Reno is Nevada's third largest city at 180,480 , behind Las Vegas and Henderson (both of which you can see in the US 95 Vegas to Blythe photoessay), and Washoe county's seat since 1871. It sits around 22 miles northeast of Lake Tahoe. Nevada's "Biggest Little City in the World," as it is self-billed (originally "Biggest Little City on the Map," from a slogan for a 1910 prizefight), was historically first established as Lake's Crossing in 1861 by Myron Lake. In turn, Lake's little service community owed its roots to entrepreneur Charles Fuller, who had built a toll log bridge across the Truckee River in 1859 to cash in on the transportation racket to and from Virginia City and the mines. Fuller sold out to Lake after two years, who grew the bridge into his eponymous community offering lodging, meals, and mill and livery service. When the Central Pacific Railroad arrived in 1868 to complete the transcontinental railroad, Lake was anxious to guarantee a rail connection for his enterprise and gave land to Central Pacific in exchange for a promise the railroad would establish a depot at Lake's Crossing. This was established in 1868, at which point the town of Reno was born and named in honour of Union Maj. Gen. Jesse L. Reno, a casualty of the Civil War.
Reno, like Las Vegas, did not gain preeminence in the state until the mining boom died out. Its economy was further enriched with Nevada's legalization of gambling in 1931 and its then-liberal divorce laws that made it the best spot in the nation to cut the knot until other states eventually relaxed their restrictions as well. However, Las Vegas' proximity to southern California combined with the rise of local Indian gaming has tarnished Reno's casino viability (as well as that of northern Nevada in general), killing off many smaller gaming establishments and dropping business for the few large enough to remain. Today, in addition to the remaining casinos (which still do a brisk business on travel weekends), it is also the home of University of Nevada Reno, Nevada's oldest university (established 1874) and the only judicial college in the entire nation.
Old US 395 through Reno survives as Virginia Street, over which the famous Reno neon arch stretches (which we will get to see). This is well-demonstrated on the small map inset at right from 1966. US 395's alignments through Reno are the only other sections of the highway that ever had ALT or TEMP alignments, to be discussed as we reach them. None of them remain in the present day. Click the inset at right for a complete basic city map at that time (64K).
In highway history, the intersection of Virginia St and Fourth St is the historic junction of US 40 and US 395, and also the southeastern terminus of Alternate US 40 from 1955-64 (shown just after its initial signage to the left; note how it is now gone from the 1966 map above). US 40 was the Victory Highway (which we will discuss), the inheritor of the famous "National Road," as well as the western portion of the northern "Donner" alignment of the Lincoln Highway in California (see Part 11); it has been replaced in the present day by Interstate 80 between San Francisco and Silver Creek Jct, UT since 1975, although Reno was its western terminus between 1966 and 1975 after I-80's construction in California. Note the presence of TEMP I-80 shields on the 1966 inset. From its western terminus today near Salt Lake City, it continues on its historic old alignment across the nation to Atlantic City, NJ, its unchanged eastern terminus. As for the Lincoln Hwy, as we discussed in Part 11, the "Donner" alignment then proceeded east on US 40 to Wadsworth, where it dipped south towards US 50 on what is now ALT US 50 today, and then east from there on the "mainline" along US 50. We will talk about the Victory Hwy and a little more about ALT US 40 presently.
The significance of 2nd St on the 1966 map is unclear; it may represent a minor local alternate alignment.
Just like old US 395 in the previous part is now legislatively NV 430, so is old US 395 through Reno (despite nearly all of it still having US 395 postmiles). The majority is also signed as Business Route 395. The oddity is, if old US 395 has US 395 postmiles, then what postmiles does the modern US 395 freeway have? Well, that's another story to be discussed in the next Part.
Old US 395/US 40A more or less from the old US 40/US 395 junction up to Alternate US 40's diversion (modern CA 70) in Part 15 is part of the Old Beckwourth Trail, named for James Pierson Beckwourth (1798-1866, picture at right). James Beckwourth was an African-American explorer who ascended from an unhappy childhood as a slave in Virginia and Missouri to become a fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains in 1824. No pun intended, but his stories made him a most colourful figure and his adventures as a mountain man in the early American west made for entertaining, if somewhat exaggerated, storytelling. What is not in doubt was his keen exploratory and pathfinding sense, enhanced by almost eight years spent with the Crow Indians during which he became a war chief and enjoyed dalliances with many an Indian girl. However, his reputation was ruined by assertions that he deliberately infected the Crow with smallpox on a later visit to the tribe (a point of some controversy), and the American Fur Company declined to hire him back in 1837. Following this possibly unjustified disgrace, he wandered aimlessly throughout the south and southwest engaging in itinerant work and travel for nearly a decade. As luck would have it, he was in the west when James Marshall found gold at John Sutter's mill in Coloma in 1848, and he found prospecting to be a more gainful pursuit than trapping ever was. Naturally, so did everybody else, and the city of Marysville, CA (along US 99, now CA 99, and the junction of CA 20 and CA 70) was one of the towns near Gold Country finding itself flush with miners and no local support for them. Marysville and Beckwourth struck a deal: Beckwourth would help Marysville construct an easier settler's crossing into Gold Country -- through Marysville, of course -- for a fee and expenses, with the hope that some settlers would stick around along the way. Beckwourth's exploratory sense was hardly any the less acute for its long years of use and he promptly discovered a lower crossing north of the Donner with a far less onerous climb at 5,221' in 1850. That pass is still in use, named the Beckwourth Pass, and traversed today by modern CA 70; we will talk about the course of the Beckwourth Trail when we get to its diversion point in Part 15. Conveniently for the city, by the time Beckwourth had set up the trail and was guiding the wagon train in as agreed during the summer of 1851, he discovered that much of Marysville had burned to the ground during a fire in his absence and the city was broke. There is no record that Beckwourth ever got his fee, although there is now a park in Marysville named for him (Beckwourth Memorial Park) at the junction of the Feather and Yuba Rivers, established 1995.
In the last
decade of his life, Beckwourth dictated his memoirs to Thomas D. Bonner,
a local justice, in 1854-55; Bonner made some editorial changes but transcribed
Beckwourth's words essentially as-was and The Life and Adventures of
James P. Beckwourth, Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow
Nation of Indians was published in 1856. Though it enjoyed a certain
amount of popularity only for its presumed preposterousness and there were
also those who regarded any black man to be unfit for the frontier, to be
sure, a large number of his exploits were independently confirmed by other
observers and contemporaries. The book passed through several printings and
at least one translation, the only first-person
document of an African-American in the
American West during this time. Pleased with the fame that his stories had
awarded him, Beckwourth maintained a genial presence in the public eye up
until his death in 1866.
Fork 1: NV 430 (BR 395, Old US 395)
Let's start with old US 395 before we do the freeway. The freeway crosses us on the overpass and stretches south and west to intersect and (presently) terminate at NV 431.
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Crossing into Reno city limits.
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At this point, we are officially S Virginia St.
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However, despite not carrying US 395 shields, and not even legislatively
being US 395 anymore, there are still US 395 postmiles. We will see quite a few
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So. Virginia St signage on a mastarm going by.
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The US 395 freeway crosses its old alignment quite a few times. Here's another.
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Junction US 395 freeway north of Meadows Mktplace.
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And, right next to it, is another postmile.
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Freeway entrance assembly just past the overpass. This is new in vintage as
evidenced by the MUTCD upgrade to emphasize the first letter in the
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Still So. Virginia St, and still postmiled US 395.
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First signage for Business Route 395 and the third crossing of the freeway
over the old alignment approaching the McCarran Blvd "loop" route (NV 651).
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Approaching the interchange. Note the use of Susanville (Parts 15 and 16)
as a control city.
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Onramp and interchange.
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Continuing as S Virginia St and now officially BR 395 (no shields that I
could find, however). Kietzke Lane, to the right, was signed or at least
designated as TEMP US 395 for a period of time during the late 1970s. This
seems to have been related to the construction of the freeway between
Moana Ln and S Virginia St, which was not finished until 1980, so based on
dates and termini of completion for the various US 395 freeway segments
about this in Part 14,
but don't spoil the surprise just yet!), the most
likely dates were 1977-1980 and TEMP US 395's probable routing was Moana
Ln west to Kietzke Ln and then south to Virginia Street. When the freeway was
completed further south, the Temporary US 395 designation was apparently
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Junction with Kietzke Ln. Probable old US 395 TEMP went north (right).
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Impressive columns and crossway over Virginia St.
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The Peppermill Reno, one of the larger casinos on the south side of the city.
West of the casino is Virginia Lake, a very pretty urban park which is nice
for a midday break.
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Dr Evil: "I call it the Alan Parsons Project." Actually, I'm a big fan of
Alan Parsons and saw him in concert when he was in Los Angeles a few months
ago (he even signed my Eye In The Sky CD), so this billboard struck me as a
little nuts. Regretfully, I forgot to bring my I, Robot LP for him to sign too.
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It just wouldn't be a proper sin city without sex shops, now would it?
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Finally, entering the city centre at Liberty St. Virginia St veers west and
north a little here, and into the downtown. Since this is downtown Reno,
we need the neon, so let's take a break and see ...
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Reno at Night
Reno's downtown is heralded by crossing the Truckee River on this very old
crossing, dated 1905 with subsequent upgrades. This crossing is very near
Fuller's old log bridge that established Reno originally. The thumbnail
at right is the crossing during the 1950s (click for a 125K larger view),
which has minimally changed to the present day.
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Looking at the river beneath us.
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Just past the bridge is this fascinating light sculpture
Reno City Hall is in the background, another city hall along the old highway.
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The famous Reno neon arch. This is the fourth incarnation of the Reno Arch;
it was originally created to commemorate the completion in 1926 of the
Victory Highway (US 40) and the Lincoln Highway (US 50, in
Part 11) at the Reno Transcontinental Highway
Exposition, and in fact read, "Reno Transcontinental Highway Exposition
June 25 - August 1." The city asked for suggestions for lettering after the
Exposition was over, and a Sacramento correspondent received $100 for
his suggestion, based on a 1910 prizefight slogan as we mentioned in the
intro. The new lettering went up in 1929 and since then the Arch was
and/or upgraded in 1934, 1963 and 1987 (the last by the famous YESCO
design company; see US 95 Part 2 for some
of their more famous work further south). The three pictures at right are,
respectively, the 1929,
1934 and 1963 arches, with the 1987 arch being the current
one. Note that the 1934 arch has a nice US 395 shield sitting right under it
as we look south down Virginia St. Click each for a larger view (62K and
The Victory Hwy is less well known than the Lincoln Hwy (see Part 11),
but is worth discussing as a historical diversion. It was established in
the days following World War I as a memorial to those who fought and died
in battle with its termini in New York City and San Francisco. Naturally,
as it existed in the same timeframe as the Lincoln, the two booster
organizations competed ferociously for auto traffic and the route became
important enough to be designated US 40 with the rise of the Federal highway
system in 1926. US 40 nearly exactly duplicated the highway except for a
more direct alignment over the Sacramento River and a northern relocation
of the western terminus, and a southern bypass
between Oakley, KS and Limon, CO (the original northern route became US 40N
[now approximated by I-70]), using the northern route to California used
by most frontier expeditions and the Central Pacific Railroad (ironically
partially adopted as the "Donner" fork of the Lincoln) and the
remnants of the "National Road" in the eastern states. Unfortunately,
despite the success of the Victory Hwy US 40 -- it was receiving
sometimes as much as three times the traffic of the Lincoln-US 50 by the late
1930s and as such became selected as a major national transportation corridor
when the Interstate plumb lines were drawn -- it always got considerably
shorter shrift in the history books compared to the Lincoln, and to this day
is still relatively obscure. The modern routing is approximately I-80 from
San Francisco to
Salt Lake City, then US 40 (and portions I-70) to Baltimore, MD, and then US 1
to New York City. Here is a nice collection of
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By comparison, I have always found Reno casinos somewhat seedier than Las Vegas
ones, much like old Vegas during the 1980s and 1990s before the Fremont Street
Experience upgraded the older facades (see our US 95
exhibit). This Fitzgeralds sign captures the difference, I think,
especially if you've been to Fitzgeralds in Las Vegas. Much as Las Vegas now,
most of the new and more modern casino development is occurring south on old
US 395 as Vegas' is occuring along old US 91, and it seems likely that Reno's
"strip" will start migrating south as well.
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A windy night along old Virginia St and the El Dorado.
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4th Street at the Silver Legacy,
old US 40 (and BR 80 on some maps). As mentioned above,
this was the historic US 40/US 395 junction and the
southern terminus of Alternate US 40 from 1955-1964 (Dan
Faigin notes that what would become
ALT US 40 first existed in California in the late 1930s, but this was
not CA 70; this probably refers to the old Oroville-Quincy Hwy and its
connecting thoroughfares [the oldest routing of CA 24]
along which ALT US 40 was originally routed).
ALT US 40 then proceeded north along US 395 into California, west through
the Feather River Canyon, and then southwest into Sacramento and US 99
(now CA 99). When California gutted US 40 as part of the
Great Renumbering, the Alternate
designation became superfluous and was discarded; the 70 number was
freed up when US 70 perished in the Great Renumbering as well, and was
handed to the old alignment. Recall from the introduction that
portions of old US 40A were parts of the
Beckwourth Trail, which again we will discuss more in Part 15.
We proceed north on old US 395/old ALT US 40.
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One of my favourite Dreyer's ads has a cop asking a driver, "Is that an open
container, son?" and when the driver admits it is, the cop says, "... can I
have some?" (On the traffic signals.)
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As we leave the old downtown, we pass by various flophouses and such along the "strip," as it were.
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Sierra Street, part of US 395's
only alternate alignment. Alternate US 395 in Reno is mysterious both from
the perspective of lifetime and purpose. Although
one source (Robert
Droz) gives its lifetime as 1963-5, the map inset at right (click
for a 41K enlargment) is from 1967 and shows it still in existence.
Its course is actually a double alignment, since the streets it was
routed on were and are one-way for much of their length.
NB US 395A branched off at S
Center St, crossed the Truckee, and rejoined at 6th St. However, the SB
alignment of ALT US 395 was far longer, branching off as Sierra St at the
north end of University of Nevada Reno and
continuing south, becoming one way down to California Avenue. Instead of
going east back to US 395, however, SB US 395A keeps going as Forest
Street down to Mount Rose Street, where it ended, and then back to the
I think it's pretty obvious this routing is frankly bizarre and was probably
a nightmare to visitors trying to use it as, well, an alternate to US 395 on
Virginia; it does not represent a historical routing either, as US 395 was
never routed on either of those streets. In the interests of time and
because it was undoubtedly of minor impact at most, I will only mention
its existence and not follow the routing. We continue NB on Virginia St.
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Junction Interstate 80. North of I-80, S. Virginia St becomes N. Virginia St.
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The University of Nevada at Reno. Old US 395 skirts the western side of it.
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US 395 postmiles still appear here too, including this one unceremoniously
taped to a lightpole. This postmile is not metal, but just a reinforced
strip of retroflective material stuck on the pole. There are several like
this, including south of here.
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Through the western portion of the university.
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They could use some lightbulb technicians too.
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McCarran Blvd "loop" route again (NV 651) as we head towards north Reno and
the Panther Valley.
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Still on NB BR 395/NV 430 N. Virginia St, with another US 395 postmile.
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N Virginia St loops to the east to intersect Panther Dr at the north end
of town. The official business route and NV 430's routing continue east to
the US 395 freeway, while N Virginia St continues to the north. We'll come
back to this point, but for now we will continue towards the freeway.
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As proof this is the "official" routing, we have another postmile (hidden
by a road construction sign) on our way to the freeway.
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Junction US 395 freeway. We turn around to get back to N Virginia St for
the next Part and fork. Fortunately, no NHP or Reno PD officers were watching
that particular manoeuvre.
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