North Fork: Photogenic ruins and the ghost of Bing Crosby
Travelers heading to Idaho on State Route 225 often don’t even notice the former community North Fork, a once-thriving stage station.
Located about 50 miles north of Elko, North Fork was established in 1870 as a stage stop with food and lodging for travelers. Within two decades, others had moved to the area to establish cattle ranches and North Fork — so named because it’s near the north fork of the Humboldt River — could boast some 75 residents.
By the early 1890s, North Fork had grown to a population of about 122 as well as a post office, a small hotel, a saloon, a grocery store and a school (which hosted dances and other events). According to several histories, in the late 1890s the stage line ran from Elko to North Fork and on to the mining town of Gold Creek, which was located about 20 miles to the northeast.
Ranching continued to provide a good living for residents into the 20th century. But the growing popularity of the automobile made the stage line obsolete and, despite the opening of a service station in the 1920s, North Fork itself began to fade as well.
Starting in the 1940s, many of the local ranches began to be sold to larger outfits that combined them into much larger holdings. In 1944, the post office closed for good and the community was largely abandoned.
Time and elements took a toll on the few stone and wooden structures so that today the original townsite consists of a handful of foundations, a couple of crumbling stone walls and a wooden structure that is gradually melting into the sagebrush. Adjacent are several newer structures and homes.
Wandering through the high grass and sage, one will find the picturesque stone wall ruins, which appear to have once been a commercial business, and, slightly to the north, a dilapidated wooden cabin or home. The latter is made of sturdy logs and still has a portion of its roof intact.
About five miles south of North Fork is the Lawson Ranch, a 3,000-acre cattle operation once owned by singer Bing Crosby. The property, which includes its own airstrip and hangar, has enough grazing land for 600 head of cattle.
It also includes a 5,000-square-foot, five-bedroom, five-bath main house (currently a bed and breakfast) as well as three guest houses, two large hay barns, a heated repair shop and an equipment enclosure. There is also an old homestead on the property, which dates to the 1860s.
Crosby acquired the ranch — one of seven properties he owned in Elko County — in the mid-1940s when he became enamored with the region. For many years, he would spend summers at the ranch, then called the PX Ranch, with his wife and four sons.
During the next decade and a half, Crosby was a regular visitor to his ranches and Elko. In 1948, he was named honorary mayor of Elko and honored with the key to the city.
Several historians note that Crosby originally hoped his sons would embrace the ranching lifestyle and take over the operation but eventually realized none were interested.
Following the death of his wife, Dixie Lee, in 1952, Crosby’s interest in his Elko properties began to wane and, in 1958, he sold them and never returned to Elko. Historian Shawn Hall, who has written extensively about Elko County, noted that Crosby did, however, remain in touch with many of the friends he made during his years as an Elko-area resident — and he was still honorary mayor of Elko when he died in 1977.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.