Thursday, August 28, 2008

Rochester Slowly Fades Into the Sunset

A strong wind sweeps across the tumble down buildings in the old mining camp of Rochester. In the fading late afternoon light, they become harder to see and mysterious.

The ghosts are coming to life in Rochester Canyon.

Rochester Canyon was once one of north-central Nevada’s most successful mining camps. In the early 20th century, the region produced more than $6 million in silver, gold, copper and lead.

The ruins of the Rochester Canyon communities are located about 10 miles southeast of Interstate 80 at the Oreana exit. To reach the site, exit at Oreana (14 miles northeast of Lovelock), then travel three miles on a paved road. At a fork in the road, turn right onto a maintained dirt road and continue another seven miles to Rochester.

Rochester Canyon was first explored in the early 1860s by prospectors from Rochester, New York (thus its name). Small-scale mining was initiated but proved largely unsuccessful.

In 1912, Joseph Nenzel discovered large bodies of silver ore in the canyon, which sparked a significant boom. By 1913, more than two thousand miners were working the area and a two-and-a-half mile long ribbon of miner's shacks, commercial businesses and other buildings began to line the center of the canyon.

Several separate town sites were actually laid out in the canyon. Near the top was Rochester Heights, which had a popular local saloon. Farther down the canyon was Rochester, which quickly became the largest settlement with several substantial stone buildings to house hotels, saloons and offices. At the mouth of the canyon was Lower Rochester.

At its peak in 1913-14, the town of Rochester had its own orchestra, regular freight service, dance halls and a 100-ton mill to process the ore.

By 1915, following completion of a shortline railroad that connected to the nearby Southern Pacific line, Lower Rochester grew into the biggest camp. In 1917, an aerial tram system was completed to carry ore from the mines to the mill at Lower Rochester.

Rochester’s mines continued to be productive throughout the 1920s and 30s. The mines were shut down in 1942, as a result of shortages of equipment and supplies during the Second World War.

Efforts to restart the mines continued after the war but none succeeded until the 1980s with the development of a large gold mining operation, the Coeur Rochester Mine, which operates on the mountain above the canyon.

Despite the years of neglect, Rochester, as the whole area is referred to today, offers intriguing glimpses at an early 20th century mining camp. When you enter the former site of Lower Rochester, you will find a handful of impressive wooden mining headframes and decayed buildings on the southern hillside.

Wandering among the ruins, you can spot the mostly intact fly-wheels, cabling and other pieces of equipment on the headframes. Additionally, there are also the partial remains of the ore-cart track and bridge, adjacent to the headframes and buildings.

One note of caution: be very careful walking around any part of Rochester Canyon because there are many open mine shafts. Also, do not touch anything. Most of the buildings are barely standing and probably won’t survive too many more years and any abuse.

Up the canyon from those ruins, you will find a large mill building, mostly intact. The structure seems in fairly good condition, although not safe enough to enter. Opposite the mill building, you can also spot the large concrete foundations of what must have been another, larger mill site.

The road continues up the canyon, with a handful of stone foundations and crumbling, wooden miner’s shacks peeking through the surrounding sagebrush. A commemorative plaque telling the story of Rochester can be found in front of one of the former miner’s homes, adjacent to the road.

From the plaque, the road heads farther up the canyon but becomes rockier and there aren’t any more ruins along the way. About a mile from the plaque, you reach a locked fence and the entrance to the Coeur Rochester Mine, which is closed to the public.

For more information about Rochester, contact the Lovelock Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 821, Lovelock, NV 89419, 775-273-7213.

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