Rhyolite Ghost Town, Death Valley
GPS: 36.90321, -116.8281170
Rhyolite is a ghost town in the state of Nevada. It is in the Bullfrog Hills at 3,800 ft, about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas, near the eastern edge of Death Valley. The town began in early 1905 as one of several mining camps that sprang up after a prospecting discovery in the surrounding hills. During an ensuing gold rush, thousands of gold-seekers, developers, miners and service providers flocked to the Bullfrog Mining District. Many settled in Rhyolite, which lay in a sheltered desert basin near the region's biggest producer, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine.
Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad transportation, that served the town as well as the mine. By 1907, Rhyolite had electric lights, water mains, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange. Published estimates of the town's peak population vary widely, but scholarly sources generally place it in a range between 3,500 and 5,000 in 1907–08.
Rhyolite declined almost as rapidly as it rose. After the richest ore was exhausted, production fell. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital. In 1908, investors in the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, concerned that it was overvalued, ordered an independent study. When the study's findings proved unfavorable, the company's stock value crashed, further restricting funding. By the end of 1910, the mine was operating at a loss, and it closed in 1911. By this time, many out-of-work miners had moved elsewhere, and Rhyolite's population dropped well below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to zero.
After 1920, Rhyolite and its ruins became a tourist attraction and a setting for motion pictures. Most of its buildings crumbled, were salvaged for building materials, or were moved to nearby Beatty or other towns, although the railway depot and a house made chiefly of empty bottles were repaired and preserved. From 1988 to 1998, three companies operated a profitable open-pit mine at the base of Ladd Mountain, about 1 mile south of Rhyolite.
On August 9, 1904, Cross and Harris found gold on the south side of a southwestern Nevada hill later called Bullfrog Mountain. Assays of ore samples from the site suggested values up to $3,000 a ton, or about $82,000 a ton in 2017 dollars when adjusted for inflation. Word of the discovery spread to Tonopah and beyond, and soon thousands of hopeful prospectors and speculators rushed to what became known as the Bullfrog Mining District.
Within the district, gold rush settlements quickly arose near the mines, and Rhyolite became the largest. It sprang up near the most promising discovery, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, which in February 1905 produced ores assayed as high as $16,000 a ton, equivalent to $436,000 a ton in 2017. Starting as a two-man camp in January 1905, Rhyolite became a town of 1,200 people in two weeks and reached a population of 2,500 by June 1905. By then it had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, cribs for prostitution, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bath house, and a weekly newspaper, the Rhyolite Herald. Four daily stage coaches connected Goldfield, 60 miles to the north, and Rhyolite.
Rhyolite in 1907 had concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, daily and weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, at least three banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool and two formal church buildings. Most prominent was the three-story John S. Cook and Co. Bank on Golden Street. Finished in 1908, it cost more than $90,000, equivalent to $2,450,000 in 2017. Much of the cost went for Italian marble stairs, imported stained-glass windows, and other luxuries. Other large buildings included the train depot, the three-story Overbury Block, and the two-story eight-room school. A miner named Tom T. Kelly built the Bottle House in February 1906 from 50,000 discarded beer and liquor bottles.
Although the mine produced more than $1 million in bullion in its first three years, its shares declined from $23 a share to less than $3. In February 1908, a committee of minority stockholders, suspecting that the mine was overvalued, hired a British mining engineer to conduct an inspection. The engineer's report was unfavorable, and news of this caused a sudden further decline in share value from $3 to 75 cents. In 1910, the mine operated at a loss for most of the year, and on March 14, 1911, it was closed. By then, the stock, which had fallen to 10 cents a share, slid to 4 cents and was dropped from the exchanges.
As mines in the district reduced production or closed, unemployed miners left Rhyolite to seek work elsewhere, businesses failed, and by 1910, the census reported only 675 residents. All three banks in the town closed by March 1910. The newspapers, including the Rhyolite Herald, the last to go, all shut down by June 1912. The post office closed in November 1913; the last train left Rhyolite Station in July 1914, and the Nevada-California Power Company turned off the electricity and removed its lines in 1916. Within a year the town was all but abandoned, and the 1920 census reported a population of only 14. A 1922 motor tour by the Los Angeles Times found only one remaining resident, a 92-year-old man who died in 1924.
The Rhyolite historic townsite, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management, is "one of the most photographed ghost towns in the West". Ruins include the railroad depot and other buildings, and the Bottle House, which the Famous Players Lasky Corporation, the parent of Paramount Pictures, restored in 1925 for the filming of a silent movie, The Air Mail. In 1937, the train depot became a casino and bar called the Rhyolite Ghost Casino, which was later turned into a small museum and curio shop that remained open into the 1970s.
In 1984, Belgian artist Albert Szukalski created his sculpture The Last Supper on Golden Street near the Rhyolite railway depot. The art became part of the Goldwell Open Air Museum, an outdoor sculpture park near the southern entrance to the ghost town.
This text taken in part from Rhyolite by multiply authors and is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License