Lovelock owes its formal beginning to the railroad, but was important to travelers many years before the first train arrived. The site was known to pioneers of the 1840s and 1850s as Big Meadows because it was an important place to rest and water animals before crossing the Forty-Mile Desert. James Blake is credited with establishing the first permanent settlement there in 1861, but he later sold his property and stage station to George Lovelock, who arrived in 1866. Lovelock donated eighty acres of his ranch to the Central Pacific Railroad to establish the town that now bears his name.

The Central Pacific Railroad arrived in Lovelock in 1868, stimulating the area's agricultural and livestock industries. The town also served as a distribution center for several mining districts including the Trinity and Rochester. A post office was established in 1875, and by 1900 Lovelock supported a population of 1,204 with a school, two churches, and an active business district.

In 1919, the legislature voted to form Pershing County out of a portion of Humboldt County. The decision was unpopular in Humboldt County's main city, Winnemucca, because its county stood to lose a significant amount of land. Just days after the new county was formed, Lovelock was named as its seat.

The Pershing County Courthouse is one of Lovelock's distinguishing features. Built in 1921, it was designed by architect Frederick (Frederic) DeLongchamps of Reno and intended to set apart the newly formed county from its rival to the north. The courtroom itself is circular in overall design.

The meadows that sustained the first pioneers in the area were later used to develop flourishing livestock and agricultural industries. They remain a central part of Lovelock's economy, and today the area is one of the nation's leading producers of alfalfa. In 1958, Eagle-Picher Industries opened a plant in the area to mine and process diatomaceous earth, a sedimentary mineral compound that is critical to filtering processes. A $45 million prison opened in 1995, bringing additional jobs to the town. Alan Bible—a prominent U.S. senator representing Nevada between 1954 and 1974—was a native of Lovelock. In 2006, the estimated population was over 1,900.

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