traffic began to flow in both directions. The railroad greatly enhanced Winnemucca’s growth and commerce, as it became a shipping point that also supported the local expanding mining and agricultural industries. As a result, by 1873, Winnemucca had taken the county seat from Unionville.
With the invention of the automobile, new roads and highways were built following many of the old trails. The first major highway to pass through Winnemucca was known as the Victory Highway, which was established just after WWI. By 1938, this highway became known as US 40. Finally, in the late-1970s construction on modern Interstate 80 began. For over 170 years, these named trails-turned-interstate roadways have been bringing travelers through Winnemucca for access to typical necessities – food, fuel, hotels, etc. The lure of the neon-nightlife, iconic of Nevada casinos, has also drawn many travelers over the decades to Winnemucca.
Notably, Winnemucca’s commercial downtown has survived several devastating fires such as the 1905 Fire that destroyed Blocks T and S, the 1891 Fire that decimated Blocks Q, R, and M, the 1916 Fire that took out the middle of Block Q, the 1918 Fires that burned down the Humboldt County Courthouse and the four-story El Dorado Hotel, the 1919 Fire that decimated Block I on Railroad Street, the 1952 Dyer Lumber and Reinhart’s Fires, the 1975 Fire of the Humboldt Hotel, the 1978 Fire that destroyed The Star Casino, and the 1992 Nixon Opera House Fire. Each of these fires affected Winnemucca in more than one negative way, yet the community has continued to thrive.
Today, while many of the bright neon lights once found on Bridge Street have dimmed, downtown Winnemucca, the area of focus in this publication, is still the heart of the community. Mining and agriculture are still the major economic drivers, and Winnemucca is still a desert oasis for thousands of travelers annually.
Although many structures are gone today, due to progress and expansion of the town, there are many of these relics still standing proud for visitors to admire.
If you are interested in further history of Winnemucca and Humboldt County, we urge you to visit the Humboldt Museum. Otherwise, we hope you enjoy the selection of historic sites we've chosen along our route.Read More