Monday, November 11, 2019

Not to be Taken for Granted: Grantsville

When it comes to historic mining camps in Central Nevada’s Shoshone Mountains, perhaps the most familiar names are Berlin and Ione.
But tucked into a canyon about five miles southeast of Berlin are the remains of Grantsville, a mining community that once boasted a population of nearly 1,000.
To reach the site of Grantsville, follow directions to Berlin-Icthyosaur State Park from the small town of Gabbs. Head north for about two miles on Nevada State Route 361, then turn east on State Route 844. Continue for 16 miles, then when you reach a fork in the road, turn right on a dirt road (NF-120) and continue for about 5 miles to reach the townsite.
Gold and silver were discovered in the Union Mining District, which included Ione, in the summer of 1863. As miners began to spread out across the range, the camp that would grow into Grantsville formed in the upper part of Grantsville Canyon.
The camp, however, was short-lived when most of its residents departed after hearing about a large mining discovery in White Pine County in 1868-69.
In 1877, a mining outfit called the Alexander Company began working the site and erected a twenty-stamp mill. The population of Grantsville quickly swelled and by 1879, it boasted several dozen stores selling general merchandise, furniture, baked goods, and jewelry as well as a brewery, three saloons, barbershops, blacksmith shops, a laundry, a bank, a print shop publishing the weekly Sun newspaper, and a post office.
According to historian Stanley Paher, the stamp mill was doubled in size a year later and, while the Sun folded, another weekly paper, the Bonanza, took its place. There was sufficient commercial activity that Grantsville had stagecoach service to Austin (via Ione) as well as a second line to Eureka, via Belmont.
There was even talk of extending the Nevada Central Railway, which ran between Austin and Battle Mountain, south to the area.
But like most mining communities, the good times came to an end. By 1885, the mines started to fade and the exodus of residents began. A year later, the population had declined to less than 50 residents and, in 1887, the post office closed for good.
Historical records indicate that the community experienced several very brief, small-scale revivals during the years between 1907 and 1947, but none revived the town.
Yet despite the years of neglect and abandonment, enough of Grantsville remains today to make it worth a visit. More than a half dozen structures, including the substantial ruins of a stamp mill, can still be found.
Driving into Grantsville Canyon, one of the first things you see is the mill, to your left. To the right is a small wooden structure that appears to have been used by a mining company since the floor is covered with torn sacks once filled with rock and dirt.
Farther ahead are the ruins of other buildings made of adobe, wood, and stone.  On a hillside overlooking them is the former Grantsville school house, a particularly well-constructed structure of brick and metal siding.
The ruins stretch out across the canyon’s flat expanse east of the mill and provide at least a hint of the size of the community, which truly has been left to the ghosts. Be careful while exploring, however, because the site also has several open mine shafts (fortunately, most are fenced).
In addition to the fairly extensive ruins, Grantsville also has a small cemetery. Not much remains of it except for a post and some collapsed fencing.
Good sources of information about Grantsville are Stanley Paher’s “Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps” and Shawn Hall’s, “Preserving the Glory Days: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nye County, Nevada.”

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Explore Nevada's Myths and Mysteries

A couple of years ago, I had the good fortune to write a book about Nevada’s most enduring mysteries and myths. The book apparently sold pretty well because my publisher recently asked me to expand it for a new second edition, which has just been released.
Called “Nevada’s Myths and Legends: The True Stories Behind History’s Mysteries,” the book highlights 19 of what I believe are the state’s most colorful and fascinating legends or mysteries.
Among the legends featured in the book:
• Who really killed gangster Bugsy Siegel, the man considered the progenitor of modern-day Las Vegas? While the case has never been officially closed, there are plenty of potential suspects including rival gangsters and unhappy friends and associates (to whom he owed lots of money).
• What’s with all the strange stories related to Lake Tahoe? In ancient times, a horrible, birdlike, man-eating monster is said to have lived at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. More recently, there have been sightings of a giant serpent-like creature, affectionately known as Tahoe Tessie. And then there are those tales about acres of perfectly preserved human bodies resting in the deepest parts of the lake.
• “Was the Garden of Eden Located in Nevada?” is what a 1924 newspaper headline asked in a front-page story describing the findings of Captain Alan Le Baron, who saw something positively biblical in the “petrified remains” of once-lush forests in a remote river valley south of Yerington.
• Did Nevada’s U.S. Senator Key Pittman die a few days before he was up for re-election? Was his body preserved in ice to keep people from finding out the truth? This piece of “fake-lore,” as former Nevada State Archivist Guy Louis Rocha calls it, has made the rounds for years.
• Whatever happened to Reno banker Roy Frisch? In 1931, Frisch was scheduled to testify against Reno gangsters Bill Graham and Jim McKay. A few days prior to his appearance he walked from the home he shared with his mother to catch a show at a nearby movie theater. While witnesses reported seeing him leaving the theater to return home, he never made it. His mysterious disappearance remains one of the Biggest Little City’s biggest mysteries.
• Who really robbed the First National Bank of Winnemucca in 1900? For years, many have claimed that outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid participated in robbing the First National Bank in Winnemucca. Evidence, however, seems to indicate that while members of their gang probably helped commit the crime, the notorious duo most likely weren’t anywhere near Winnemucca when it occurred.
Among the new stories included in the book are:
• What’s the story behind the town of Metropolis, located near Wells in Northeastern Nevada? Was it a real estate scam or just the victim of a series of unfortunate events? Or a bit of both? In 1911, Metropolis could proudly boast of having a train depot, a 50-room brick hotel with electric lights, a two-story schoolhouse, and phone service. But within a decade it was all falling apart. Initially because of a water rights lawsuit and then its troubles were compounded by invasions of Mormon crickets and jackrabbits. Today, it’s one of Nevada’s few non-mining-related ghost towns.
• Was the death of Raymond Spilsbury, the man who built the Boulder Dam Hotel, a suicide or something more sinister? In 1945, Spilsbury drowned in the Colorado River. But when his body was pulled from the current, his pockets were filled with rocks and his feet were tied together with his own belt. His widow believed there were unanswered questions after authorities ruled it suicide.
“Nevada Myths and Legends: The True Stories Behind History’s Mysteries, Second Edition,” by Richard Moreno, is published by Globe Pequot and is available in local bookstores, like Sundance Books in Reno, or on Amazon.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Nearly Forgotten Overland Stage Line Once Passed Through Central Nevada

Most know that U.S. 50 through Nevada parallels portions of the historic Pony Express trail (and the old Lincoln Highway), but less well known is the fact that the route also parallels what was known as the Overland Mail and Stage Line.
Fortunately, a few reminders of this equally important transportation link—which operated from about 1861 to 1869—have survived the passing of time, including the ruins of several stone corrals and some foundations.
Before the completion of the transcontinental railroad, the Overland Stage served as the nation’s primary commercial cross-country transportation system. While it wasn't cheap to go from St. Joseph, Missouri to San Francisco—more than $200 a passenger—the journey attracted plenty of takers, including a young Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).
In “Roughing It,” Twain, who seems to have enjoyed the experience, describes his carriage as “a great swinging and swaying stage, of the most sumptuous description—an imposing cradle on wheels.
“We sat on the back seat inside. About all of the rest of the coach was full of mailbags—for we had three days' delayed mails with us. Almost touching our knees, a perpendicular wall of mail matter rose up to the roof.”
The Overland Stage was developed parallel to the Pony Express Route, which had also begun operating in 1861. While the two shared some stations, the stage line constructed additional facilities between Pony Express stations because its heavier stages required more frequent changes in horses.
In 1862 or 1863, the Overland revised the western portion of the trip across Nevada, requiring the construction of new stations. These changes came just as the Pony Express was discontinued and the transcontinental telegraph was completed.
Despite its hefty prices, the Overland was not a financial success. Money woes plagued the stage line during most of its existence, even after it became part of the Wells Fargo and Company in 1866.
Additionally, the line wasn't particularly efficient. Attacks by tribes angry about the intrusion of the stages on their lands interfered with regular service and resulted in considerable delays and loss of mail and other cargo (not to mention a few lives).
According to one history book, mail actually had a better chance of getting delivered to San Francisco by boat than via the stage.
Weather also proved a serious problem, with the stage line resorting to sleighs to get over the Sierra range in the winter months.
Of course, the stage line was always perceived as a temporary measure while the West awaited the coming of the Iron Horse. For a time, the two worked in tandem; mail was carried part of the way via train, then transported by stage between the not-quite-connected railroad.
But on May 10, 1869, the last rail was driven at Promontory Point, Utah, and the stage line quietly disappeared.
Today, among the best and most accessible places to find the remains of the Overland’s system of stations are at Rock Creek (near Cold Springs on U.S. 50, halfway between Fallon and Austin) and at New Pass (25 miles west of Austin).
The Rock Creek site, located adjacent to the highway and designated by an historical marker, dates to about 1862. Stagecoach drivers could find fresh horses, crude accommodations, a blacksmith shop and wagon repair services here.
The site, surrounded by a high fence, is little more than stone rubble, stacked higher at the corners, in a vaguely rectangular pattern. If you look closely, you can still make out door passages and places for windows.
About a half-mile north are more stone walls, also surrounded by a fence, which are all that remains of a telegraph repeater and maintenance station. This facility, also built in the early 1860s, was part of the Overland Telegraph-Pacific Telegraph Company's transcontinental line, built in 1861 between Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento. This structure was abandoned in August 1869.
About a mile and half east of the Rock Creek site is the location of the Cold Springs Pony Express Station. These substantial rock ruins, which can only be reached on foot, are considered to be among the best-preserved Pony Express ruins in Nevada.
At New Pass, you can find slightly more substantial rock walls, also protected by a wire fence. Apparently, the roof of this native stone structure, now long gone, consisted of bundles of stacked willow twigs.
The historic marker notes that a nearby spring proved inadequate for the station's use, so water was brought in from a ranch a mile away. This site also once included a small hotel and store, which served local miners.
Other Overland Stage buildings still intact include: a crude, wooden Ruby Valley Pony Express cabin, which was moved to the Northeastern Nevada Museum in Elko in 1976; the restored Bucklands Station building at Fort Churchill State Park; the International Hotel in Austin; and Friday's Station (now a private home) at South Lake Tahoe.