3 things to know about history and culture in Sparks

Paying tribute to 117 years (and counting) of the Rail City

With Sparks’ 117th birthday on the calendar this month, there’s no better time to honor the city’s vibrant history and culture.

Since officially incorporating on March 15, 1905, the city formerly known as “East Reno” has continued to grow, draw people from all over, and become a charming destination in its own right. From a rich mining and railroad heritage to a current thriving art scene, Sparks’ distinct character only gets better with age.

Here’s a look at some of the things that make our city so unique.

Sparks has a sister city in the Emerald Isle

What is now the fifth most populous city in Nevada traces its roots back to Ireland.

The lucrative mining frontier of the Comstock lode in the mid-19th century lured Irish immigrants to Virginia City, creating generations of Irish-Americans throughout neighboring cities of northern Nevada. In 1976, Sparks established a sister city relationship with Longford, Ireland to promote a long-term partnership across different cultures to offer various programs, share cultural exchanges, research and development projects.

Did you know? Longford Park located on Greenbrae Dr. is named after this Irish town

The Southern Pacific Railroad put the city on the map — and inspired its  (nick)namesake

At the turn of the 19th century, Sparks was coined the City of Promise to railroad workers and their families when the Southern Pacific Railroad laid its tracks in the region.

The railroad moved its roundhouse (the largest in the world at the time) from neighboring division point, Wadsworth, NV in 1904. Employees and their families followed, settling in the swampy flood-prone lands of Sparks at the price of $1 per plot.

After 334 rail cars and 18 inches of deposited gravel and dirt, Sparks evolved from a simple railroad town to a residential community, much of how we see it today. While the railroads are no longer the primary economic driver for the community, we owe it to the Southern Pacific Railroad, and its workers, for laying the city’s bedrock. 

There’s art in the heart of downtown

Sparks offers more than just picturesque views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

In 2021, the city launched the Sparks Art Walk in 2021 to encourage residents and visitors to explore a curated collection of local artwork. From a bee made of pennies to a large iron heart, there is no shortage of creative installations along the streets of Victorian Square, where the city’s Irish influence and railroad heritage converge.

Pro tip: Art goers can get a taste of the city’s Irish roots at pubs like Paddy & Irene’s and O’Skis Pub and Grille in between perusing the exhibits. Walking shoes encouraged. Canes for driving out snakes optional.*

Partners of the Sparks Art Walk include: Sparks Heritage Foundation and Museum, 39 North, Sierra Arts Foundation and the Cordillera International Film Festival.

At 117 years and counting, Sparks is just getting started. Get an insider’s pass for all that the city has to offer when it comes to people, places, and experiences at mysecretsparks.com. Go forth and celebrate!