Complete Nevada Traveler Contents
Description and History of
by David W. Toll
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here
offers an enjoyable series of events like the Chili Cook Off at Victorian
TO RENO on the east, Sparks was an afterthought of the
railroad's, created in 1904 to replace Wadsworth as the big switching
yard on this section of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Sparks
is Nevada's fourth-largest city and offers abundant services
to travelers. The Chamber of Commerce provides area information
at the little railroad station on Victorian Avenue just west
of Pyramid Way.
Originally named Harriman after the railroad tycoon, Sparks was rechristened
to honor Governor John T. Sparks, whose ranch was nearby. This gesture of respect
and admiration was made just as an anti-railroad rebellion boiled up in the legislature,
eventually resulting in the creation of the Public Service Commission to regulate
Family oriented and hard-working, Sparks was so solid and dull that it sometimes
became the butt of local jokes. Early example: "Reno is so close to Hell
you can see Sparks."
In 1907 a reform-minded city council outlawed the popular local pastime of driving
up to a saloon in a buggy and having drinks at the curb. Other than the endless
banging of the boxcars in the switching yard and the clanging and hissing and
whistling and squealing of the through trains in and out of the station, everything
was quiet in Sparks for nearly 50 years as the little city grew slowly with the
railroad. Sparks eventually achieved a place in history by having the longest
single-sided street (B Street, now Victorian Avenue) in America.
In the 1950s Sparks changed. Acre upon acre of brown composition roofs blossomed
up out of the brown dirt as one curbed-and-guttered subdivision after another
appeared in the grazing lands of the northeast. For more than a dozen years the
growth continued, and Sparks became even quieter as a residential community in
which the railroad played a much diminished role. In the 1970s Sparks began to
grow in a new and unexpected direction. Family farms and pasturelands south of
the city were transmogrified into lowrise warehousing, small manufacturing plants
and light industry connected by an asphalt grid of new streets.
Now Sparks is changing again. John Ascuaga gave Sparks its first skyscraper,
and now the homely old business structures of Harriman are being replaced or
restored to a confectionary Victorian dream of luxury and romance they never
aspired to 90 years ago. B Street -- oops, Victorian Avenue -- is bright with
lights and lively with public events the year around now.
Some of the architecture may be more Walt Disney than Queen Victoria, but there's
no doubt that the vivacious scene downtown reflects a brighter, more inviting
character for Sparks than ever before.
In Sparks any discussion of food starts (and sometimes ends) with John Ascuaga's
Nugget, where huge hotel towers and an immense parking garage were built on
the enormous success of the eight restaurants -- the Rotisserie Room, the Oyster
Bar, Trader Dick's, and others -- in this otherwise unremarkable gambling hall.
Some of Nevada's best food is served at the Nugget, but there are other enjoyable
options in Sparks as well.
The Silver Club across the Avenue has a grand buffet and restaurant, and Jack's
Coffee Shop down the street serves a classic menu. You can pull your rig in
at a truck stop and join the truck drivers in feeding at platters of hearty
fare: Sierra Sid's is on McCarran just north of the freeway; the Alamo is just
south of the freeway between the Sparks and Vista Avenue exits at the far eastern
side of the city. BJ's Barbecue in the Silver State Plaza on North McCarran
is a local favorite, and Jose Jose on Prater Way two blocks east of Rock is
Enlightening the atmosphere on Sparks' east side is Wild Island, a water park
devoted to providing enjoyment exhilarating or soothing as you please. The
mountain peaks against the western sky seem especially lovely and far away
from the splashing sprays of water and the eager voices of the children, and
the summer sky is never brassier than when observed from an innertube meandering
around on the long, slow sissy ride around the perimeter of the park. To experience
the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat in the mildest possible way, you
can also stop in at Adventure Golf next door and go a round or two. The nearby
factory outlet stores are eerily open and empty.
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