Carson City, officially the Consolidated Municipality of Carson City, is an independent city and the capital of the state of Nevada, named for the mountain man Kit Carson. As of the 2010 census, the population was 55,274. The majority of the population of the town lives in Eagle Valley, on the eastern edge of the Carson Range, a branch of the Sierra Nevada. Carson City is about south of Reno and originated as a stopover for California bound emigrants, but developed into a city with the Comstock Lode, a silver strike in the mountains to the northeast. The city has served as the capital of Nevada since statehood in 1864 and for much of its history was a hub for the Virginia and Truckee Railroad, although the tracks were removed in the 1950s. Prior to 1969, Carson City was also the county seat of Ormsby County. In 1969, the county was abolished and Carson City and a few small surrounding settlements within the former county were merged into a newly formed independent city called Carson City Consolidated Municipality. With the consolidation, the city limits today extend west across the Sierra Nevada to the California state line in the middle of Lake Tahoe.
The first European Americans to arrive in what is known as Eagle Valley were John C. Fremont and his exploration party in January 1843. Fremont named the river flowing through the valley Carson River in honor of Christopher "Kit" Carson, the mountain man and scout he had hired for his expedition. Prior to the Fremont expedition, the Washoe people inhabited the valley and surrounding areas. Settlers named the area Washoe in reference to the tribe.
By 1851 the Eagle Station ranch located along the Carson River served as a trading post and stopover for travelers on the California Trail's Carson Branch which ran through Eagle Valley. The valley and trading post received their name from a bald eagle that was hunted and killed by one of the early settlers and was featured on a wall inside the post.
As the area was part of the Utah Territory, it was governed from Salt Lake City, where the territorial government was headquartered. Early settlers bristled at the control exterted by Mormon-influenced officials and desired the creation of the Nevada territory. A vigilante group of influential settlers, headed by Abraham Curry, sought a site for a capital city for the envisioned territory. In 1858, Abraham Curry bought Eagle Station and thereafter renamed the settlement Carson City. As Curry and several other partners had Eagle Valley surveyed for development. Curry had decided for himself that Carson City would someday serve as the capital city and left a plot open in the center of town for a future capitol building.
Following the discovery of gold and silver in 1859 on the nearby Comstock Lode, Carson City's population began to rise. Curry built the Warm Springs Hotel a mile to the east of the center of town. When the territorial governor James W. Nye traveled to Nevada, he chose Carson City as the territorial capital, influenced by Carson City lawyer William Stewart, who escorted him from San Francisco to Nevada. As such, Carson City bested Virginia City and American Flat. Curry loaned the Warm Springs Hotel to the territorial Legislature as a meeting hall. The Legislature named Carson City to be the seat of Ormsby County and selected the hotel as the territorial prison with Curry serving as its first warden. Today the property still serves as part of the state prison.
When Nevada became a state in 1864 during the Civil War, Carson City was confirmed as Nevada's permanent capital. Carson City's development was no longer dependent on the mining industry and instead became a thriving commercial center. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad was built between Virginia City and Carson City. A wooden flume was also built from the Sierra Nevadas into Carson City. The current capitol building was constructed from 1870 to 1871. The United States Mint operated a branch mint in Carson City between the years 1870 and 1893, which struck gold and silver coins. People came from China during that time, many of them to work on the railroad. Some of them owned businesses and taught school. By 1880, almost a thousand Chinese people, "one for every five Caucasians," lived in Carson City.
Carson City's population and transportation traffic decreased when the Southern Pacific Railroad built a line through Donner Pass, too far to the north to benefit Carson City. The city was slightly revitalized with the mining booms in Tonopah and Goldfield. The US federal building (now renamed the Paul Laxalt Building) was completed in 1890 as was the Stewart Indian School. Carson City resigned itself to small city status, advertising itself as "America's smallest capital."
20th-century revitalization and growth
The city slowly grew; by 1960 it had reached its 1880, boom-time population. In 1969, Ormsby County was officially dissolved and Carson City took over all municipal services with an independent city status. With this consolidation, Carson City absorbed former town sites such as Empire City, which had grown up in the 1860s as a milling center along the Carson River and current US 50. Carson City could now advertise itself as one of America's largest state capitals with its of city limits.
In 1991, the city adopted a downtown master plan, specifying that no building within of the capitol would surpass it in height. This plan prohibited future high-rise development in the center of downtown. The Ormsby House is currently the tallest building in downtown Carson City, at a height of 117 feet. The structure was completed in 1972.