Nothing trivial about Reno's past

A few months ago, I was collecting information about Reno for an update of "The Nevada Trivia Book," which I wrote. Some of the facts I discovered about the Biggest Little City in the World proved to be kind of fascinating and fun, so I thought I'd share some of them with you.

Q: What former Miss Nevada starred in a popular 1960s TV show set on a deserted island with a group of castaways?

A: The actress was Dawn Wells, who played "Mary Ann" on the show "Gilligan's Island." Wells, born in Reno on Oct. 18, 1938, was Miss Nevada in 1959.

Q: What Baseball Hall-of-Famer was married to the daughter of Nevada's lone congressman in 1914?

A: Walter "Big Train" Johnson was the ballplayer. Johnson, who pitched for the Washington Senators from 1907 to 1927 and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, married Hazel Lee Roberts, daughter of Congressman Edwin Ewing Roberts of Reno, on June 24, 1914.

Q: Where in Nevada were the first "Levi" jeans invented?

A: Tailor Jacob W. Davis sewed the first pair of "Levi's" in his Reno shop in 1870. The pants were made for a gigantic-size woodcutter - he had a 56-inch waist - who kept bursting out of his other clothing. Davis used a durable, white cotton canvas called No. 7 Duck, and added rivets to hold the pocket corners and seams. Davis' invention was an immediate success. To meet the demand, in 1872 he partnered with Levi Strauss, a San Francisco materials supplier. Noticing that white cloth was difficult to keep clean, Strauss changed the material to a blue, woven cotton twill from France called "serge de Nimes," which was later shortened to "denim."

Q: When was Reno incorporated as a city?

A: Reno was first incorporated as a city in 1897 but was dis-incorporated in 1899. The State Legislature incorporated the city again in 1903 and it has remained an incorporated city ever since.

Q: What was the name of the first legal gambling casino licensed in Reno?

A: The first legal casino in Reno was the Owl Club at 142 Commercial Row, which was granted a gambling permit on March 26, 1931.

Q: True or false: Reno, Nevada, is west of Los Angeles, California?

A: True: If you look at a map, Reno is actually slightly west of Los Angeles because of the shape of California's coast line.

Q: What current member of Britain's House of Lords was born in Reno?

A: The Nevada-born Lord is Garret Wellesley, the "Earl Cowley," with courtesy titles that include Baron Cowley of Somerset and Viscount Dangan. Wellesley's father, Christian Arthur Wellesley, moved to Nevada in the 1930s to obtain a divorce (not available at the time in England). The senior Lord Wellesley enjoyed Northern Nevada and, after obtaining his divorce, built an 18th century-style English estate at the south end of Washoe Valley. He remarried to a Reno woman, Mary Elsie May, and they had two children, both born in Reno, Garret and a younger brother, Tim. In the mid-1970s, Garret Wellesley, then living in San Francisco, inherited his father's title, which included the family seat in Britain's House of Lords, and relocated to England.

Q: What is the largest hotel in Reno?

A: The Reno Hilton is the largest, with 2,003 rooms.

Q: What is the tallest building in Northern Nevada?

A: The Silver Legacy Hotel tower, which is 37 floors or more than 400 feet high.

Q: How many Reno arches have been erected over Virginia Street in Reno?

A: Three. The first was constructed in 1926 to celebrate completion of the transcontinental highways, the Lincoln and Victory (and modified in the 1930s to incorporate the city's slogan). It was replaced in 1963 and, again, in 1987. Origins of the slogan vary but most historians believe it was adopted in the 1920s as part of a chamber of commerce promotion.

Q: For whom is Reno named?

A: Reno was named by Charles Crocker, superintendent of the Central Pacific Railroad, and his partners to honor General Jesse Lee Reno, a Union officer killed during the Civil War at the Battle of South Mountain, Maryland, in 1862.

The new, updated third edition of "The Nevada Trivia Book" is available in local bookstores including Sundance Books, Borders Books and Barnes & Noble Books.

-- Richard Moreno is the author of "Backyard Travels in Northern Nevada" and "The Roadside History of Nevada."


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