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reno ghosts

The historic Washoe County Courthouse has worked to uphold law and order in Nevada’s “Biggest Little City” for well over 100 years. But after attorneys and judges clear the courtrooms at night, and cases are closed, this building becomes an eerie, unusual beacon for otherworldly activity. Join the Reno Ghosts tour and unveil the chilling truths behind this legendary courthouse, and learn why many consider it to be one of the most haunted sites in all of Reno.



  • Washoe County Courthouse was built in 1910 by architect Frederic DeLongchamps in the Classical Revival style
  • It marked Reno’s first courthouse after officials wrested the county seat from nearby Washoe City
  • During the 1930s, nearly 33,000 divorces were granted in these courtrooms thanks to Reno’s lax divorce laws




Back in the days of the Old West, Reno attracted its fair share of crime: gambling, shootouts, and prostitution…but these weren’t the only illegal matters that kept judges booked and busy. It’s impossible to ignore Reno’s significant part in America’s divorce industry, which helped coin the phrase “going to Reno” when alluding to a legal separation. 


But why exactly did this otherwise unsuspecting Western town become so commonly associated with divorce? You see, a decree here could be granted in just six weeks, making the otherwise lengthy divorce process—as it was at the time—significantly shorter compared to other cities in the US. This led Reno to become known as the “Divorce Capital of the World,” with over 30,000 divorces taking place in the city between 1929 and 1939 alone.




With divorces being Reno’s hot new industry throughout much of the 1930s, exes would head to the Washoe County Courthouses to file for legal separation. Built in 1910, this opulent, Classical Revival style structure was built on the site of a previous courthouse and marked the third for Washoe County. 


Due to Reno’s liberal divorce laws, the Washoe County Courthouse became a place for the law to prevail and a symbolic monument for those wishing to quickly and quietly end their marriages. A photograph taken by famed photographer Alfred Eisenstadt of a young woman kissing one of the courthouse columns in gratitude for her newfound freedom, even appeared on the front cover of a 1937 edition of Life magazine.


Even though most of the divorce proceedings to be overseen in this particular court of law were harmless, not all of them went smoothly. On November 23, 1960, Robert Williams and Emma Snyder—a divorced couple—came into Washoe County Courthouse to address a property dispute. The judge ruled in Emma’s favor, which Robert clearly wasn’t too happy about. 


After a judge told him to “shut up and accept the decision,” Robert snapped and opened fire on the courtroom with a hidden .38 revolver. Sadly, an attorney was struck by one of Robert’s bullets and died in the following days, but otherwise, no one was seriously harmed. This incident goes to show that even though divorces were quick in Reno, they weren’t always peaceful.




Unsurprisingly, in its over 100 years, the Washoe County Courthouse has amassed quite the collection of otherworldly residents, who can frequently be seen floating through the halls. Throughout the years, visitors have actually seen full-bodied apparitions of wispy figures roaming through the corridors of this building and even inside the courtrooms. 


Sudden cold chills or breezes have also been experienced, and persistent feelings of inexplicable sadness and dread, perhaps from the eternally trapped spirits here. One particularly chilling incident took place when a witness, ghostbuster Ted Moore, was filming inside the courthouse in 2021. 


During his investigation, he felt something brushing up against his side and his stomach, as if someone nudged him as they walked past. He and his crew were also filming when suddenly, they heard the disembodied cries of a blood-curdling scream, not once but twice…though the source of the sound was never seen.




Although fast and easy divorces were perhaps the most common type of cases to be overseen at the Washoe County Courthouse, there’s also a much darker, deeply saddening side to this building’s history, one that involves the deadly, false accusation of one Joseph Rover, the first and only person to be executed in Reno. 


His case occurred here in the late 19th century, before the current Washoe County Courthouse we know today was constructed. Rover was accused of murdering his business partner, L.N. Sharpe, in the Black Rock Desert some 140 miles from Reno. He swung from the gallows in front of the courthouse in February of 1878 after no one stepped up to clear his name. It wasn’t until 1895 when, on his deathbed, a Frank McWorthy admitted that he was actually the one who was responsible for Sharpe’s death—not Rover.


Today, Joseph is perhaps the most sighted ghost that haunts the grounds of the Washoe County Courthouse. Folks have reported seeing Rover’s phantom wandering outside the building, near the old gallows where he had hung over a century ago. Perhaps, his restless spirit remains trapped on earth, perpetually hoping someone will finally declare him innocent of a crime he did not commit.




Today, the Washoe County Courthouse continues to house the Second Judicial District Court and still stands proudly at 75 Court Street. Over the years, extensive renovations have been done to the existing structure, with a major restoration project being completed in the early 2000s with assistance from National Park Service Historic Preservation Fund grants and other nonprofits. 


The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Nevada State Register of Historic Places, and the Reno Register of Historic Places, all of which will help to ensure its conservation as one of Reno’s most recognizable and culturally-significant locales. For more on the most haunted destinations in the Old West, visit our blog, and be sure to keep up with US Ghost Adventures on Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.


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