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Elko, Nevada

seat of and largest city in Elko County

Population (2010 census) 18,297
Area 17.6 square miles


Elko was established in 1868 at the eastern end of a rail line built by the Central Pacific Railroad. When the railroad crews moved west, the settlement remained, and became a center for ranching, mining, and rail freight. It became the seat of Elko County in 1869, and was officially incorporated as a city in 1917. Exactly how the city got its name is unknown, but the most popular story says that railroad superintendent Charles Crocker was found of animal names and simply added "o" to Elk.

By 1870 townsite lot prices had multiplied three and four times and the population had grown to over 2,000, thanks primarily to the abundance of mining towns in the area, all of which relied on Elko's railroad for supplies. By 1873 Elko was so confident in its future that it bid for, and won, the State University, which opened with seven students in 1874.

Elko's fortunes proved to be short-lived, however, as most of the mines in the region began playing out in the mid-1880's. With fewer and fewer mines and mining communities to serve, Elko's freight business declined, and by the end of the 1880's the population had fallen to less than 1,000.

Elko began a new upward surge in 1907, when it was reached by the Western Pacific Railroad. That surge was further spurred by new mining strikes at Tonopah and Goldfield. Cattle ranching also became a major industry for the area, as the new railroad allowed area ranchers to take advantage of nationwide markets. By 1910 the population had rebounded to about 3,000. The legalization of gambling by the Nevada Legislature in 1931 spurred even more growth, and by 1980 the population had reached about 10,000. Influxes of new, younger residents since then have allowed Elko to reach its current population of over 18,000.


Elko's economy is still based heavily on gold mining, with a half dozen large mining operations producing millions of ounces of gold every year. In fact, the state of Nevada produces more gold than all but four countries, and most of that gold is mined near Elko.

Its location along Interstate 80 allows Elko to maintain a vibrant tourism business. Ranching is also an important part of the economy.

Elko Regional Airport provides two SkyWest flights to Salt Lake City, Utah, every day.

Sites and Attractions

The Elko Area Chamber of Commerce is located in the historic Sherman Station building, a log structure (along with five outbuildings) relocated from Huntington Valley (60 miles south of Elko) in 1997.

Sherman Station
Sherman Station

The Northeastern Nevada Museum exhibits a wide variety of artifacts showcasing regional history, including the bones of a mastodon unearthed in 1994. The museum is also noted for the quality and variety of itsart exhibits, including an annual traveling show of Nevada photography. [website]

Built in the 19th century, The Pioneer Hotel now houses the Western Folklife Center, the goal of which is to preserve and celebrate Western American traditions. The center originated the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, which has been celebrating life in the rural West for more than 30 years. [website]

City of Elko
Elko Area Chamber of Commerce
Elko Convention and Visitors Authority

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The Robinson Library >> Nevada

This page was last updated on June 21, 2018.