Thompson smelter site is Nevada’s answer to Stonehenge |

Thompson smelter site is Nevada’s answer to Stonehenge

By Richard Moreno
Ruins of one of the old smelter buildings found at Thompson Smelter site, located north of Yerington.

Massive concrete blocks are just about all that remains of the mining area known as the Thompson smelters. A century ago, more than 350 people lived here. Now, only lizards, field mice and snakes call it home.

The concrete supports, once foundations of a pair of giant smelters, are the most lasting vestiges of Thompson, located 20 miles south of Silver Springs, just west of Alternate U.S. 95.

Wandering among the giant ruins, you have to wonder what future generations will see and think. Will they be able to figure out what was once there? Will future historians speculate that these simple blocks are the remains of an ancient temple or were icons used for pagan worship — just as we view places like Stonehenge or Easter Island?

Thompson was a short-lived mining town founded in the early part of this century. In 1910, two 500-ton smelters were built on the site to process ore being produced by the copper mines developed west of Yerington.

By 1914, a small town with more than 350 people had formed in the valley below the smelters. Several blocks of wooden and concrete structures were built, including homes, shops, offices, and, of course, saloons.

Ore from area mines was shipped to Thompson on a branch line of the Nevada Copper Belt Railroad. While the treated ore was considered reasonably pure, according to mining town historian Stanley Paher, the smelters ultimately proved to be marginally profitable and were first shut down in late 1914. Operations resumed for a short time from 1917 to 1919 and again from 1926 to 1928.

In the late 1920s, the smelters were dismantled and, by then, the town had all but disappeared — becoming another Nevada ghost. Records indicate the post office operated from June 28, 1911, to June 30, 1920.

Despite its short life, Thompson, named for William B. Thompson, one of the mining company owners, is still worth a visit.

The flat desert area below the smelter site is littered with the foundations of once substantial buildings (as well as other refuse, like abandoned cars, ovens, etc.).

The mining ruins are substantial, spreading over much of the hillside, and consisting of concrete supports, walls, partial buildings and assorted brick and rock fragments.

In addition to the half dozen or so huge concrete stanchions, you can climb to the top of the hill above the ruins, via the unusual remnants of saw-toothed concrete steps that were once part of the smelter building, and stand atop a mound of broken red brick. Here once stood a towering smokestack.

Additionally, the view of the surrounding area is spectacular. The wide Mason Valley spreads out in the distance. The mounds of tailings from the Weed Heights Copper Pit are prominent to the south, while below you can see geothermal ponds, the Southern Pacific Railroad line (originally part of the Carson & Colorado Railroad) and the site of the former railroad town of Wabuska.

To view a good collection of photos of Thompson, go to

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