University of Nevada, Reno
Beginnings in Reno
The University of Nevada, Reno was founded in 1874 as the State University of Nevada in Elko, Nev., about 300 miles northeast of its present-day campus in Reno. The site for the university preparatory school in eastern Nevada (where no state institutions had previously been located) proved to be impractical, as nearly half of the state's residents lived in the Reno-Carson City area. In 1885, the legislature approved the move of the University from Elko to Reno.
Morrill Hall, constructed on a bluff overlooking downtown, was the first structure built on a 10-acre campus. The hall, named after U.S. Sen. Justin S. Morrill of Vermont, author of the 1862 Land-Grant College Act that led to the development of the University of Nevada, Reno and similar institutions, was a one-building university housing the president's and registrar's offices, classrooms, a library, museum, and living quarters for the groundskeeper.
In 1891, 17 years after its founding, the University presented its first diplomas to a graduating class of three that included Frank Norcross, a future U.S. District Court Judge, Nevada Supreme Court Justice and member of the Nevada Legislature.
By that time, the rich "Bonanza" days of silver and gold mining on the Comstock Lode, 23 miles southeast of Reno in Virginia City, were gone. The state was in economic decline and its first university struggled to build enrollment and stature.
The Mackay Influence
The family of John Mackay, an Irish immigrant who helped direct the extraction of more than $100 million in ore from two Virginia City mines in the mid-1870s, played a key role in helping the campus grow. From 1907 to 1936, Mackay's heirs bequeathed the university more than $1.5 million for the Mackay School of Mines building, a football field-sized quadrangle modeled after Thomas Jefferson's at the University of Virginia, an athletic field, land acquisitions and the Mackay Science Hall. A 7-foot, 8-inch statue of Mackay, created by Gutzon Borglum, who later carved Mount Rushmore, has stood on the north end of the Quad since 1908. The elm-lined Quad and the University's original core campus, with a listing on the National Register of Historic Places since 1987, is considered a U.S. cultural resource.
Establishing its Name
University officials made strides in improving the campus standing as a small, 1,000-student public college in the sparsely populated West of the 1920s and 30s. Among the notable early faculty were James Church, whose Sierra snow surveys pioneered the science of forecasting seasonal water supplies; chemical scientist Maxwell Adams, who discovered uses for oils in sagebrush and rabbit brush on the western desert; and Mackay School of Mines geologist-seismologist Vincent Gianella, the namesake for the mercury mineral, gianellaite. By the 1940s, Hollywood movie producers, attracted by the University's vine-covered, Ivy-League-like brick buildings and idyllic Manzanita Lake, were using the campus as a setting for popular films, including "Mr. Belvedere Goes to College," with Shirley Temple; "Andy Hardy's Blonde Trouble," with Mickey Rooney; and "Mother Is a Freshman," with Van Johnson.
By 1958, with 2,000 students attending classes, the institution was on the verge of dramatic change. New colleges of education and business were in their first years. The student body, which had not had a student center building for the first 70 years of the University's tenure in Reno, finally had a headquarters with the opening of the Jot Travis Student Union. This union was replaced In November 2007 by the Joe Crowley Student Union, one of the most transformational buildings ever built on campus. This 167,000-square-foot, "green" environmentally friendly facility signals a shift in campus expansion, offering the campus and community a new centrally located "front door" to the University from Virginia Street. It is named in honor of University President Joe Crowley, whose 23-year tenure as the institution's chief executive is a record. In 2008, one of the nation's most technologically advanced libraries, the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, opened next to the Crowley Student Union, further signaling the campus' move north.
President Charles Armstrong and vice president William Wood stimulated research programs on campus in 1959 with the creation of the Desert Research Institute (DRI) and its affiliated programs of atmospheric physics, desert biology, anthropological studies, computer science and water resources. DRI was a University division focusing on research examining Nevada's arid land resources. By 1969, under President N. Edd Miller, the campus had doctoral programs in more than a dozen specialties, and had created a School of Medical Sciences.
In the last 35 years, the University has met the challenges of leadership in what is now the fastest-growing state in the country, with its enrollment rising to more than 17,000 students in fall 2010.