Old mining town was once a big deal
One of the best things about writing this column is getting feedback from readers. Not too long ago, I received an email from a reader, Steve Hansen, telling me that he was the grandson of Joe Jarvis, who once owned a mercantile store and bank in the old mining town of Fairview, located east of Fallon.
Mr. Hansen had seen a photo I took of one of the few remaining structures in Fairview, a rectangular, concrete vault perched precariously on a crumbling rock foundation and pointed out that it was once part of his grandfather’s bank.
In addition to sending along a photo of his grandfather’s business, he passed along a fascinating history of Joe Jarvis written by his brother, Chris Hansen.
According to the history, Jarvis was born in Pennsylvania in 1870 but relocated to Virginia City in the late 1800s, where he operated a successful men’s clothing store.
In 1902, Jarvis moved to the new community of Fallon, where he quickly partnered with a Fallon businessman, R.L. Douglass, to open a meat market. About three years later, Jarvis and Douglass sold their business and headed out to Fairview, located 40 miles east of Fallon on U.S. 50, where recently gold had been discovered.
The two opened a small mercantile store in a tent, which was soon replaced by a wooden building. In May 1906, they opened a bank, which, according to Chris Hansen, included “a vault with walls eighteen inches thick interwoven with steel cable . . . By April 1907 its deposits exceeded a third of a million dollars.”
According to Chris Hansen, Jarvis and Douglass closed the Fairview bank in 1910—a reflection of the boom and bust cycle of a mining community—and both businessmen returned to Fallon, where they owned and operated the Nevada Distillers and Brewing Company for many years.
During the next several decades, Jarvis would own and operate several Fallon businesses, including another meat market and another mercantile store. He also served on the Fallon city council for many years. He died in 1946.
As for the story of Fairview, in June 1906, a town site was laid out and lots were sold. During the next year, hundreds of people drifted into and out of the camp, which was soon had several hotels, two dozen saloons, and two newspapers (the Fairview News and the Fairview Miner).
Because of its remoteness, basic commodities were expensive in Fairview. Nevada historian Stanley Paher notes in his “Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nevada” that a small plot of sagebrush and sand sold for $100 a front foot, while ice was $4 per 100 pounds, water was $2.50 a barrel, and wood was $20 per cord.
In 1907, enthusiasm about Fairview was so great that there was widespread discussion about a railroad connection. According to rail historian David Myrick, the most common rumor was that the Nevada Central Railroad, which ran from Battle Mountain to Austin, would go westward to Rawhide, with a spur to Fairview.
But, unfortunately for the town, no railroad was ever built.
Photos from the time show a fairly substantial community laid out in the desert flat below Fairview Peak, overlooking the Fairview and Dixie valleys. The town was several blocks long and wide, with a wide main street lined by about a dozen stores and businesses, including a two-story hotel.
Since there wasn’t rail service, freight, including supplies needed by the town and ore that was sent out of the area for processing, was handled by several auto stages that linked the community to Hazen and Fallon.
Despite the early optimism, the Fairview area mines began to decline in 1908. The newspapers soon folded and most of the miners moved to more lucrative districts.
Modest discoveries in 1911 — the district produced a total of about $3.8 million in its short existence — spurred another small boom. Much of this new development clustered around the large Nevada Hills Mill built on the mountain behind the original town site.
Mining continued until about 1917. However, by the 1920s only a handful of hardy optimists remained in Fairview.
The original town site, which was in the flat below the mines, began to disappear. Wood from many of the buildings was used in the upper town site or taken for use in other towns. The mill building was dismantled after it was closed, leaving only foundations.
Photos from the 1950s show about a dozen, dilapidated buildings standing in the upper canyon. But even these didn’t have much of a chance of surviving. In the early 1980s, pilots from the nearby Fallon Naval Air Station bombed the wooden structures, apparently believing they were practice targets.
Today, the only noteworthy survivor is the decaying concrete bank vault standing alone on the flat site of the original town.
Ironically, as you stand on the site of the town, you realize that Fairview also describes the community’s most lasting legacy — the view of the surrounding valley is spectacular.
Directly below is the asphalt ribbon called Highway 50. Beyond is a broad sand and alkali valley. To the left are military buildings; most of the valley was taken over a few years ago by the federal government for military exercises.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.