In the early 1900s, the establishment of an electric streetcar system was a clear sign of a city’s growth as well as faith in its potential for future expansion. There was therefore cause for great celebration on Thanksgiving Day, 1904, with the opening of Nevada’s first streetcar line, a three-mile route between Reno and the newly-founded town of Sparks.
Operated by a group of local businessmen organized as the Nevada Transit Company, the line was constructed in just four months. But the route had been appearing for years on tract maps for the new housing divisions that were rapidly platted after the 1902 announcement that the Southern Pacific Railroad would be moving its shops from Wadsworth to a site east of Reno and building a new roundhouse there.
The initial line ran from Reno’s downtown railway node eastward to Sparks, turning south just before Deer Park, then east again to the Southern Pacific roundhouse and railroad yards. Tracks on the Reno end ran westward along Fourth Street to Sierra Street, then south to Second Street, east to Virginia Street, and by January of 1905, south again to the Truckee River. The company’s car barn stood at 911 E. 4th Street, near Morrill Avenue.
The service was purchased and renamed the Reno Traction Company in 1906. Used heavily by commuting workers, shoppers, and pleasure-seekers headed to Wieland’s Park (later known as Coney Island), the Reno-Sparks line was by far the most popular, generating 80% of all ridership. With an initial fare of ten cents, the journey took approximately thirty minutes, at the rollicking pace of ten miles per hour.
Later expansions connected downtown Reno to the university, while a separate company, the Nevada Interurban, offered service southward along Plumas Street to the Moana Springs resort. But the rising popularity of automobiles and high costs of track maintenance soon brought an end to the streetcar era. Facing declining support, the company stopped service on every route but the Reno-Sparks line in 1919. Intercity bus service between Reno and Sparks began on June 15, 1927, attracting customers from the streetcar service, which finally ended all operations that September.
In 1931, one of the abandoned cars was converted into a hamburger and soft drink stand near the old Coney Island site, while another was being used as a chicken house on a farm in Sparks. The site that was once home to the Reno Traction Company's car barn is now occupied by an auto repair business.