Verdi, NV – The Great Train Robbery

Nevada Historical Marker No. 191

In 1864, the Crystal Peak Company established a logging and sawmill operation along the Truckee River and laid out plans for the town of Crystal Peak. The town was located a short distance from present-day Verdi, NV. The Crystal Peak Lumber Mill furnished timber for the construction of the Central Pacific Railroad line as it moved eastward. The railroad would eventually connect with the Union Pacific and the eastern part of the country in Utah.

During the late 1800’s, the Crystal Peak Company prospered with the mining booms and lumbering. Before the railroad was completed, passage across the Truckee River was managed by a wooden toll bridge popularly called O’Neil’s Crossing. The historic Crystal Peak Toll Bridge, built in 1928, on Bridge Street is in the location of the old wooden O’Neil’s Crossing Bridge. When the Central Pacific Railroad arrived in 1968, it was decided that the railroad would bypass the town and cross the river at another point. This decision drastically altered the future of Crystal Peak, causing a mast relocation effort for most of the businesses to the new railroad town called O’Neil’s Crossing.

Crystal Peak Toll Bridge in Crystal Peak, NV

The town was established in 1868. Following a short stint as O’Neil’s Crossing, Charles Crocker (founder of the Central Pacific Railroad) renamed the railroad town after pulling a slip of paper from a hat with the name of the great Italian Composer Giuseppe Verdi, although it is pronounced “Ver-dye.” The town became a major mill town and terminal for the shipment of construction timbers needed for the mining operations in the area.

From the late 1880s until the 1920s, the lumber mill was located in the same vicinity of the modern day Crystal Peak Park. The stocked fishing ponds located north of I-80 were once the mill pond for the facility. Water for the pond came from the Truckee River and the pond served as a storage area for logs waiting to be processed at the lumber mill. Unfortunately, the lumber mill was prone to devastating fires and during its operation suffered from 8 major fires.

Verdi Glen

After the Crystal Peak Lumber Mill closed down operations, outside investors had ambitious plans to turn the area into a resort. Verdi Glen hoped to become a popular travel destination. Plans for the area would eventually include a fishing pond, dance hall, swimming pool, golf course, and campground. The resort opened in 1924 with great fanfare and became a common recreation destination. Fourteen years later, in 1938, a destructive fire engulfed the resort’s roadhouse (the main building) and resort was later abandoned. Guy Marsh later bought the property and built a home on the foundation of the roadhouse. After his death, Florence Marsh (his widow) deeded the property to Washoe County. All that remains today are parts of the resort’s swimming pool and the main building’s stone fireplace.

Nevada Historical Marker No. 128

The Great Train Robbery

This area is also known for what was called “Verdi Train Robbery” (the site of the heist is actually closer to present-day Reno near the closed River Inn), but more commonly known as the Great Train Robbery of 1870. Most historians consider this train robbery the first in the west and it happen before Jesse James started his train robbing career. The ringleader Jack Davis and four others held up the Central Pacific No. 1 after receiving a coded message from John Chapman about the money train’s schedule. This train was carrying the payroll for the Yellow Jacket Mine near Gold Hill, NV.

The train robbery took place on the early morning of November 5, 1870 when 5 bandits board the Central Pacific Overland Express as it showed down to pass through Verdi and decoupled the passenger cars allowing the locomotive pulling only the mail car and the express car to a spot near present-day Mogul, NV. Where two other bandits placed rocks across the train tracks. The bandits used the engineer to trick the expressman to opening the locked express car door. After gaining access to the express car, the robbers broke open all the strong boxes and made off with $41,600 in gold coins. The men divided the loot near Lawton Hot Springs and rode off in different directions. The bandits got a good head start on the posse by cutting telegraph wires to/from the town.  Amazing, all eight the members of the gang were eventually caught and all but $3,000 was recovered.

Lincoln Highway

What was once the main highway, now Old Highway 40, makes up Verdi’s main street. Gold Ranch Casino, a popular place to stop for those making the drive west into California, and at the other end of town is the Verdi Grill, a locals’ hangout and a personal favorite. In between you have the Truckee River and a fascinating history revolving around the lumber industry and railroad.

Verdi Grill in Verdi, NV

For all of Verdi’s success as a lumber town in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the town couldn’t fully prosper after so many ravaging fires that burned down parts of the town. According to a historical timeline provided by the Verdi History Preservation Society, the municipality was destroyed by more than 20 major fires in the town’s nearly 150-year history. The worse being the fire of 1926, that devastated the community and changed its development from an active stop on the railroad to the quiet town it is today.



GPS Coordinates: 39.51593 N, -119.99366 W