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Goldfield Nevada

 

By

Gary B. Speck

 

 

Located along US 95, 27 miles south of Tonopah, gold was first discovered here in 1902 by Tom Fisherman of Tonopah, which at that time was a booming mining city of 10,000 people.  Assays showed ore values of $12.97 per ton.  A minor rush ensued, and the new mining district was called the Grandpa District.  By 1903 the name was changed to Goldfield. 

 

Development of the mines began, and by October a huge ore body was discovered deep in one of the mines.  In January 1904 the first shipments of that rich ore were made, resulting in a stampede converging on Goldfield.

 

By April, "The Greatest Gold Camp Ever Known" was headlined in the Goldfield Miner newspaper.  Town lots sold for as high as $45,000 each!  By 1906 Goldfield joined Tonopah and Rhyolite as part of Central Nevada’s trio of modern mining cities; the crowned princes of miningdom. (How do you like that new word?) 

 

Goldfield, Nevada’s largest city with 20,000 people, a multi-block downtown core of three and four-story concrete, brick, and cut stone buildings, electric streetlights, and a modern, progressive attitude, was building for the future.  This 20th Century city had five banks, five newspapers (three of which were dailies), hundreds of saloons and hundreds of other commercial buildings.  Substantial three and four-story brick, rock and concrete buildings lined the streets, electric power and a stock exchange rounded out its amenities.  Its mines yielded over $100 million in gold, and the city felt invincible. 

 

Until September 13, 1913. 

 

On that date, a massive rainstorm in the hills to the west caused a roiling wall of muddy water to pour out of the hills.  The flash flood smashed into the city, sweeping hundreds of buildings and all their contents into piles of flotsam and detritus on a large flat outside of town.

 

In 1918, production at the Goldfield Consolidated Mine slowed enough to shut down its massive 100-stamp mill (whose foundation is still visible north of town and just east of US 95).  Then in 1923 a fire ravaged 53 square blocks of Goldfield, leaving only memories and burned foundations, all well hidden now under desert scrub and sagebrush.

 

The boom was over.  In 1936 the Goldfield Hotel closed, followed by the mines in 1942.  The hotel reopened briefly, but it closed for the last time in 1945.

 

The spectral shell of Goldfield is still home for 900 people (1990 census).  The Esmeralda County courthouse bustles with activity, antique shops lie scattered through town, and in the heart of the town is Goldfield's crowning touch, the magnificent empty shell of the four-story Goldfield Hotel.  The Esmeralda County courthouse is an anomaly.  The weathered 1907 stone facade, well-burnished wood interior and ornate decorations from an opulent era all blend somehow with the clicking and quiet humming of modern computers and fax machines.  Historic pictures adorn the walls, and hardwood floors echo to the clicking of high heels and cowboy boots as employees hustle about their jobs. 

 

The old schoolhouse is fading, and the windows stare vacantly onto a dusty street.  Tex Rickard's house is garish in its signs and "old timey" shop atmosphere.  US 95, the town's main street bustles with campers, and tourists in a hurry to pass through to reach Las Vegas or Reno.

 

Each August for the past 21 years, the town celebrates its mining heritage with the annual Goldfield Goldrush Treasure Days weekend.  This extravaganza includes mountain bike races, an auction, "horny toad" race, miner's liar contest, and a Saturday night street dance.  On Sunday there is a teen dance, BBQ, black powder shootout, melodrama, and finals on various races.

 

The brilliant blue sky of central Nevada frames the dusty brown hills and valleys that cradle this early 1900s mining city.  Tumbledown shacks and mines line the outskirts of town.  Unoccupied buildings outnumber the occupied ones, and the past appears stronger than the present.  The aura of decay is ever-present, yet many homes are neat and tidy in this county seat community.

 

Goldfield is full of memories:  Tex Rickard and his mobile saloon, “The Northern”, which moved from boom camp to boom camp; the tenderloin district with its rows of cribs and assorted other "dens of iniquity;" parties and parades; the magnificent hotel with its mahogany and leather, oysters and quail, brass beds and thick carpeting.   There was a brewery, rich gold mines, and a history like no other.

 

Goldfield was one of the greatest, if not THE greatest.  Along with Tonopah and Rhyolite, this trio of mining cities created a massive mining hysteria that lasted for the first 15 years of the 20th Century, a hysteria only stopped by the entrance of the United States into a war that became known as the "War to End All Wars" – WW I.  For that brief, shining period, Goldfield was the standard that nearly every mining camp sprawling across desert flats and mountain ranges in Southern Nevada and the California desert aspired to.  Across this last frontier for wandering prospectors, almost all of these wanna-bes have fallen into the recesses of history -- even the names of most of the small camps have disappeared.  But Goldfield endures: a legend standing proud in its heritage. 

 

Maybe that 1906 newspaper headline was right - Goldfield is the greatest!

 

 

This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for August 2003.

 

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FIRST POSTED:  August 01, 2003

LAST UPDATED: April 01, 2009

 

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