Monday, July 07, 2008
Seeking Silver Peak
Mining in central Nevada didn’t begin in Tonopah in 1900. While that particular silver strike was certainly one of the state’s biggest mining discoveries, prospectors were actually working in the region much earlier.
In fact, there’s a place not far from Tonopah where mining began about 40 years earlier. Known as Silver Peak, miners from the Austin area discovered gold and silver there in 1863.
Silver Peak is located about three hours south of Fallon via U.S. Highway 95, then 21 miles south on State Route 265 (at a point about 30 miles west of Tonopah).
Within two years of the initial discovery, a 10-stamp mill was erected, followed by the construction of a larger, 20-stamp mill constructed in 1867, and a town developed under the name, Silver Peak.
The mill was shut down in 1870 and the mines were sporadically worked over the next 30 years.
In 1906, the Pittsburg Silver Peak Gold Mining Company reopened the area mines and built the Silver Peak Railroad to carry ore from a large mill at Blair (a mining camp located about three miles north) to the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad line.
Silver Peak's fortunes, however, were more down than up, and by 1913, the town lost its post office to the thriving camp of nearby Blair. The town experienced another mining boom in the mid-1920s (it got the post office back in 1916, after Blair went bust), which produced more than $8.5 million in ore before cresting.
A potentially fatal blow was struck in 1948, when most of the town burned. A modern town began to rise from those ashes in the 1960s, with the development of large scale lithium mining in the adjacent Clayton Valley.
Turning off from Highway 95, you face a long stretch of open road bordered by the Silver Peak Range on the right and the Weepah Hills to the left. In the distance, you can see the snow-capped Montezuma Range.
The air is clear and crisp—one of those days that you feel you could see all the way to Las Vegas if the mountains didn’t get in the way.
About ten miles from the junction with Highway 95, the surrounding ridges take on a darker appearance, indicating the area's volcanic history. As if to verify that fact, the road passes right next to a large black collapsed cinder cone, with two additional cinder mountains visible in the distance.
From here, you can also see the expanse of Clayton Valley, including the massive lithium mining operations.
Just north of Silver Peak, you can find perhaps the best evidence of the older Silver Peak. Here, on both sides of the road, you can see the dilapidated remains of a few houses and stone buildings as well as the skeletal frame of a cyanide operation.
Look closely and you might find the remains of an old buckboard wagon, sans wheels, hidden in the sagebrush near one of the structures.
Passing through the center of the town, you can still see that some of the newer structures appear built upon the foundations and walls of older ones.
Perhaps the most impressive ruins in Silver Peak are the large stone walls of a large mill located on the side of a hill that rises immediately east of the center of town. The ruins date to the 1860s.
Surrounding the ruins is apparently the local junkyard, containing some older wooden shacks and buildings that appear to have been moved there from other locations.
An excellent book about the people of Silver Peak is “Silver Peak: Never A Ghost Town,” by Victoria Ford, available in many local bookstores. Using oral history interviews with many former Silver Peak residents, Ford crafts a profile of the mining community that residents fondly referred to as “The Peak.”