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The quaint community of Verdi has quieted down since its days as a bustling mill town.
Photo: Maria Coulson
When Walt Walker was growing up in Verdi in the 1930s, the only warning the town had that a fire had broken out was the sound of a rifle shot piercing the air. For anyone familiar with the town’s history, they’d guess a lot of ammo had been spent through the years. “The old town was destroyed by fire every time you turned around,” says Bruno L. Coli, a resident of Verdi for all of his 80 years.
In October 1944, fire destroyed a church, hotel, and saloon. In response, Walker and two friends established a volunteer fire department in 1948. “We put a fire engine together and had a little garage in the middle of town,” says Walker, who was born in Verdi in 1930 and has lived there ever since.
It’s that sense of community that longtime Verdi residents hold dear and has kept them here for most or all of their lives. “I have four kids, and they all live here. One of them is already retired here,” Mary Powning says with a laugh. Powning has lived in Verdi for nearly 80 years. What does she enjoy about the town? “Everything. The beautiful scenery and the people. I’ve been here a long time, and I intend to stay.”
Verdi is the first Nevada town you pass if you’re traveling east on Interstate 80 into Reno. What was once the main highway, now Old Highway 40, makes up Verdi’s main street. On one end, there’s Gold Ranch Casino, a popular place to fill up for those making the drive west into California, and on the other, Backstop Bar & Grill, a locals’ hangout. In between you have the Truckee River and a fascinating history revolving around the railroad and lumber trade.
Named for Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, the town was established in 1868 following a short stint as O’Neil’s Crossing. Officials of the Central Pacific Railroad, which was constructed from 1867-69, were responsible for the name change. The town “became a major mill town and terminal for the shipment of ties and construction timbers, with a network of logging railways reaching into the timber north and west,” as stated on Verdi’s historical marker accessible off Old Highway 40 (also State Route 425 and Third Street). The Crystal Peak Company, established in 1864, prospered in mining and lumbering.
The area is also known for the “Verdi Train Robbery” (the site of the heist is actually closer to present-day Reno), more commonly known as the Great Train Robbery, of 1870. Ringleader A.J. “Jack” Davis and four others held up Central Pacific No. 1 and looted an express car carrying close to $50,000 worth of gold pieces and silver bars.
For all of its success as a lumber town in the 19th and 20th centuries—some residents contend that the population of Verdi was more than Reno at one time—Verdi couldn’t seem to escape its arch enemy: fire. According to a timeline provided by the Verdi History Preservation Society, there have been more than 20 major fires in the town’s nearly 150-year history. It was the fire of 1926, however, that devastated the community most and changed its course from an active stop on the railroad to the sleepy town it is today.
Despite its quaint disposition, Verdi has plenty to offer the casual tourist. For starters, the Verdi History Center, which contains interesting photos and other memorabilia, opened in the fall. Crystal Peak Park has a scenic walking trail that follows the Truckee River. Later this year, a community fishing pond will open at the park and host such family events as kids fishing tournaments. You can cross the historic Crystal Peak Toll Bridge, built in 1928, on Bridge Street, also home to the Verdi Library, which has a wealth of information on the town’s history. Residents and visitors can play the nine-hole Crystal Peak Golf Course, and Boomtown Hotel Casino and Cabela’s outdoor superstore are also in close proximity.
If you make the short drive down Third Street, don’t be deceived by the town’s small appearance. There are a good number of homes in the area. “I used to look out to sagebrush, and now I see houses,” Powning says. But you still get a sense of serenity that doesn’t quite exist over the hill in Reno. “It’s quiet out here, you’ve got the hills around you, entertainment close by, and a good [elementary] school,” Coli says. “Overall, it’s an enjoyable experience.”
Tour Around Nevada
A fiery past
1860 – O’Neil’s Crossing bridge built
1864 – Crystal Peak settlement established
Nov. 4, 1870 – Great Train Robbery
1900 – Oliver Lonkey establishes Verdi Lumber Company
1926 – Verdi Glen Resort & Verdi Inn open
1926 – Disastrous fire leads to Verdi’s decline as prosperous mill town
1938 – Verdi Glen Resort destroyed by fire
1944 – Fire destroys a church, hotel, and saloon
1948 – Verdi Volunteer Fire Department established
Sept. 15, 1985 – Verdi Inn interior seriously damaged by fire
Oct. 30, 2002 – Verdi Community Library opens
2005 – Verdi History Preservation Society established
2008 – Verdi History Center opens
Spring 2009 – New community fishing pond expected open
Population: 3,797 (city-data.com)
*Nevada Magazine is proud to partner with Virginia City etching company Botcha-Caloop’s in the production of the Tour Around Nevada plaque.
Verdi History Preservation Society
P.O. Box 663, Verdi, NV 89439
WORTH A CLICK
For more information about Verdi, visit blog.travelnevada.com.
MEET NEVADA MAGAZINE
On January 10 at 11 a.m., we will celebrate the grand opening of the Verdi History Center. We invite you to visit our booth and join us in the festivities.