Nevada History by John C. Evanoff

Visitreno.com is excited to present this series of articles by noted author and poet, John C. Evanoff. John will tell us about Nevada history and cover some of the more remote and unusual things to see and do in Northern Nevada.

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Nevada's Fascinating Places

February 2012
By John Evanoff


Some people know about the many odd places and things of interest in Nevada but I'll bet some of the ones I'm going to write about in these next couple columns you may never have heard of before.


Reno and vicinity have several historical references framed or set in plaques and stones throughout the Truckee Meadows. One of these is on the sidewalk outside Rocky's Grill on Virginia Street just north of 2nd Street. In 1871, Jacob Davis was working in his shop he had bought three years before trying to put a pair of cotton duck cloth pants together for a lady who came into his tent, clothing and harness business to order another pair of work pants for her husband, who was extremely hard on clothing. The story goes, as he was a metal and fabric worker, he used some copper rivets he had for tents and harnesses and came up with the idea to use them to work on bolts of cloth he had purchased from the Levi Strauss Company in San Francisco to make waist pants. Levi Strauss was owner with his brother on the east coast of a large dry goods wholesale outlet in the city. The rivets worked superbly especially around the pockets and fly where worker stress from wear and tear drove the seams apart. Jacob decided to first write Straus about acquiring a patent together because he couldn't afford the $68 for the patent fee. Because Strauss knew this could be a good business decision, he at once gave approval for the idea and made Jacob a working partner in the clothing portion of Strauss's factory in San Francisco. Jacob soon moved his entire family to San Francisco and began managing the factory. Shortly after, in 1873, the patent was granted and the company began selling the pants successfully all over the world. The partnership between the two is somehow lost to being only Strauss's invention, but in fact, the two became good friends. Strauss was of German descent and Jacob was an 1854 immigrant from the German/Russian Baltic city of Riga, Latvia. Strauss bought out a large Woolen Mill in New Hampshire and with Jacob's design, created a lining inside the stiffer denim material which was extremely comfortable and durable. The riveted denim waist overalls and pants became the working man's must-have for clothing and Levi's were born. Twenty years later, around 1890 under the moniker 501, denoting the waist pants design, the Levi 501 pants could be bought for $1.25. Jacob sold his interest in the patent to the Levi Strauss Company in 1907 leaving his family very well off, but a year later, Davis died still working as the Production Manager of the San Francisco plant. I can remember my first pair of Levi's in the mid 1950's but it was in 1960 when the term "blue jeans" was born and everyone I knew wore them almost exclusively in and around Reno.

At the corner of Mill Street and South Virginia Street, you'll see a large granite obelisque with a brass plaque on it notating the first public library in Reno. In 1890, Reno residents began to see the need for a library. It seemed, school buildings were being erected almost every other year but aside from the dry goods stores in town, not much reading material could be found in one place. The county didn't have enough money and the city was reluctant to take money out of their coffers for a public library but having enough of all the petty argument amongst government entities, the Washoe County District Attorney at the time, Frank Norcross, decided to take matters into his own hands and begin a public drive for funds to build a library. It was to be Nevada's first free library and Norcross had a hard time convincing anyone of the importance of the drive. Money was hard to come by thru almost five years and only a thousand dollars was raised. But in 1895, Norcross influenced the Nevada State Legislature to enact a law establishing the Nevada Library System. In 1897, Frank went into politics and became an assemblyman in the Nevada State Assembly and for three years, he worked diligently on education funding and school building. During this time, he met many businessmen who he influenced to aid Nevada in the construction of more schools. Philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was one of Norcross's many friends and decided to help Reno with the financing of a library to be built on land donated to the city by Myron Lake at that corner where the obelisque is located. Myron founded Lake's Crossing, a toll bridge across the Truckee River, which later became Reno when the railroad went in with Lake and together they laid out the city on land both owned. In 1904, with $15,000 donated by Carnegie and additional funds from others in the city, the doors were opened on the first public library in Nevada. The library operated at this corner until 1930 when it finally outgrew its building and it moved to where the Pioneer Auditorium now sits. Then, of course it was moved in 1966 to its present location at Center and Liberty. Norcross was in private practice from 1899 to 1904 and then became Justice and then Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court until 1916. After another stint in private practice until 1928, he was nominated by President Calvin Coolidge to a seat in the United States District Court for the State of Nevada. He received Senior Justice status in 1945 and although retired, served part time until his death in 1952 in San Francisco. Norcross influenced many of his friends and entrepreneurs to move to Reno and was active in many of Nevada's and the United State's most notable and historic achievements in education and the law.


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