A bridge has graced this site since 1860, when Charles William Fuller constructed the first recorded span of the Truckee River at what was then known as “Fuller’s Crossing.” In 1861, he sold the whole operation to Myron C. Lake, who had to replace the bridge after a damaging flood that winter. Lake introduced a toll and built an inn on the river's south bank. By the time of Reno’s founding in 1868, Lake was a wealthy landowner with control of the bridge and a large amount of property on either side.
Having finally acquired the bridge from Lake after a prolonged court battle, Washoe County hired a company from Des Moines, Iowa in 1877 to construct an iron bowstring arch truss bridge to replace the wooden one. The “iron bridge,” as the community called it, cost about $16,000 and featured a separate walkway to keep pedestrians safe from passing horses and buggies. With the dawn of the twentieth century came calls for a wider, more permanent, and elegant structure. Architect John B. Leonard of San Francisco chose a Classical design to complement the bridge’s urban setting. Built in 1905 by Cotton Brothers and Company of Oakland, California, the new span was one of the first reinforced concrete bridges in Nevada, with a classical design that quickly became a major architectural focal point.
It did not take long for the bridge to gain a national reputation. From approximately 1906 until the 1960s, Reno was known as the Divorce Capital of the World, and the Virginia Street Bridge was the main symbol of the trade. Known as "Wedding Ring Bridge," and the "Bridge of Sighs," the bridge became the subject of national folklore.
The legend, dating to at least the 1920s, holds that divorcees, upon receiving their final decree from the judge, exited the Washoe County Courthouse, kissed the columns supporting the portico and proceeded post haste past the Riverside Hotel to the Virginia Street Bridge, whence they cast their wedding rings into the Truckee River. In the 1961 film The Misfits, Marilyn Monroe’s character, Roslyn, is told the tale while standing on the bridge, considers it for a moment, then places her ring back in her purse and heads to Harrah’s for a drink.
The 1905 bridge was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. With the adoption of a new flood control plan, this icon of Reno’s divorce heyday was demolished in 2015. Its replacement, dedicated in April of 2016, was designed to combine a superstructure reminiscent of the old iron bridge with the rhythmic arches of the 1905 bridge. Four of the historic light fixtures were restored for use on the new bridge, and some of the historic iron railing is displayed nearby, paying homage to the beloved landmark.