University of Nevada, Reno
Nevada in Maps Nevada History in Maps
 
About the Collections

Nevada Highway Maps - 1917-2005

To Western explorers, settlers and early miners, Nevada was a place to cross- as quickly as possible through severe deserts with little water or resources for man or beasts and steep mountains to block the fastest way to California or Oregon. Trails which often originated by Native Americans were established by trappers and explorers and reinforced by pioneers and wagon trains ever moving westward no matter the toll. The first established route in Nevada was the Santa Fe Trail which crossed the southern tip of the state by the 1820’s and provided a resting place at Vegas springs. Eventually the discovery of gold and silver in Nevada made enough westerners pause and stay to form permanent settlements across the Great Basin and the basis for statehood in 1864. In the 1860’s the Central Pacific Railroad, part of the first Transcontinental Railroad, passed through northern Nevada. With the influence of the automobile on society, highways developed in the early 20th Century in the U.S. and eventually Interstate highways in the second half of the century.

Today this state is still a cross-road for traffic and commerce, but it is also a major tourist draw for the country, for the world. People are now able to enjoy, not just survive, the roads and trails of Nevada.
 

The Nevada Department of Highways / Nevada Department of Transportation

Image from 1934 Road Map with text: For Free Distribution Only

Prior to 1917, the state of Nevada had no formal plan to develop or improve or maintain roads. In order to take advantage of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916, the state Legislature passed the State Highway Law in 1917 and the Department of Highways was created and the State Engineer began an active highway program with the $20,000 budget allocated. Four original state routes were established by that act. Despite limited progress for several years, in part because of the impact of World War I, the first official state highway map was issued in 1919. To fund the roads across states with limited tax base, the 1921 federal act of `Graduated Scale of Federal Aid’ provided a much higher percent of financial assistance for Nevada. The 1919 State Legislature authorized the issuing of highway bonds and in 1923 passed an act to tax gasoline for highway building. As the impact of highways on the state grew so did the responsibilities of the Department of Highways which had become the largest state agency and included the fledgling State Highway Patrol. The State Highway Engineer was also superintendent ex-officio of the state park system and administrator of the Drivers License Division (1941). The Department assumed responsibility for road and tourist information and erection of road markers along U.S. roads. Nevada Highways and Parks began in 1936 and continues today as Nevada Magazine under the Department of Tourism.

With the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1954 and another in 1956 authorizing the national interstate highway system, Nevada benefited considerably in road-building, but not until 1986 did the U.S. Department of Transportation award contracts to complete the interstate system in Nevada.

In 1979 the Department of Highways became the Nevada Department of Transportation with significant restructuring.

For an in depth administrative history of these departments, see:
Department of Highways and Department of Transportation : Administrative History
 

Maps and Roads

Automobiles approaching rock tunnel from 1955 Highway MapThe Nevada State Legislature defined four state routes in the highway act of 1917 and the first official Nevada highway map was published in 1919, indicating the faith of the Nevada Department of Highways in the future of road use at a time when mass travel was by train (even in Nevada.) Las Vegas was not mentioned in the connecting points describing the paths of the original four routes but is clearly on the routes of the first map.

The Road Maps of the State of Nevada published in 1919 and 1922 do not label roads with either name or number.

In 1926 the Joint Board of State and Federal Highway Officials numbered roads and the National Road or Victory Highway became U.S. Route 40, State Route 1 and eventually largely absorbed by Interstate 80.

The Lincoln Highway, a route so named in 1913 by the Lincoln Memorial Highway Association to promote east-west highway development, in Nevada became most of U.S. Route 50 in Nevada and State Route 2.

A digital collection of historic photos from the Library Special Collections Department of the Victory and Lincoln Highways across Nevada and eastern California may be found on the Just Passin' Through site.

Parts of the Santa Fe Trail of the 1820’s which Fremont used in 1844 across southern Nevada became The Arrowhead Trail and designated U.S. Highway 91, State Route 6 and eventually part of Interstate 15.

The 1927 Nevada State Highway map indicates routes by popular names: Victory, Lincoln, Arrowhead, etc. The 1929 map gives names and numbers to primary state and federal routes.

By 1927 information of sites along major routes was included on the reverse side. By 1932 not only `Points of Interest’ but enticing pictures across the state were included on the reverse reflecting an attitude to attract people to various parts of the state. While colors are seen on the 1919 edition (added post printing), multiple colors on the primary map became the norm by 1936 and on pictures by 1940.

Early tradition made highway maps free; the 1927 edition in this collection states: This map must not be sold. The 1933 edition states: For Free Distribution Only, a condition which continues today.

This set offered on Nevada in Maps includes 58 "official" state highway maps and one "tourist map" published for the NV Department of Highways in approximately 1955. Other historical commercially produced highway maps are included in this presentation.

Among the choices of file formats when completely loaded will be djvu, jpeg, tiff and a geo-referenced tiff version in NAD83, UTM, Zone 11, meters. These geo-referenced files were geo-rectified using ERDAS Imagine v8.5. These sets are subject to the copyright restrictions for commercial use as note below.

Our sincere appreciation to the Nevada Department of Transportation for most of this digital collection.

For commercial use of the Nevada State Highway maps, please contact the Nevada Department of Transportation, 1263 S. Stewart Street, Carson City, Nevada 89712. Phone: 775/888-7449

Updated 11 December 2007

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