The Nevada Traveler: A place called Contact

Image of living quarters available in Contact in the 1930s.

Image of living quarters available in Contact in the 1930s.

One of the more unusual names found on a Nevada map is the tiny community of Contact, located about 15 miles south of the Idaho border on U.S. 93. The name is said to derive from mining jargon.
While today, not much remains of Contact — a fire destroyed most of the town’s buildings in 1942 — once upon a time it was a fairly thriving mining community.
According to the late (and great) Elko County historian Howard Hickson, gold and silver ore were discovered in the area as early as the 1870s, but it wasn’t until the late 1890s that mining began in earnest. By April 1897, nearly 200 miners were working in the area.
Despite construction of a smelter that year, the mines were not profitable and by 1900 less than 100 miners were still working the ground there. Things began to pick up again in 1905 and by 1915, a settlement had cropped up that had a 35-room hotel, several saloons, a barbershop, a post office, schools, restaurants, a general store and even a newspaper (the Contact Miner).
Hickson has written that Contact seemed to experience its most flush times when the United States was at war. He pointed to the fact that from 1916 to 1918, production peaked, and then again from 1942 to 1946.
The value in keeping Contact’s mines operating during wars was that while the local mines produced some 742 ounces of gold and 58,713 ounces of silver, the real money was in the 3.3 million pounds of copper, 324,233 pounds of lead and 18,400 pounds of zinc that were mined between 1916 and 1958 (when the mines were finally shut down for good).
Additionally, in 1979 the Los Angeles Times noted that during Prohibition, the town was the largest supplier of bootleg whiskey to Idaho. Hickson said that during a town reunion that year, one former resident claimed there were six moonshine operations in Contact in 1917 that operated until the repeal of Prohibition in 1932.
The fire in 1942 devasted the town, which was already severely depressed. Flames consumed the store, hotel, restaurants and bars, a service station, a church, and many homes.
Today, only a few residents still live in Contact, most employed by the Nevada Department of Transportation, which has a maintenance station there.
Wandering through the sagebrush and high grass, you can still find a few old wooden homes and foundations of some of the stores and other businesses destroyed by the fire.
Records indicate that the Contact area still has several hundred active mining claims, including the Contact Copper Project, a copper-oxide project that has not yet been developed.
A few miles north of Contact is Jackpot, a thriving hotel-casino resort community with about 1,200 residents. Jackpot traces its beginnings to 1954, when Idaho outlawed gambling and two Idaho slot machine operators, “Cactus Pete” Piersanti and Don French, moved across the state line to establish two gaming businesses called Cactus Pete’s and the Horseshu Club.
The town was originally named “Horseshu,” after one of the properties, but Cactus Pete’s objected, so the Elko County commissioners formally named it “Unincorporated Town No. 1.” In 1959, both properties agreed on the name, “Jackpot.”

Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.


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