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The city of Sparks is situated east of Reno, in Washoe County, Nevada. Although the area began to be settled in the mid-1800s, the city was not established until 1905. Prior to the establishment of a railroad switch yard and maintenance facility there in 1904, area residents received weak or sickly cattle from emigrants along the California Trail, fattening them up to sell to another group of emigrants. The town that grew up around the Southern Pacific Railroad facility was initially known as Harriman, for the president of the railroad, E.H. Harriman, but it was renamed Sparks upon its incorporation as a city in 1905, after John Sparks, who was governor of Nevada at that time. Sparks was lightly populated until the 1950s when development in Reno began to spill over into Sparks, including warehouses, light industry, and casinos. Jim Gibbons, a former member of the US House of Representatives and the 28th governor of Nevada, was born in Sparks, and former White House Deputy Chief of Staff under President George W. Bush, Karl Rove, spent his childhood in Sparks.

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