Lahontan City

Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada-Reno Library.

Lahontan Dam spillway, most likely in the 1930s or 1940s. The dam was constructed from 1911 to 1915 as a project associated with the Federal Reclamation Act of 1902. The purpose of this legislation was to create verdant agricultural areas in the arid mountain west through large-scale damming and irrigation efforts.

Lahontan City thrived from 1911 to 1915 during the construction of Lahontan Dam. Built to house and accommodate the federally employed workers and their families, the town sprang from the desert floor almost overnight. The dam was important to Nevada because it was designed to reserve water in the Carson River for irrigation and was the first federally funded western reclamation project of its kind.

Earlier construction efforts on the Truckee-Carson Project—later the Newlands Project—had been plagued with inefficiency, discontent, and occasional drinking and brawling. The U.S. government, in the form of the Bureau of Reclamation, believed that creating a family environment for the workers would resolve the problems. Lahontan City was the result.

Few lifestyle enhancements were overlooked. Framed houses accompanied tents, and a medical facility and emergency treatment clinic was established with physician Dr. Norman E. Williamson in charge.

The dining hall, capable of feeding 300 people per shift, was completed in April 1911. While that structure fed the community's body, the nearby library and reading room fed its soul. It offered a place of quiet meditation as well as an opportunity for further education. A small school was built for the children of the workers.

The residents of Lahontan City played as hard as they worked. Leisure time was spent fishing and hunting along the Carson River or at the onsite billiard parlor. Baseball entertained those craving a more active hobby. The Lahontan boys were often matched in tournament play with Fallon teams and others, providing a good day of sport for players and observers alike. For artistic minds, the Lahontan band was formed, which depended on resident talent. Their music enlivened many community functions.

During its short life, Lahontan City would have held its own with any American town. However, when the dam was completed and the workers left, it became a ghost town with only memories of past glories. From nothing, to thriving town site, then back to nothing, the little town on the desert floor was the epitome of a western boomtown. Today only a lone stone chimney stands to mark its former presence. The desert from which it sprang has now reclaimed Lahontan City.

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