Nevada’s capital of Carson City has a rich and colorful history, especially regarding the American frontier. Founded in 1858 during the days of America’s Wild West, Carson City is unlike many American capital cities in that it has served as the state’s capital city since gaining statehood.
Named for America’s famous frontiersman Kit Carson, Carson City is small compared to many other state capital cities with a population of just under 59,000. It was originally founded as a stop for immigrants on their way to California, but once silver and gold were discovered nearby at Comstock Lode, Carson City became an important stop for prospectors and their families.
The rest of this article will discuss the rugged history of Carson City and how it became Nevada’s state capital.
Where Is the Capital Of Nevada Located?
It is no surprise that Nevada is best known for Las Vegas, located at the southernmost point of the state. But Carson City is situated roughly 430 miles northwest at the central western corner of Nevada within Eagle Valley, a point within the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Once the seat of Ormsby County, which borders eastern California, Carson City lies just over 20 miles from popular tourist destination, Lake Tahoe. This enormous lake straddles the border between Nevada and California.
Brief History of Carson City
Carson City’s heritage lies in the rugged terrain of the American frontier. The Great Basin area was home to the Washoe indigenous people for thousands of years, with the first Europeans not arriving until 1843.
The first Europeans to arrive in the land now known as Carson City were military officer James Charles Fremont and his expedition – including famous scout and mountain man, Kit Carson. Fremont named the river that ran through the valley Carson River after Kit Carson, the namesake later being used for the city once the town was established.
In 1851, a trading post was established where Carson City now lies today called Eagle Station, which was founded as a settlement during the California gold rush, since its geographical location served as a natural stopover between Nevada and California.
The Great Basin area of Nevada, including Eagle Station, was part of Utah Territory at the time and governed by Salt Lake City. The locals weren’t comfortable with being governed by the officials in Salt Lake City, as Mormons driven out of Missouri had settled in Utah and established Utah’s local government.
Eagle Station locals decided to form their own local government and established a town, a movement headed by Abraham Curry, who was searching for the best place to establish the capital city of what would soon become Nevada Territory. In 1858, Curry bought Eagle Station and renamed it Carson City, with the intent of turning it into the new territory’s capital.
Abraham Curry built the first hotel in the region – Warm Springs Hotel – which later became the territory’s first prison with Curry as the warden.
Comstock Lode and Nevada’s Silver Rush
It wasn’t long after Curry renamed Eagle Station Carson City when gold and silver were discovered in Comstock Lode beneath Mount Davidson. The population boomed when prospectors and their families flocked to Carson City with the hopes of finding precious ore. The city flourished as a major transportation and freight center during this time.
Not only was Carson City an important center for mining and transporting gold and silver, but was also a significant transportation point for the timber industry – which shipped logs from Lake Tahoe and its surrounding areas.
Carson City impressed James W. Nye, Nevada Territory’s governor at the time, so much that he designated it the territory’s capital city – an honor that Carson City achieved over Virginia City and American Flat. When Nevada officially became a state in October 1864, Carson City remained the capital and has remained as such ever since.
While Carson City’s population slowed and even decreased once the Central Pacific Railroad built tracks to Donner Pass, which was too far north for Carson City to be considered an important stop on the rail. However, the city eventually recuperated its population after WWII.
During the United States Civil War, the gold and silver rush in Carson City was still in full swing. President Abraham Lincoln saw the importance of precious ore mining and its potential benefits for the Union’s war effort and quickly made Nevada a state in October of 1864.
When did Carson City become the Capital of Nevada?
Carson City was the capital of Nevada Territory before Nevada gained statehood, established as the territorial capital in 1858, when Abraham Curry traveled to the region and bought Eagle Station. When Nevada became a US state in 1864, Carson City remained the capital.
Why is Carson City the capital of Nevada?
Carson City’s proximity to the Sierra Nevada mountains and location in the Washoe Valley (Great Basin area) made it a natural choice for a settlement.
It became a settlement because of its location along the California Trail Carson Branch, which was the main road for travelers and immigrants on their way to California before they entered the rugged wilderness of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
Best Places to Visit in Carson City
As far as Nevada cities go, it can be easy to overlook Carson City over the bright lights and gaudy charm of Las Vegas. But Carson City has a unique culture and history all its own that is certainly worth experiencing.
To get the most of your visit to Carson City, check out any of the following tourist attractions:
- Nevada State Railroad Museum – discover the importance of the railroad to the American West
- Washoe Lake State Park – named for the region’s indigenous tribes
- Governor’s Mansion – check out the rich political history of Nevada’s capital city, both before and after gaining statehood
- Nevada State Capitol Building – this small but charming building is a must-see on your Carson City trip
- Jack C. Davis Observatory – created as a partnership with Western Nevada College, enjoy through a telescope the breathtaking views of the night sky unhindered by bright city lights