Carlin, the oldest town in present Elko County, was established as a railroad division point in December 1868, by the Central Pacific Railroad. It was named, by Central Pacific officials, after William Passmore Carlin, a Union officer who served his country with distinction during and after the Civil War.
When the railroad construction crews reached the Carlin Meadows, always a favorite stopping place for wagon trains along the California Emigrant Trail, a townsite was laid out and a large roundhouse and shops were erected.
During the 1870's and early 1880's, Carlin competed actively with Elko, Palisade and Winnemucca for the staging and freighting business of the many mining camps north and south of the railroad. In 1965, it became the principle shipping point for the nearby Carlin gold mine, the second largest gold-producer in the U.S.
Carlin is still a principle division point on the Southern Pacific. During the period from 1906 until the early 1950's, Carlin was the principle icing station in Nevada for refrigerator cars on both the Southern and Western Pacific Railroads (Western Pacific reached Carlin from the easterly in 1908, but through freight and passenger service was not inaugurated over this transcontinental line until 1910).