In 1859, the discovery of the Comstock Lode, the most significant silver deposit ever discovered, generated major advancements in mining processes and innovations that resulted in Storey County emerging as a leader in technology and economic development. Storey County was founded in 1861 and named in honor of Captain Edward Storey. Arriving on the Comstock in early 1860, his stay in Virginia City was brief, just a few short months. Captain Storey was killed at the age of 31, during the Second Battle of Pyramid Lake, yet his name endures to this day.
Virginia City is registered as a National Historic Landmark District, part of the Comstock Historic District, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Comstock Historic District is comprised of Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, and a very small portion of Dayton. It is a mineral-rich landscape, which in the late 1800's was home to the legendary Comstock Lode. Storey County, home to 4,123 residents, is the third smallest county by population in the state of Nevada. Covering an area of 264 square miles, Storey County is bordered by Reno, Sparks, Carson City, Dayton, and Fernley.
The repetitive boom and bust of silver mining had a detrimental effect on Storey County’s financial future. The decline started in approximately 1889. Although the hope was to just dig deeper, to almost 4,000 feet, little additional silver was found. At the same time, the workforce was beginning to thin out. As technology advanced, small mining booms came and went. World War I, called even more men away from the area and many never came home. From the early 1900s and into the Great Depression, the population was low, and the community and the county were financially depressed. The financial devastation from the loss of mining and population continued to affect the county well into the 1990s.Moving Forward
In the twentieth century, as mining production in the county declined, it became necessary to increasingly rely on tourism and gaming as the major economic generators. Virginia City’s portrayal in the historic television show "Bonanza," first aired in 1959, fueled enormous public interest that resulted in a tourism explosion. In recent decades, Storey County has worked toward establishing its major sources of economic growth in the industries of warehousing, logistics, light, heavy, and advanced manufacturing, such as renewable energy development and data management.
Storey County’s Communities
Economic expansion in western Nevada over the past two decades resulted in substantial population growth. Shifts in population distribution in Storey County have also occurred. Once concentrated in Gold Hill and Virginia City, the county’s population is now distributed almost equally throughout its residential land mass. Regardless of trend changes which may occur, economic, social, and ecological responsibility and sustainability will remain forefront in determining the rate and pattern of population growth in Storey County.
Like other “boom-and-bust” mining towns in Nevada, Storey County’s early history was marked by volatile population swings. Following the mining bonanza in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the county’s population steadily declined. Between the 1920s and 1940s, nearly half of its population was lost, and by 1960 it had decreased to a mere 568 residents (U.S. Census Bureau, 1960). This trend continued through most of the 1970s.
By the 1980s, Storey County’s population stabilized and began to trend upward. Consistent positive growth was seen in the 1990s. From 1980 to 2000, the county’s population grew 126% from 1,503 to 3,399 residents. Substantial growth was also seen in the following decade, especially between 2004 and 2007 when western Nevada, during the “housing-boom,” experienced an influx of new residents. Through appropriate land use planning policy and practices, conformance with the 1994 master plan, and strong leadership, Storey County allowed sustainable residential and commercial development to occur while preventing encroachment of suburban sprawl.
With a population of around 1,000 residents, Virginia City is the county seat and one of the two economic centers in the county. This mixed-use community is home to 196 businesses and 535 residential properties, many of which are historic structures from the mid-1800s. Defined by family neighborhoods and a commercial downtown the community is relatively high in density due to its steep and limiting geography. Rich in nineteenth century Comstock history, Virginia City hosts over one million visitors annually from around the world. It is home to three of the four K-12 schools in the county.
Gold Hill sits in a canyon on the edge of Storey and Lyon Counties and welcomes visitors to the Comstock Historic District entering from the south. Although miners had been looking for gold on the side of Sun Mountain, now known as Mt. Davidson, much earlier, Gold Hill was officially named in 1859, and a mining camp was soon established. With a current population of about 190 people, Gold Hill is home to the Gold Hill Hotel and Saloon, the oldest hotel in Nevada.
Lockwood is a low- to moderate-income residential community three miles east of Sparks, along the Truckee River and the Interstate 80 corridor. The population is comprised largely of senior citizens; however, younger families are starting to move to the area. The community includes a senior and community center, Sheriff’s Department sub-station, elementary school, general store, and other small businesses.
The Mark Twain area is located at the base of Six Mile Canyon, a winding mountain road connecting it with Virginia City. Roughly 500 residents live within the Mark Twain Estates, Storey County’s only residential community in this area. This neighborhood is composed of one to five-acre properties with most residences being mobile and manufactured homes served by well and septic systems. The county master plan identifies much of the Mark Twain area as ideally suited for rural residential development and light to moderate industrial development.Virginia City Highlands
Situated several miles north of Virginia City and 10 miles east of Reno on the high plateau of the Virginia Range, the Highlands is an unincorporated area consisting of 1, 10, and 40-acre custom estate homes. This rural area, boasting rolling hills of pinion pines, is privately owned, and with exception of the Virginia Ranches (40 acre lots), is managed mostly by homeowners’ associations. Roughly 750 of 1,400 parcels are developed thus far. Water availability is a major concern, and future growth in this area may be at-risk without adding water infrastructure or other means to support further growth.
Painted Rock is a rural, agriculture area located approximately 18 miles east of Sparks and five miles west of Fernley along the Truckee River and Interstate 80 corridor. Painted Rock’s proximity to the TRI-Center makes it ideally suited for future large-scale mixed-use residential development tailored to the workforce needs of adjacent industrial and high-tech land development. Interstate 80 is the primary access to Painted Rock. As the area grows however, the county and developers are exploring alternative road connections including a potential two-mile long tunnel which would connect it directly into the TRI-Center. Recent proposals to develop Painted Rock are discussed later in this report.
McCarran is located at the north end of Storey County. Named after a ranching family, the McCarran Ranch was where the transcontinental Central Pacific Railroad went through on its way to California.
McCarran is home to the TRI-Center, a pre-zoned industrial park covering roughly 70,000 acres of existing development and land use designation with a total land ownership of 107,000 acres. The TRI-Center is zoned I-2 Heavy Industrial based on the Storey County Zoning Ordinance. Utilities including power, natural gas, fiber, wastewater, and reclaimed water are in place and built for industrial capacity. Both the Union Pacific Railway and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway service selected areas of the industrial center.