Friday, March 02, 2007

Ghost Town of Blair Slowly Disappears

Of the hundreds of mining ghost camps in Nevada, few were as short-lived as Blair.

Located two miles northwest of the mining town of Silver Peak, Blair was a company town, which was built between 1906 and 1907—and completely abandoned by 1918.

Blair is located about two hours south of Fallon via U.S. 95. At a point 30 miles west of Tonopah, turn south on State Route 265 and continue 19 miles. Blair is located on the hillside, a half-mile to the west via a good dirt road.

Blair was created because the Pittsburgh Silver Peak Gold Mining Company needed to build a mill site near the Silver Peak area’s mines. Unfortunately, the landowners in Silver Peak were greedy and held out for top dollar for their land.

In response, the Pittsburgh Silver Peak company quietly purchased property a few miles north of the town. There the mining company laid out a townsite, which was named in honor of John I. Blair, an eastern banker who had developed the Silver Peak mining district.

In addition to a town, the mining company constructed a 100-stamp mill, the largest mill in the state at the time. Additionally, it built a 17.5-mile railroad, called the Silver Peak Railroad, which ran from Blair to a junction on the main line of the Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad.

A 14,000-foot aerial tramway was constructed to carry ore from mines on the opposite side of the mountain to the mill.

By 1907, Blair has a few dozen homes, a couple of saloons, a newspaper, a handful of businesses and a two-story hotel.

Historian David Myrick (author of the excellent two volume "Railroads of Nevada" books) notes in his description of the Silver Peak Railroad that Blair settled upon a particularly unique way of paying for some of its public services.

As the town developed, it found that there was no money for fire hydrants. The residents decided to conduct a minstrel show with local talent, the proceeds of which would help pay for this essential service.

The performance was awful, according to Myrick, and a donated case of whiskey inspired the performers so much that one fell off the stage. One observer is said to have remarked, "the show was so terrible it was entertaining."

Silver Peak mines played out within a few years and the mill ceased to operate by 1915. The large facility was dismantled and sold to another mine and the railroad was torn up in 1918.

Today, it's easy to miss the handful of remnants of Blair. Sitting on a slope overlooking the road, Blair has almost blended back into the surrounding sagebrush-covered hills.

The most noticeable ruin is a large concrete and brick skeleton of a building that still has its chimney and walls intact (perhaps the remains of the old hotel?). A smaller, square concrete building sits a few yards away.

Parked in the desert between the two structures is the rusted hulk of an old car, which appears to be from the 1920s or 30s.

Exploring behind the larger building, you'll still find a handful of other foundations, including another partial chimney, as well as other hints of the mining town that was once here.

About a half-mile west of the townsite are the massive foundations of the once mighty Pittsburgh Silver Peak mill. Huge concrete footings line the mountainside (the mill was built on the hillside to take advantage of the gravity flow of the ore) and provide an idea of the mill’s great size.

On the top of a hill above the foundations, you can find another remarkably intact concrete building, which appears to have been an office at the mill site. Still visible is the flat, former Silver Peak Railroad bed, which runs parallel and below the mill site.

About two miles south is Silver Peak, which is home to a handful of people as well as an operating mine.

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