When students walk across the campus of the University of Nevada, Reno, they are walking through the history of the state of Nevada itself. Many of the buildings on campus are tied to Nevada’s history. Most of them were named after someone important to the university or the state, but most people don’t even think about their namesakes.
After enjoying a three-day weekend thanks to Nevada Day, it is fitting to explore the history of the Mackay Mines Building and the Mackay statue on campus—named after a man that helped put Nevada on the map.
The Mackay name is plastered on several buildings on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus. After all, there is the Mackay Mines Building, the Mackay Science Building, and Mackay Stadium where UNR football plays every fall. However, only Mackay Mines is named after John Mackay. Mackay Science Building and Mackay Stadium are named after John’s son, Clarence Mackay, who had Mackay Mines named after his father and commissioned the Mackay statue in the quad in 1908, six years after his father’s death.
Mackay Mines commemorates the life of John Mackay who became wealthy after being one of the four “Bonanza Kings.” The Bonanza Kings were a group of four Irishmen who struck silver in Nevada at the “big bonanza,” a large strip of silver found in the Comstock Lode.
The famous Mackay statue, at the north end of the quad, is best known as a place where students leave “tributes” every semester before finals. The statue commemorates John Mackay’s influence on the state of Nevada and was donated by his son. The statue was created by the artist Gutzon Borglum who was also the artist behind Mount Rushmore and other famous statues and monuments around the United States.
After striking it rich in Nevada, Mackay went on to found the Commercial Cable Company and helped lay one of the first transatlantic cables, used for communication via Morse code over the sea. This forced the price of sending a message overseas down and made it more affordable for all Americans to communicate between continents.
Mackay also helped form an orphanage in Virginia City in the late 1800s and donated much of his wealth to the Roman Catholic Church. His son would go on to help grow his father’s businesses and became one of the largest donors to UNR in the early 1900s.
So next time there is a day off of school, make sure to thank Nevada and Mackay for helping put the state on the map.
This is the second installment of History Behind the Building helping students better appreciate the history of the state and the namesake for one of the many buildings on UNR’s campus.
Joey Lovato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.