In their heydays in the boom-and-bust mining culture of the late 1800s, the mining camps of Aurora, Nev., and nearby Bodie, Calif., had a combined population of nearly 20,000.
Keeping the thriving camps supplied was an ongoing challenge.
A little-known piece of history of the two boomtowns — the role of the Chinese woodcutters who supplied firewood and charcoal to the camps — is the subject of a major new exhibit at the Nevada State Museum.
“Fueling the Boom: Chinese Woodcutters in the Great Basin,” opens Friday, Feb. 22 in the museum’s South Gallery.
The exhibit highlights the significance of the woodcutting residents of Chinese Camp near Aurora, who felled pinyon pines to supply Bodie and Aurora with firewood and charcoal from about 1875 to 1915.
The exhibit will draw on historical objects from the Nevada State Museum’s Morrill-Santini Chinese Camp Collection, historical photographs from the 1950s to ‘70s by Robert Morrill, who originally collected the artifacts; and contemporary photographs of the area by Apollonia Morrill for the project “Charcoal Camp.”
“This exhibit is a fascinating look at industrious Chinese woodcutters living and working in 19th century Nevada,” said Myron Freedman, director of the Nevada State Museum. “Archaeologist Bob Morrill helped to curate the story, which is told through artifacts he preserved from the site half a century ago.”
“Photographer Apollonia Morrill, Bob’s daughter, adds a beautiful dimension to the exhibit with her contemporary photographs of the same area. What is remarkable is how the Chinese woodcutters history is still very much part of the landscape.”
The exhibition will bring together objects and photos to illuminate the specific history of Chinese Camp within its larger historical context, giving the viewer an image of what this place looked like in the past and today.
The Nevada State Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Admission is $8 for adults, free for museum members and children 17 and younger. Parking is available in the free public lot on the west side of Curry St. behind the museum.