Sparks has its own unique history with millions of interesting facts and stories to tell, and on this Nevada Day the Sparks Heritage Museum hosted the Sparks History Walk giving participants a chance to learn how the city was established.
Sparks Historian Scott Carey, a Reed High School graduate and son of Sparks City Manager Shaun Carey, guided four tour groups through an hour-long history lesson in a small circle on Victorian Avenue. With stops at 17 buildings in the business district, and pointing to many more along the way, Carey laid the foundation for the city and told stories of the buildings in which local businesses operate.
Carey explained how Sparks began in 1903 when the Central Pacific Railroad was bought out by the Southern Pacific Railroad, who decided to straighten the line between here and California.
“In 1904 they moved the machine shops of Wadsworth to Sparks on July 4,” he said. “They literally picked up the town of Wadsworth--houses, people, trees-- and put it on the train. That’s why Sparks is referred to as the ‘instant city.’ In 1905 the city of Sparks became an incorporated city recognized by the state of Nevada.”
Carey guided groups through the business district discussing the previous businesses that operated in buildings where O’Skis Pub and Grille, Great Basin Brewing Company and Cantina Los Tres Hombres currently operate.
The buildings have seen everything from barber shops, clothing and shoe stores, grocery and drug stores and, not to be forgotten, saloons and bars. One business that has only made one location change in its 97-year existence in Sparks is W.R. Adams and Sons Jewelers & Gifts. Its current building was purchased in 1938 and maintains its original sign.
One shop with an interesting back story is Bridal Boutique, which is located next to W.R. Adams and Sons. The boutique was once the Bank of Sparks, which was established in 1904, and is part of the National Registry of Historic Places.
“One of the interesting things we found out about this building while researching for the National Registry application was that in 1925 this was the site of a bank robbery,” Carey said. “A man named Dudley M. Boyle came in with a gun and ordered all of the staff to go into the vault and he walked out of here with $32,000 and was able to get on a train and get out of town. They found him a couple weeks later in Goldfield before the Esmeralda County and Washoe County sheriffs were able to bring him back up here for trial.”
Carey said the robbery was likely the first of its kind and created a major scene in the town when the trial was brought to the Sparks Judicial Court, which was located where the Sparks Heritage Museum currently resides.
“One of the clerks who worked at the bank, before he quit, was able to copy the keys to the vault and gave them to Boyle,” he said. “Right before the trial (the man who copied the keys) committed suicide and it was a huge media event in the town. If you think about it you’ve got the great makings of a western.”
As tour groups crossed Victorian Avenue they arrived at the Glendale School. Carey said some famous Nevadans attended the school including former senator Pat McCarran who is displayed as a statue at the state’s capitol in Carson City. Carey said Bertha Raffetto, writer and composer of “Home Means Nevada” was a teacher at the Glendale School before it closed 1958.
“In 1864 the school was built to support all the kids who lived here with ranching families,” he said. “Every kid within 20 mile radius came to this school, which was really the first school in the Truckee Meadows.”
The tour came to a close near the stoplight at Victorian Avenue and Pyramid Way where participants could gaze back at Victorian Square and understand its evolution. Carey said factors such as the railroad and The Nugget casino played huge roles in Sparks’ stabilization.
He said “without the railroad you can’t have Sparks,” and that The Nugget’s evolution of buildings, from the front-most building with “last chance Joe” in front to the twin towers created by John Ascuaga, tell a great story about the evolution of the town.
“You can see just from that casino and its few buildings how the town prospered during the height of the gaming industry,” he said, “And, who knows, if we didn’t have The Nugget if any of this would even be here today.”