History of the Washoe County Courthouse
Presented by the
Washoe County Clerk's Office
On July 16, 1863, Washoe County advertised for bids on the construction of a courthouse in Washoe City and awarded the contract for $15,000. In 1871 the citizens of Reno again pursued the removal of the county seat from Washoe City to Reno. The Nevada State Journal of January 14, 1871, commented:
"It is evident that three-fourths of the population, three-fourths of the taxes, and more than three-fourths of the business transacted in our Courts are from the northern portion of our county along the line and in the vicinity of the Central Pacific Railroad."
On January 14, 1871, a bill was introduced in the Nevada senate providing that the county seat of Washoe County was to be fixed at Reno after April 3, 1871. Reno was victorious! The county seat was officially moved to Reno on June 21, 1871, when the books and papers of the county clerk's office arrived as well as the clerk himself. Upon removal to Reno, the district court held its sessions in a theater and the various county offices were scattered about town. During the summer of 1871 the selection of the site for a new courthouse became a critical issue in the town. Demanding that the County Commissioners look well to the interests of the county and to its future welfare, the Nevada State Journal suggested:
"In making a permanent location for the courthouse, the County Commissioners should not be influenced by the selfish interests of this or that man. Reno is a permanent and growing town, and the courthouse should be located with a view to the future. It should not be too near the river, for the noise and confusion of the rushing waters, whenever the river is at a high stage, is a very serious objection. It should not be on or near the business streets of the town, where the noise and clatter of the surrounding business would seriously interfere with court affairs. It should be located sufficiently near the business portion of the town, on a plat of ground large enough for plenty of room on all sides of the building, so that the surroundings can be adorned with shade trees and ornamental shrubbery."
By July 1871 a four-way fight had developed over the site of the permanent location of the courthouse. Three sites north of the Truckee River in the town's commercial area were offered to the county, and Myron C. Lake tendered a one-acre site on the south side of the river (a portion of Lake's addition to the original town) for $1,500 in cash, also promising to set out shade trees, lay out a public square in front of the site and to supply water to the county property.
Acceptance by the County Commissioners of Lake's offer on July 7, 1871, brought forth unhappy protests from both citizens and newspapers. The Nevada State Journal maintained that the location of the county buildings on the south side of the Truckee River was against the wishes of three-fourths of the taxpayers and decidedly against the manifest interests of the county. Calling for a reexamination of the Commissioners' action, the editor continued:
"It is believed that the Commissioners may have acted hastily, and without reviewing the subject in all its bearings, in having located the county buildings on the opposite side of the Truckee River from that on which Reno is situated. The almost if not entirely unanimous wish of the voters of Reno is that the order shall be reviewed and the subject thoroughly reexamined. * * * The courthouse, if located at Lake's, could be accessible to the people of Reno by ferryboat or bridge only, and if Lake's bridge were impassible the traveling of 8 miles by the way of Glendale or 10 miles by the way of Hunter's would be required."
Despite the open opposition to their site selection, the Commissioners stood their ground, and on September 10, 1871, the board opened bids and awarded the building contract to S. F. Hoole for $20,500. Three days before the award, an action was commenced on the ground that the selected site was not in the Town of Reno, the place to which the county seat had been removed, seeking to restrain the Commissioners from erecting the county buildings outside of the original plat of Reno on the south side of the river. Judge Harris denied the injunction on October 6, 1871, and an appeal to the Supreme Court was dismissed. Construction began on the courthouse on April 20, 1872.++
++ - Excerpt from History of Washoe County contained within the Washoe County Code.
The Washoe County Courthouse Restoration Project
For more information write to:
Washoe County Historical & Preservation Society
P.O. Box 1125
Reno, NV 89504