Nestled in Eagle Valley against the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Carson City encompasses nearly 147 square miles of land, ranging from the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe to the Virginia Mountains to the east. The development pattern is densest along U.S. 395 and U.S. 50. As early as 1858, six years before statehood, one of Carson City's first settlers, Abraham Curry, laid out the town's grid. The flat basin of the valley suited Curry's linear plan. He reserved ten acres, bounded by Carson, Musser, Fall, and Third streets, for the capitol building. This area remained an open plaza until construction of the capitol in 1870. An 1875 bird'seye view of the town shows the capitol surrounded by various residences and commercial buildings, many of which still stand. Today, the capitol complex includes land on both sides of Carson Street (U.S. 395), the main north-south thoroughfare. The grid is preserved in the center of town, breaking down into curving suburban streets as development extends the city's subdivisions to the edges of the valley in all directions.
In addition to being the center of government, Carson City became a commercial hub because of its proximity to the Comstock Lode and its access to the Carson River. Ore removed from the Comstock Lode and processed in mills in Virginia City and along the Carson River went through the U.S. mint in Carson City before heading to other parts of the country in the form of gold and silver coins. The V&T Railroad, the chief mode of transportation for people and supplies after 1872, built its main shops (demolished in 1991) in Carson City. Located in the eastern Sierra foothills, the city also became a center for the logging industry, which transported cut trees from the forests around Lake Tahoe to Carson via a system of flumes.
Today, with the mines of the Comstock and the V&T Railroad long closed, Carson City functions primarily as the center of state government, which provides the town with economic stability. Although tourism is on the rise, visitors perceive the city primarily as a stopping-off place on the way to Lake Tahoe or Reno. During the past two decades the population of Carson City has grown, largely as a by-product of development in the Reno and Lake Tahoe areas, and now exceeds 50,000. This growth and its associated sprawl stretching to the outlying edges of town are rapidly transforming Carson City from a small town to a suburb of Reno. The downtown area in particular has struggled for years, as more and more shopping centers and new housing developments pop up at the perimeter. It remains to be seen whether Carson City can retain a sense of place as it experiences rapid growth at its edges.
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