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Cherry Creek is a good example of Nevada’s cyclical mining history

Richard Moreno

One of the best examples of a typical 19th century boom-bust mining camp found in eastern Nevada is Cherry Creek.

Gold and silver were found near Cherry Creek in 1872. Within a few months, more than 1,000 people had moved into the boomtown and, by the middle of the following year, the town had a post office, a Wells Fargo office, several saloons and a number of other businesses.

Between 1872 and 1883, the town generally thrived as its mines continued to produce good quality gold and silver ore. By the late 1870s, several large stamp mills were operating in the area and Cherry Creek was the largest community in White Pine County.

In 1881, additional discoveries caused several businesses from other eastern Nevada mining camps to relocate to Cherry Creek, including the White Pine News, a newspaper formerly in the mining town of Hamilton. A year later, Cherry Creek made an unsuccessful attempt to wrestle the county seat from Hamilton.

Unfortunately, Cherry Creek’s mines were also starting to play out. Less valuable ore was being extracted and, unlike the town’s previous slumps, no new significant discoveries were made. By the mid-1890s, mining virtually had ceased in the Cherry Creek area and the town had declined to a population of several hundred.

But it’s hard to keep a good camp down. In 1905, the district revived with new finds and Ely’s Nevada Northern Railway was extended through Cherry Creek a year later.

This revival lasted only about three years and, by 1910, the town entered another decline. It perked up from 1933 to 1940, when the mines were once again reopened, but fell into another slump during World War II and gradually faded away.

A visit to Cherry Creek affords a good opportunity to see a relatively intact old-time Nevada mining camp. A handful of newer homes, mostly plywood houses and mobile homes, are interspersed with the brick, stone, mud and wooden ruins of the older community.

In some cases, the newer construction has been added on to an original wooden cabin or house — creating a mixture of materials and designs.

Wandering the dirt streets of Cherry Creek, you can find plenty of abandoned homes. For instance, the town contains a handful of ruins of crude sod houses built by 19th century miners.

These houses were constructed partially into the ground or hillside and featured wooden beam roofs, over which sod or grass panels were placed. The result is a house that looks a little like a potato cellar, half-buried into the ground, with wooden doors and interior walls.

Other homes are tiny wooden shacks with corrugated metal roofs. In some cases, you can still see furnishings, including bed frames, mattresses, wooden tables and curtains, inside these buildings.

These homes are also noteworthy because of the wonderful texture and appearance of their weathered, worn wooden walls. Behind nearly all of the two dozen abandoned houses, you will also still find an outhouse, most in fairly good condition.

One of the most impressive of the ruins is a solid, red brick home, at the north end of the town. Inside, you can also see wallpaper on the walls.

A handful of buildings scattered around the site indicate the influence of the railroad. These buildings, which include an old jail, are constructed of large, sturdy railroad ties.

In the center of the town, you can find the commercial district survivors, including a large red freight barn and an old saloon.

Across the road from the red barn are the impressive remains of several stone buildings, again reminders of the rather substantial business district once located there. An historic marker adjacent to the ruins tells the Cherry Creek story.

On the west side of town, is the old Cherry Creek schoolhouse, still in good shape, which is now a museum. Inside, you will find an assortment of antique bicycles, mining tools and furnishings collected from the area. The museum is open by appointment (775-289-3720).

On a hill south of the town, with a beautiful view of the surrounding Steptoe Valley, are at least three large cemeteries containing dozens of wooden and marble tombstones.

Adjacent to the cemeteries is an old, single-story log cabin structure upon which is written the word “Jail.” It’s the kind of place that would make you think twice about a life of crime.

For information on Cherry Creek, go to http://www.greatbasinheritage.org/cherry-creek-nevada.

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