Wonderful books written by Philip Varney about ghost and mining towns in the West were my inspiration for a 3000 mile photo journey in June 2017. This journey included visits to Goldfield and Virginia City in Nevada and Wallace, Idaho. In May 2021 I traveled to Nevada and captured a few photos of the Tonopah and Belmont mining areas. These amazing silver mining operations helped make Nevada a major force in the development of the West.
Virginia City, Nevada
During the period of 1860-1878 Virginia City produced over $300,000,000 in silver and some gold. It was from the Comstock Lode and over the next 62 years this area produced another $100,000,000 in silver and gold. The population in 1875 was around 75,000 and Virginia City had 5 newspapers, 4 banks, over 100 saloons and 6 churches. The great fire of 1875 destroyed most of the town and it was rebuilt but it never returned to its previous glory. Ten percent of the population was Chinese who worked in the mines and restaurants in the area. Today Virginia City is a very busy place in the summer related primarily to tourism. However, at 6200 feet in elevation the winters can be brutal; especially since the town is in a narrow valley and has very steep streets. (BTW the photo of my CRV is parked in front my my cabin which was built in 1875 and many of the original walls and iron window shutters are still present)
In June 2014 I visited Mogollon, New Mexico. A year before that a devastating flood wiped out the only road into town along with many remaining buildings. The last mile was a real challenge as my 4WD vehicle bounced over large boulders and rocks on my journey to the town. I met a gentleman who still lived there and he said the total number of people still living there was around 50. As you can see from the photos I took the main street was still basically a stream bed and water was running along the edge of the dirt road. Mogollon, New Mexico had many natural disasters during its history and was nearly destroyed by fires or floods in 1894, 1896, 1899, 1904, 1910, 1915, 1942 and 2013. In its heyday Mogollon had a population of between 3000 and 6000 people and produced over twenty million dollars in silver and gold during the period from 1880 and the early 1970s. In 1913 mines around Mogollon such as the Little Fanny, Champion, McKinley and Deadwood produced 40% of all precious metals being mined in New Mexico. I found the remaining homes and commercial buildings which were survivors or were rebuilt after the floods and fires to be beautiful examples of how Mogollon was an important part of mining history in New Mexico.
During the period of 1903-1918 the Goldfield area produced over $80 million in gold and in 1907 was the largest city in Nevada. In 1908 the 154 room 4 story Goldfield Hotel was completed at a cost of $500,000 and featured mahogany in the lobby and served oysters and lobster in the dining room. Today Goldfield is not a ghost town but no longer produces gold and the population can be counted in the dozens. It is about 120 miles NW of Las Vegas and during its heyday suffered thru major fires and floods but was rebuilt until the flood of 1913. During its peak Goldfield was served by 4 railroads, a stock exchange, numerous bordellos and dozens of saloons.
My trip to Tonopah, Nevada included a goal to capture photographs of the Milky Way. I had never done this before and many factors need to be considered to photograph the Milky Way. (time of the month, lack of light pollution, geographic location, no moon or clouds, and some luck.)
Tonopah was rated the #1 Stargazing Destination in America by USA Today. With some of the darkest night skies in the nation at Tonopah, you can see over 7,000 stars, including the Milky Way. I was able to capture one photograph of the Milky Way which I considered acceptable and it is included in this gallery. With over 9200 tons of satellites and space junk circling the Earth it is becoming more difficult to take photographs of the Milky Way which are not compromised or include these objects.
Tonopah also is famous for silver mining during the early 20th Century and some photographs I took of the Tonopah Historic Mining Park are included in this gallery. Tonopah was called the “Queen of the Silver Camps”.
Jim and Belle Butler’s strike in 1900 brought the United States into the 20th Century, and many of the mining processing techniques developed during that time are still being used today. A few of the photos I took are posted here to help in the understanding of how this area helped contribute to the development of Nevada as one of the most important silver producing places in the United States. Today Tonopah has a population of around 3000 people and tourism is the most important part of its economy since mining ended in the early part of the 20th century.
Belmont was established after silver discoveries in 1865 in what was known as the Silver Bend or Philadelphia district. News of high-grade surface ores with values up to $3,000 a ton started a rush to Belmont in 1866, drawing many miners away from Austin and other early Nevada mining camps.
By 1867 Belmont had risen to prominence among mining towns in central Nevada, and that year it became the Nye County seat. The young town was a mining and milling center, a trading hub, and the seat of government for what was a vast mining frontier.
The town had four stores, two saloons, five restaurants, livery stable, post office, assay office, bank, school, telegraph office, two newspapers, and a blacksmith shop. The bulk of production from the district, valued at an estimated $15 million, occurred between 1866 and 1887. By the late 1880s most of the mines had shut down. Belmont held on as a town for a number of years, but by 1900 only a few businesses were left. In 1905, the county seat of Nye County was relocated from Belmont to Tonopah. Today Belmont has only a few hardy souls who call it home.
The photos I took on my journey to this remote Nevada town are a stark reminder of how quickly many mining towns in the U.S. became “ghosts” when the silver or gold mining ended. Fortunately the Belmont Courthouse is now listed as a National Historic Place and there are plans to restore it to its original condition. I have included a photo of this lovely building taken during my visit in May 2021.
Wallace, Idaho is not a ghost town and mines in the area continue to produce over $40,000,000 in silver each year. From the period of 1883 to 1968 mines in the Wallace area produced over 47% of all silver mined in the U.S. When the silver crash of 1893 hit the United States Wallace survived due to the enormous amount of silver being produced from its mines. To date the Wallace area has supplied over 1.3 billion ounces of silver or over $7,000,000,000 in silver, which includes gold and other valuable minerals. As with many mining towns Wallace also was nearly destroyed by fires. The one in 1890 basically destroyed all but 3 major buildings. (The Jameson Hotel, Sweets Hotel, and the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot--which was moved when I90 was built and is now a museum) Today Wallace, Idaho has a population around 2000 and offers numerous tours, and events throughout the year. It was my favorite town on the journey to photograph due to the many wonderful buildings--many of which were designed by well known architects and have been protected as National Historic Landmarks or places. (BTW bordellos continued to be in operation until 1988 in Wallace.)