(or Let's Revisit Reno's Past)

I've found myself mumbling elevenses on occasion while doing historical research. I first heard the term in a wonderful scene from the Lord of the Rings movie adaptation by Peter Jackson, where the hobbit Pippin is concerned with getting all the various daily meals that he's accustomed to: breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, luncheon, afternoon tea, dinner, supper. While on their great adventure, the main source of food was lembas bread, and no matter how many times a day they called the meal by a different name, the food never changed into anything other than lembas bread. Similarly—now I know this is a stretch, but this is how my brain works—I realized that repeating inaccurate historical facts over and over never make the facts accurate. So for me, elevenses isn't the third meal of the day, taken at eleven in the morning, but the general number of times that I come across misreported historical facts about something I think is important.

One thing you can sometimes judge by the cover of a book, is how popular it is. The frayed edges, weak spine and weathered images on the cover of the Nevada Historical Society's copy of John M. Townley's Tough Little Town on the Truckee (1984) attests to years of repeated readings. The same goes for Helen Carlson's 1974 book Nevada Place Names. Both books are full of rich, detailed Reno and Nevada history, yet their two accomplished authors came up with very different figures for the amount of land Myron Lake sold to Charles Crocker (superintendent of construction for the Central Pacific Railroad) in March of 1868–the land that would become the town of Reno on May 9, 1868. Townley states, "Myron C. Lake sold Crocker about 160 acres of what is downtown Reno for $200 and had the transcript recorded three days later." Townley correctly sources the recorded deed, but the deed does not state or imply 160 acres were sold. Helen Carlson states, "Lake deeded 40 acres of land to Crocker." Just in the past few years a few more publications have chosen to use the 160-acre figure. Where are these numbers coming from? I thought researchers may have lost the thread to more timely accounts of the sale, so I checked the NHS's copy of the 1958 reproduction of Thompson and West's History of Nevada 1881. It claims on page 634 that the right number is 40 acres. If you're not bothered by this extreme range of claims concerning Reno's most historical event, then I suggest you read one of the many more interesting pages or blogs on this great website.

To say there was a sale of about so many acres, implies acreage figures are fuzzy numbers. Of course, land measurements can be incorrect and therefore contested, but the actual acreage numbers that buyers and sellers use in their business transactions are solid figures on legal documents. More precious than any other commodity, land was surveyed, re-surveyed, argued over, sued over, fought over, and killed over. I'm sure Myron Lake knew precisely how much land he owned when the railroad was nearing the Truckee Meadows. Federal Patent # 177, issued on 08/10/1865, describes the 137.28 acres (lying on both sides of the Truckee River) that he bought from the federal government. The federal land sale rule at the time would have required Lake to pay a minimum of $1.25 per acre (or around $170 total). On the north side of the river were 107.34 acres and on the south side were 29.94 acres.

I would like to show you some of the primary source documents that clearly show how much land was involved with this important event. The deeds concerning the sales between Myron Lake and Charles Crocker don't list the number of acres. Instead, they describe the particular lots and fractional sections of lands that can be found on an official plat map using the Public Land Survey System. To find the actual acreage, one would read the deed, then find the described properties on the appropriate federal plat map, then add together the various acreage figures written on the map.

Section 11 of the 1863 plat map of Reno

The image to the left is an edited photograph of a tiny section of the beautiful 1863 plat map which can be found online at www.glorecords.blm.gov or at UNR's Mary B. Ansari Map Library. Reno sits within Section 11, which is part of a larger geographic area referred to as Township 19 N and Range 19 E. I've drawn a blue border around the patented land that Myron Lake purchased in 1865. The land is on both sides of the Truckee River and by adding up the various acreage figures (for example, see red notes like "A. 37.63") you should arrive at 137.28 acres. That's all Myron Lake had to work with. He didn't even own 160 acres in 1868.

M.C. Lakes's #177 Land Patent

Next see an image of Patent # 177. This is a photograph of a certified copy of the patent from the Nevada Historical Society's Myron Lake Collection RNC 128. It can also be viewed online at www.glorecords.blm.gov. Lake was granted the 137.28 acres on August 10, 1865. He was now in possession of a very valuable piece of land. He could have sold off his land piece part, but he understood the great benefit of having a railroad station built nearby his lucrative toll bridge and hotel operation. Here are the details of the three critical deeds between Charles Crocker of the CPRR and Myron Lake that created the town of Reno and an even wealthier Myron Lake.

List of M.C. Lake's land holdings sold to Crocker

I won't include images of the deeds, but they are beautiful, well-preserved documents that can be found at the Washoe County Recorder's office. At the left is an interesting hand-written document from the NHS Myron Lake Collection RNC 128. There is no author listed, but it begins with, "March 27, 1868, M. C. Lake to Charles Crocker, $200, deed book 2, page 360." In this deed (recorded March 30,1868), Myron Lake sold to Charles Crocker, for $200, his 107.34 acres north of the river for the development of our town Reno. That's about $1.86 per acre.

Myron Lake sold 107.34 acres to Charles Crocker to build the town of Reno!! It's not so tidy a number as 40, or 80, or 160, but really, what's tidy about any of this? The next deed is an interesting one. An agreement between Myron Lake and Central Pacific Railroad Company on March 24, 1868 (recorded July 6, 1868, deed book 2, part 2, page 443) went this way. The CPRR sold to Myron Lake, for $274.95, 109.98 acres south of the river. That would be $2.50 per acre. See the edited 1863 plat map above where I drew this area south of the river within a green border. It included an 80-acre parcel and Lot 7 (29.98 acres) for a total of 109.98 acres. Add that to Lake's existing 29.94 patented acres south of the river and he now owns nearly 140 acres of land in what will become his lucrative Lake's Addition properties.

A hand-written contract between M.C. Lake and Charles Crocker

But wait there's more. Lake paid more for the land south of the river than the railroad paid for his land north of the river. In fact he realized a deficit on the deal of about $75, but before you feel sorry for him, realize this. There was a third deed, dated December 28, 1868 (recorded February 1, 1869, deed book 2, part 2, page 673) whereby Charles Crocker, for $1 from Myron Lake, sold to Lake a couple of lots in Block V in the new Reno township (plus some extra footage), and Lake's existing "Lake Reserve" properties on either side of Virginia Street on the north side of the river, plus nine narrow lots east of his Lake's Reserve property on the east side of Virginia Street along the north side of the river. The exact wording can be found in the deed, but to the right is a photograph of the hand-written contract between Crocker and Lake for the properties listed above. It's a messy thing, but refreshing after the formality of the recorded deeds. This contract can be found at the NHS in the Myron Lake Collection RNC 128. So Lake keeps his developed Lake's Crossing operation on the river. He gets some lots in the new town of Reno and he gets 109.98 acres more to add to his southern properties. The bottom line, after the three land deals, is this: it cost Lake about $76 to secure his vast wealth for years to come. Brilliant.

By all accounts Reno's birth date is May 9, 1868, when lots in the new town went up for auction. The original Reno township map (see below) can be viewed at the Nevada Historical Society. It is yellowed and frayed and stained, and I believe it is the greatest treasure related to our city's history. According to this map, the CPRR surveyed the 107-acre property into approximately 520 lots, within 25 blocks lettered A through Y. There were 144 25' x 100' lots lining the east-west-direction streets north and south of the train depot, and 95 25'-wide lots along the northern edge of the Truckee River. Many of the rest of the lots measured an average of 60-70 feet wide by 140 feet deep. Who knows how many lots were sold at auction the first few days? The claims range from 70 to 400, but I'm not about to research that one. My guess is 70 is probably closer…

The original 1868 CPRR plat of the city of Reno

"Primary sources are the raw materials of history — original documents and objects which were created at the time under study. They are different from secondary sources, accounts or interpretations of events created by someone without firsthand experience." [Source: Library of Congress article at http://www.loc.gov/teachers/] I hope this lengthy, mind-numbing post will inspire some readers to search out some of the wonderful primary-source documents available to us in our archives, government offices and now online. Sometimes we need to call Elevenses in our zeal to publish, and start from scratch.

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  • Paula Riley

    For as much as I like to claim that I know a bit of Reno history, I know next to nothing compared to researchers and historians who dig deep for the recorded facts about Nevada's cities, towns, buildings, and people. Thank goodness for the Nevada Historical Society, which catalogs and stores so many documents and artifacts related to Nevada history, but also the many staff and volunteers who keep this history alive for the rest of us, who might otherwise accept those oft-repeated details that sound good but lack a grounding in fact. Thanks to this thorough article by Henrick, I now know more about the real deal between Lake and Crocker. Fortune masters, those two. Oh, look at the time. Must be off to elevenses.

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