Monday, April 09, 2007
The desert has not been kind to Rhyolite.
Once impressive concrete, stone and brick buildings have been blasted by wind and sand into skeletal reminders of a place that was once one of Nevada's most promising mining towns.
Sitting on the edge of Nevada, overlooking Death Valley, Rhyolite—perhaps more than any other ghost town—tells the story of the rise and fall of a Nevada mining town.
Rhyolite is located about four miles west of Beatty, via State Route 374 and U.S. Highway 95.
Gold was discovered here in about 1904 and a township was mapped during the following year. By May, 1905, the town had its own newspaper, showing that it had come of age.
A month later, a post office was opened and by 1907, an estimated 6,000 people had flocked to this boomtown in the desert.
Soon, no less than three railroads (the Las Vegas and Tonopah, Tonopah and Tidewater and Bullfrog-Goldfield) were built to serve the town, which also had 45 saloons, an opera house, a telephone company, electric power plant, three ice plants, several hotels and two stock exchanges.
Rhyolite, however, turned out to be a disappointment in terms of gold production. While there was gold, it wasn't in sufficient quantities and accessible enough to justify the development that had appeared almost overnight.
Another problem was the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Many of Rhyolite's investors lived in San Francisco and, following the earthquake, were more interested in rebuilding their lives than spending money on a questionable investment in Nevada.
The final blow was a national financial panic in 1907. As a result, the money began to dry up for developing Rhyolite's mines and people began to move on to more profitable places.
The census of 1910 indicated 675 residents and a decade later the number was fourteen.
Today, Rhyolite remains one of the most photogenic of Nevada's ghost towns. In the late afternoon, the sun stretches the shadows of the ruins, creating marvelous images.
The town contains some intriguing structures, including the three-story exterior walls of the J.S. Cook Bank, the facade of the Porter Brothers store and the interesting remains of the town’s two-story school.
The former Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad depot is one of the finest examples of the early 20th century mission-style architecture used for many public buildings.
Rhyolite is also home of one of the last mostly-intact bottle houses in the state. The unusual structure was constructed in 1907 using 15,000 bottles at a time when conventional building materials were scarce.
An excellent web site on Rhyolite is www.rhyolitesite.com, which is managed by the Rhyolite Preservation Society, a group dedicated to saving the community.