Elko, Nevada

Quick early facts

1868 Established as a settlement at the east end of the Central Pacific Railroad tracks
1869 Elko County formed and Elko named the county seat
1869 Elko County Courthouse was built
1869 Elko Independent – Elko’s first newspaper – began publication
1870 Elko’s first school opened
1871 Fire destroys most of the business district
1874 Elko was selected as the first site of the University of Nevada
1875 University of Nevada, Elko dormitory was built
1882 Nevada-wide depression began. Elko’s population shrinks down to 600 from 5,000 in 1874.
1883 Elko Free Press was first published
1885 University of Nevada headquarters moved to Reno
1886 Elko Flour Mill generated electricity and supplied street lights
1896 Elko County High School was opened with 43 students
1907 Chamber of Commerce formed
1917 Officially incorporated as a city

Elko Independent title changes

1869-1872 The Elko Independent
1872-1887 The Weekly Elko Independent
1885-1915 Daily Independent
1887-1914 Weekly Independent
1915-current Elko Independent

Elko, the earliest existing photo (1869)

Elko County Courthouse (1869)

Elko Rail Station, Depot Hotel (1869)

The Episcopal Church (1869)

Elko’s first school (1870)

University of Nevada (1874)

Grammar School burning (1918)

Elko General Hospital (1940s)

Elko County Courthouse

History of the newspaper Elko Independent

In 1868, all of northeastern Nevada comprised one county, Lander County. However, the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad, which followed the old California Trail, bypassed well to the north most of the older mining settlements in western Lander County. With new towns springing up along the railroad, opening new mining districts to the north and east, the Nevada legislature in 1869 carved two new counties, Elko and White Pine, out of Lander County. Elko was founded that year at the Central Pacific’s eastern terminus as a railroad-promoted townsite and railhead to the White Pine mining district. When the new county was created, Elko was named the county seat.

In May 1869, E.D. Kelly, publisher of the militantly anti-Chinese Humboldt Register and Workingman’s Advocate moved its plant from the declining town of Unionville, to the new railroad town of Elko. Kelly, in his first editorial described the founding of the town, “About the beginning of January, 1869, the first tents were pitched on the present townsite of Elko. For the casual observer there was nothing to be seen in and about the sagebrush flat on which the town was built to warrant the belief that at a near day in the future a city of many thousand inhabitants would rise to control the commerce of the Great Basin.”

By 1870 Elko was an important freighting center for the surrounding mining districts, the third most populous county in Nevada. By 1875, Elko County had fallen to fourth, having been surpassed by the other fast-growing railroad town, Reno, and its surrounding Washoe County. But, in 1873, when the Nevada Legislature passed a bill creating a State University leaving the location to be determined by a competition between the counties, Elko’s proposal to donate the land and erect the buildings at a cost of $20,000 was accepted, and in October 1874, the University of Nevada opened in Elko with one teacher and seven students. But Elko could not sustain its growth or meet the demands of the federal land-grant legislation that required the establishment of a school of mines, and so in 1885 the university was moved from Elko to Reno, Washoe County paying Elko County the $20,000 it had expended in construction of buildings.

E.D. Kelly was impatient with what he considered the slow pace of Elko’s boom and sold his interests in the Independent to a new partnership headed by his silent partner, Judge George G. Berry. After Berry’s partners left to purchase the Carson City Appeal, Berry hired William B. Taylor, owner of the opposition Republican Elko Chronicle, to run the Independent, which had been reduced from its original semiweekly to a weekly. Taylor later became an owner but he in turn left for Pioche to start the Republican Pioche Review in 1872. The next year new owners took over the Independent and added a daily edition in 1875. The paper was sold again in 1886 and then again, in 1892 to the W.W. Booher who ran it until he retired in 1914.

Elko declined as mining in the region declined until construction of Western Pacific Railroad reached it in 1908, and Elko businessmen paid the Western Pacific $10,000 to establish their shops and roundhouse in Elko as a freight division point and headquarters of their eastern division thereby providing a boost to the local economy as the rest of Nevada was booming from the great gold and silver strikes in Tonopah and Goldfield.

After Booher’s death, the new owners of the Independent suspended the weekly edition in December 1914. In the midst of the slumping economy, in August of 1916 the Independent published a promotional seventy-six page Industrial Issue filled with local advertisements and feature stories on local mining, agricultural, and commercial businesses. “In preparing the text of this edition on the resources of Elko County,” the editors stated, “we have endeavored to be conservative and not over-estimate. It has been our aim to give plain, ungarnished facts, for the truth regarding this vast empire is good enough. This section has been referred to as the Frontier of the World — the Last Great Land Chance . . . Elko County’s future is as certain as the dawn of tomorrow. All that is needed is the magic touch of capital and labor to develop the resources now dormant.” Despite this optimism, the paper and town struggled, and the owners were forced to reduce the Independent to a triweekly.

In 1920 Harold P. Hale bought the paper Elko Independent, as it was then called, and ran it successfully until 1937 when Warren L. Monroe of the Winnemucca Humboldt Star bought the Independent and remained the sole proprietor and editor until May 1975. Monroe, who served in the Nevada legislature for many years, continued to write a regular column in the Independent entitled, “Hot Copy” until his death in 1987 soon after celebrating his “50 Years in Print” anniversary.

Elko served as the provincial capital of an enormous cattle ranching empire, which, in the 1940’s, attracted Hollywood “ranchers” like Bing Crosby, Joel McCrea, and Jimmy Stewart. Lowell Thomas called Elko “the last real cowtown in the American West.” New mining technologies and booming gold prices in the last few decades revitalized the local gold mining industry and although threatened by the recent drop in gold prices, Elko remains the cultural center of northeastern Nevada, its Western Folklife Center hosting the annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering and Basque Festival.

Photo courtesy:
– Northeastern Nevada Museum, Elko, NV www.museumelko.org/

Text credit:
– Howard Hickson’s Histories, www.gbcnv.edu/hickson/elkohist.html


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