NevadaGram #59 – Three Nevada Ghost Towns and How They Survive

What They’re saying About Us

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Ghost Towns are among Nevada’s most intriguing attractions, although there are fewer and fewer of the real thing remaining.

photo by Max Winthrop
Berlin is now a state park, maintained in a state of “arrested decay”.

For the purpose of attracting visitors we point to towns like Austin, Eureka, Goldfield, Manhattan and Virginia City as ‘ghosts’ although they never died. They’re magnificent relics, great cities in their day, but they’re not ghosts because although their populations dwindled they were never totally abandoned. Fifty years ago there were dozens of true ghost towns scattered across the Nevada landscape: Rawhide, Grantsville, Rhyolite, Aurora, Cherry Creek. . . . Today there are only a few. Here’s a quick look at three of them, and how they’re being kept ‘alive’.

photo by Max Winthrop
The road to Gabbs.

Berlin. In May 1863 prospectors discovered silver at a spot about 55 miles southwest of Austin. They named their camp Union, and its canyon Union Canyon. In 1864 the Union Mining District was formed, embracing the camps of Union, Ione, Grantsville, and in 1869, Berlin. In 1898 several Berlin mines were combined under a single ownership and the company town of Berlin began to thrive.

photo by Max Winthrop
The surviving structures at Berlin date from the turn of the 20th century.

By this time the earlier settlements had faded as their mines failed, but the rise of Berlin brought new life to Union, a mile to the east. During Berlin’s brief life the community and its Union suburbs supported as many as 250 people, but by 1911 they had all moved on, leaving their homes and businesses behind.

Weary after nearly 50 years of trying to keep it intact, and with dwindling prospects of ever resuming production, the owners of the mining property gave it to the State of Nevada in 1957. The state, in one of its better decisions ever, combined the old ghost with the fossil find a few miles away to create Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. In the early years a single ranger manned this isolated post, with considerable stress; one early employee took to greeting late-arriving visitors wearing underpants and Mickey Mouse ears, and carrying a shotgun. Now there are three full-time rangers and a seasonal helper, all properly attired, who maintain the old town in its classical state of “arrested decay” for the 10,000 to 14,000 visitors who come each year. You can take the self-guided tour of the town and ranger-guided tours of the Diana Mine tunnel are offered from April through October.

photo courtesy Sheriff Stone
Gold Point is a lively ghost these days, but the gas pumps are dry.

Gold Point. Established as Lime Point in 1868, the little burg flourished as Hornsilver after the Great Western Mine began operations in 1905. A rush in the spring of ’08 resulted in a sprightly community of 225 buildings, tents and shacks, 13 of which housed saloons. In 1922 the Great Western was acquired by Charles Stoneham, owner of the New York Giants baseball team, and in 1930 the name was changed again, to Gold Point. Production ceased in 1942, but resumed on a small scale after WWII and continued sporadically into the 1960s when it finally stopped altogether.

State Senator Harry Wiley and his postmistress wife, Ora Mae were Gold Point’s best-known modern residents. They operated a little general store and a Standard gas station. Ora Mae was Gold Point’s Postmistress from 1940 to 1964, and the 4th class Post Office closed three years later. Harry died in 1955, Ora May in 1980. Counting Herb Robbins (Sheriff Stone) and his sweetie Sandy Johnson (Red Dog Lil), there are six permanent residents at Gold Point now.

photo courtesy Sheriff Stone
The Gold Dust Saloon on Main Street.

Herb grew up in Sacramento and developed an appreciation for Nevada ghost towns as a young man. That interest led him out into the desert when he moved to Las Vegas as a paper hanger — wallpaper that is, not bad checks. He discovered Gold Point almost 30 years ago, and has been buying property there with partners Walt and Chuck Kremin since 1978. He bought the old Post Office in 1981 and now owns 24 of the town’s 55 buildings, financing many of his acquisitions with video poker jackpots. He hit his biggest jackpot ($220,000!) in 1998. Before that, he estimates he had won nearly half a million dollars on more than 70 jackpots, much of which he’s sunk into Gold Point.

photo courtesy Sheriff Stone
The old ghost attracts crowds during annual events.

Herb has upgraded four of the old cabins (clean and comfy on the inside, weatherbeaten on the outside), which he rents for $94 per day for 1 or 2 people. Television & shower facilities are up the street in the Main House. The Radkie House is the deluxe accommodation, with running water, bathroom and kitchenette (with refrigerator, coffee maker & microwave). It rents for $134 per day for 1 or 2 people. All overnight guests enjoy an all-you-can-eat breakfast, and dinners are served family-style for $17/person. There are also seven RV spaces at $15/day, with meals extra.

The ebullient Mayor Robbins also hosts at least two annual events, the Firemen’s Benefit Chili Cook-Off & Dutch Oven Stew Contest over Memorial Day Weekend and the “Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner” in November. You can get more information from the Gold Point website, or by calling Sheriff Stone (Herb’s alter ego) at 775-482-4653.

photo by Max Winthrop
The little settlement was formed around an on-again, off-again gold mine.

So there’s one abandoned town maintained as a ghostly state park, and another one developed as a private enterprise ghost, with equal respect for historical reality. And there’s a third ghost being held together with love.

You’ll understand, I hope, if I don’t mention its name and location. Suffice it to say it’s in central Nevada.

A few years ago some California folks were bumping along one of our dirt roads looking for sights to see. They topped a rise overlooking a small canyon and saw below them an abandoned mine with cabins and outbuildings, just baking in the sun. Absolute silence reigned and nothing moved but lizards, and the sagebrush trembling in the hot breeze.

photo by Max Winthrop
All work and no play? Not these folks.

They explored the old place and camped there overnight. They enjoyed their discovery so much that they came back again the next spring to spend some more time there. They brought some friends with them on their next visit, and soon they were coming two or three times a year, sometimes a dozen people at a time. And they began making repairs to the structures they used.

photo by Max Winthrop
The work week this spring concluded with a great feast.

Over time as many as 30 friends and friends of friends visited the old town. They made more ambitious repairs, even converting the old assay shop into a saloon. This spring a large group of these volunteers came to spend a week working on the old place. They put new roofs on the three residences, closed up holes in the walls, and generally brought the old place back closer to habitability.

The Nevada Adventure Map, now on sale around the state

They don’t own it — I’m not sure they know who owns it. They know other people have found it and stayed there too. That’s fine with them, their motivation isn’t selfish. They just fell in love with the old place and decided to do something about it, to take care of it, and to have a good time in the process.

I don’t feel comfortable posting the name and location of this place on the internet. I think most people who found out about it would treat it with respect, but I’d rather that you find it for yourself. Maybe you’ll find another old place that needs some tending to — there are others out there — and you can make yourself useful in that way.

I think there is something wonderful about the ways all three of these Nevada treasures are being saved from weather, vandals and other forces of destruction. I wish others had been discovered by people equally as willing to preserve them. They are a unique legacy of Nevada’s adventuresome history, and it’s a shame so few are being saved.

Quick notes from beyond the mountains: Ely’s Nevada Northern Railway has a great new slide show on its website showing the wonderful old steam engines in their magnificent eastern Nevada habitat.

The Ghost Train of Old Ely
The “Ghost Train of Old Ely” maintains a brisk schedule during the summer months.

The Nevada Northern is one of

Nevada’s crown jewels, an operating steam railroad with a busy summer schedule and weekend operations from early spring to late fall. And now’s the time to start making your plans to be on hand for the railroad’s eCentennial Celebration Sept 29, 30 and Oct 1 . . . Sad news from Ely: the bakery at the Steptoe Valley Inn is closing; owners Ronnie & Paul Branham are so busy that there weren’t enough hours in the day to be getting up at 2 am to make the pies, turnovers and other scrumptious treats that have delighted the local residents . . . But there’s good news in Ely too: Among the newly renewed downtown properties the old Post Office has been acquired by the Hotel Nevada and transformed into the Postal Palace banquet room. Now you can buy a Cosmopolitan across the same counter where you used to buy stamps. Plans are afoot to have one of Ely’s master muralists create magnificent new images inside . . .

photo courtesy Jackie Brett
Splash me, dealer.

In Las Vegas The Tropicana has opened its Swim-Up Blackjack game in the indoor section of the main pool to hotel guests from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. daily for the summer season. There are two tables with seven chairs each for players betting $5-$25 a hand. Towels are provided . . . I’m told the average year round temperature in Las Vegas is 67 degrees. Just now it’s considerably warmer than that . . .

photo by Michael Gillen, courtesy Great Basin Arts & Entertainment
The Yellow Pine Trio at The Martin Hotel, Winnemucca.

The Washoe Tribe of Nevada and California has an excellent new website . . . The Yellow Pine Harmonica Trio was playing recently at the Martin Hotel in Winnemucca. It was one night only with a profound conflict on my calendar. So I missed them, and now they’re back playing closer to home in Idaho. Sure, they’ll be back at the Martin next year, but if you’re like me and can’t wait a year for one of life’s little pleasures, you can hear them play four of their songs on the internet . . . Harrah’s Lake Tahoe (which now embraces its longtime rival Harvey’s) is making a new name for itself as a major concert venue with its big name summer series — most recently Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young — but it hasn’t lost touch with its roots. On August 4 Bill Cosby returned for a 40th year anniversary as a headliner at Harrah’s. Actually, Cosby had appeared earlier as the opening act for The Osmonds, but in March, 1966, Bill Harrah brought the popular young comedian for the first of many sold-out shows at the top of the bill.

Overheard at the Mina Club in Mina: “Patriotism means being true to your country all the time, and true to your government when it deserves it.”

Happy Highways,

David W. Toll



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