Rich Moreno: Nevada’s Manhattan was no metropolis
It was gold and silver — not $24 in beads and necklaces — that created Nevada’s Manhattan.
But unlike its more famous namesake, Nevada’s Manhattan never quite developed into a sophisticated urban center. Instead, the Silver State’s Manhattan, like all mining towns, had a roller coaster existence, its fortunes largely paralleling the state of its mining industry.
During the past century, more than $10 million in gold and silver was mined in Manhattan, which is located about 45 miles north of Tonopah via State Route 376 and 377.
According to ghost town historian Shawn Hall (author of several excellent Nevada ghost town books including, “Preserving the Glory Days: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nye County, Nevada”), George Nicholl discovered silver in the Manhattan area in 1866.
Within a short time, more than four dozen claims were staked in the area, including the Mohawk and Black Hawk mines. The district’s mines were played out within a few years and by 1869, the area was abandoned.
Between 1877 and 1904, the district was periodically re-worked. In 1905, cowboy John Humphrey, who worked at a ranch in the nearby Big Smoky Valley, found a valuable outcropping of ore that sparked a new boom.
In its first year of existence, Manhattan could claim about 1,000 residents. The community soon had saloons, hotels, banks and other businesses. A post office opened on Christmas Day in 1905.
As with many early 20th century Nevada mining camps, the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 severely affected investment in Manhattan and signaled the start of the end of the town’s second boom.
The population plummeted from a high of about 4,000 people to a few hundred who scrambled to survive. The discovery of large gold deposits in 1909, however, again revived the town.
Manhattan managed to prosper into the 1920s, when the ore began to fail and fires destroyed much of the downtown. In 1939, a 3,000-ton gold dredge was built below the town in the Manhattan Gulch (site of the original silver discovery). The operation, which included a large pond created from water piped from nearby Peavine Creek, flourished until 1947, when the dredge was removed.
In 1979, a massive open pit heap-leeching mine began operating in the area.
Today, visitors will find that despite neglect and the destruction of much of its original mining district by more recent open-pit mining, Manhattan has a handful of historic buildings and sites worth checking out.
Perhaps the best of Manhattan’s hearty survivors is the picturesque frontier-style wooden Manhattan Catholic Church, sitting on a hillside overlooking the town.
Built in 1874 in nearby Belmont, the classic old west church was abandoned by 1901 and moved to Manhattan in 1908. In recent years, the old church has been restored and maintained by local residents and it remains a popular place for rural weddings.
A drive down the town’s main street is a chance to see a few historic buildings and homes, some dilapidated ruins, lots of abandoned vehicles and equipment and a few operating businesses, such as the Manhattan Saloon.
The roofless Nye and Ormsby Bank Building is worth a look. Inside its stone walls you can still find the original vault with its thick doors intact — no money, unfortunately — and the remnants of rickety wooden floors.
At the entrance of town, you can still find about a half dozen decaying, wooden headframes perched on the hillsides. The Manhattan Cemetery, about a half-mile west of the town, is also worth exploring.
For information, visit https://travelnevada.com/discover/31114/manhattan.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.