The Early History of Steamboat Hot Springs
The early immigrants and settlers coming through the Truckee Meadows found an area with fissures in the ground that emanated steam. Thinking they had arrived at Sacramento, they associated the columns of steam rising into the air with steamboats on a river. The Steamboat name has been associated with the area since the Gold Rush of 1849.
Geologically, the appearance of the area was different prior to 1900 than it is today. There was a geyser that went 60 to 80 feet into the air, the third largest in the United States. The site of the current Steamboat Hot Springs building was then covered with open pools of boiling hot water. Indians located their winter camps along the Steamboat creek and used the hot springs water to cook their pine nuts.
The first development using the hot springs water was in 1859 as a resort to entertain travelers. A tiny box-like shed with two rooms, one for a tub and one for steam, was the first attempt at a regularly appointed bathhouse. In 1860 more sheds were constructed to capture the steam coming out of the ground, and a hotel was built. With the silver mining activities in nearby Virginia City and the influx of both miners and money, the Steamboat Hot Springs site was developed with hotels, a dance hall and saloon, and of course the hot baths. It was described by one visitor as “the onliest joint within a day’s journey where a fellow could rinse his silver-coated person.”
Steamboat Hot Springs was first a stagecoach station and later a train station. In 1861, a Dr. Ellis arrived and set up a hospital using the hot spring water as a resource for healing. With the building of the V & T Railroad in 1870, Steamboat was only a half hour train ride from downtown Reno. This train service continued until 1950 when the V & T was shut down.
Illustrious visitors during the mining era included Mark Twain, who wrote about his several visits, and President Ulysses S. Grant, who came with his family. The Grand Hotel was the site of musical concerts, grand balls, and many festive occasions.
On December 10, 1900, an earthquake caused the hot springs and geyser to dry up. On April 21, 1901, a fire burned the hotel and most of the other buildings to the ground. Only the large stable remained.