Goldfield Part 1: Site remains one of Nevada’s most fascinating neo-ghost towns
The story of Nevada’s 19th and early 20th century boom and bust mining towns is told in the dusty streets of the historic community of Goldfield.
At its peak in 1907, Goldfield had a population of more than 20,000 and a residential and commercial district that covered more than 50 city blocks.
Wandering the town, you can find plenty of remnants of the past. In the early part of the 20th century, Goldfield was the largest community in Nevada and the center of Nevada’s political and economic power. But then the mines tapered-off and fires and floods did much to hasten the city’s decline.
Goldfield traces its beginnings to two miners, Harry Stimler and William Marsh, and a Shoshone named Tom Fisherman. Just after the turn of the century, the latter apparently discovered gold in the mountains south of Tonopah. In 1902, he led Stimler and Marsh to his find and within months a small mining camp had developed.
The site was originally called “Grandpa,” supposedly because Marsh declared it was going to be the granddaddy of all mining camps. Interest in the camp was modest until 1903, when additional gold discoveries were uncovered. The following year, a townsite was plated, which was named Goldfield.
Goldfield boomed from 1905 until about 1910, when it began its gradual descent into near-obscurity. Despite having only relatively short time as a thriving boomtown, a large number of substantial buildings and homes were constructed in Goldfield.
Many of them were destroyed when a massive flood swept through the town in 1913, damaging and destroying dozens of buildings, and accelerating the town’s demise. The worst was yet to come. In 1923, a fire incinerated most of the town’s commercial district.
Today, Goldfield remains one of the most vivid symbols of Nevada’s early 20th century mining boom period. In spite of the disasters as well as neglect and decay, more than 100 historic structures have survived more or less intact.
Walking or driving through the community, you can still find plenty of buildings that played an important role in Goldfield’s past.
Starting at the north end of town (driving on U.S. 95 from Tonopah), you pass Columbia Mountain (on the left), site of the area’s most significant gold discoveries. The first ore found there was apparently extremely rich — which helped generate the initial enthusiasm for Goldfield — but the deposits were not particularly deep, which is why the mines had such a limited life.
Just beyond the mountain, the highway curves east and enters the town, where it becomes known as Crook Street.
For a half mile or so, you pass other ruins and dilapidated structures on either side of the road before reaching the center of Goldfield, which you recognize because its the location of the town’s most significant survivor, the Goldfield Hotel.
Constructed in 1907-08, this massive four-story brick building rises 56 feet high and can be seen from miles away. The hotel was once the most luxurious in the entire state with an elevator, overstuffed, leather lobby chairs, crystal chandeliers and other elegant features.
The hotel was financed by one of Goldfield’s largest mining consortiums, the Hayes-Monette Syndicate, at a cost of more than $250,000. Shortly after is completion, it was sold to George Wingfield, who controlled most of Goldfield’s mines and was an influential political and business force in Nevada during the first quarter century.
While the hotel managed to stay open until the 1940s (and avoided serious damage during either the 1913 flood or 1923 fire), it has not operated for several decades. In the mid-1980s, the structure was partially restored by a San Francisco millionaire, who hoped to reopen it, but the work was never completed.
More on Goldfield next week.