There’s something compelling about the ghost town of Rhyolite. It’s a place that seems to speak to many different people.
Miners were once drawn to it by the promise of rich gold deposits, and, in recent decades, its wide-open desert beauty has attracted a host of artists and others, all of whom found some sort of inspiration in its ghostly features.
Rhyolite is located about four miles west of Beatty, via State Route 374 and U.S. Highway 95.
Gold was discovered in the region in about 1904 and a township was mapped the following year. By May 1905, Rhyolite boasted its own newspaper, showing that it had come of age.
A month later, a post office was opened and by 1907, an estimated 6,000 people had flocked to this boomtown in the desert.
Soon, no less than three railroads (the Las Vegas and Tonopah, Tonopah and Tidewater and Bullfrog-Goldfield) were built to serve the town, which reportedly had 45 saloons, an opera house, a telephone company, electric power plant, three ice plants, several hotels and two stock exchanges.
Rhyolite, however, turned out to be a disappointment in terms of gold production. While there was gold, it wasn’t in sufficient quantities and accessible enough to justify the development that had appeared almost overnight.
The devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake also affected the town’s fortunes. Many of Rhyolite’s investors lived in San Francisco and, following the earthquake, were more interested in rebuilding their lives than spending money on a questionable gold mining investment in Nevada.
The final blow was a national financial panic in 1907. Soon, investment money began to dry up for developing Rhyolite’s mines and people began to move on to more profitable places.
The census of 1910 indicated 675 residents and a decade later the number was 14.
Today, Rhyolite remains one of the most photogenic of Nevada’s ghost towns. In the late afternoon, the sun stretches the shadows of the ruins, creating marvelous images.
The town contains some intriguing structures, including the three-story exterior walls of the J.S. Cook Bank, the facade of the Porter Brothers store and the interesting remains of the town’s two-story school.
The former Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad depot (now fenced off) is one of the finest examples of the early 20th century mission-style architecture used for many public buildings.
Rhyolite is also home of one of the last mostly-intact bottle houses in the state. The unusual structure was constructed in 1907 using 15,000 bottles at a time when conventional building materials were scarce.
In the past few decades, a handful of artists have discovered Rhyolite’s subtle beauty and created an outdoor sculpture garden.
Known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum, the collection of artwork was begun in 1984 by a Belgian artist, Albert Szukalski, when he created the “Last Supper,” a ghostly representation of Jesus Christ and his disciples.
Szukalski’s spooky life-size plaster artwork, which echoed Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” inspired other works and the museum was created in 2001 to support the garden.
To date, about a half-dozen sculptures have been added to the garden and a non-profit organization oversees the collection. For more information, go to www. goldwellmuseum.org.
The area’s rich history is presented in nice displays and historic photos at the Beatty Museum and Historical Society at 417 Main Street (beattymuseum.org), which is open Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information about the area, such as accommodations and restaurants, contact the Beatty Chamber of Commerce, 119 E. Main Street, Beatty, NV 89003, 1-866-736-3716, www.beattynevada.org.
An excellent web site on Rhyolite is www.rhyolitesite.com, which is managed by the Rhyolite Preservation Society, a group dedicated to saving the community.
Richard Moreno has a passion for Nevada, its towns and people.