Sunday, September 28, 2008

Easy to be Alone in the Old Mining Camp of Ione

The mining industry’s cyclical nature can be easily seen in the worn countenance of the Central Nevada mining town of Ione.

Silver was discovered by miner P.A. Havens in late 1863 on the edge of the Shoshone Mountains. Within a few months, a small settlement had taken root and by January 1864, Ione, then called Ione City, had more than 50 buildings.

The name, Ione, was apparently taken from another similarly named mining district in California.

Residents were so certain that Ione was going to be something big that they petitioned for the creation of a new county, Nye, with Ione as the seat. The Territorial government granted the request and an official county government was created in April 1864.

By the end of 1864, some 600 people were living in Ione, which also boasted a post office, two newspapers and dozens of businesses including a stable, several stores and markets, restaurants, saloons, a drugstore and a stagecoach line linking the town to Austin.

Ione’s bright future began to dim in 1866-67, when new discoveries in the mining town of Belmont, located about 50 miles southeast, lured away many of the community’s prospectors. In February 1867, Belmont wrestled the Nye county seat away from Ione.

Ione’s demise accelerated with the loss of the county seat. By 1868, the population had dipped to about 175 people. Despite additional silver discoveries in the 1870s, Ione never regained its prominence.

In 1880, Ione’s population had slipped to 25 and the town’s heyday was over. Residents even changed the town’s name to Midas, in 1882, in the hope that it might help create a more prosperous image for the community.

Ione never completely vanished despite a bad fire in 1887 that destroyed many of its remaining buildings. Mining continued into the late 1890s. After the turn of the century, however, most of the mines and mills had closed and the post office was shut down in 1903.

The town experienced a new mining revival, this time involving the production of mercury, in 1912-1914, and the post office was reopened, this time using the current name, Ione.

During the next half-century, Ione managed to hang around, surviving off sporadic mining operations. The post office again closed in 1959 and, to date, hasn’t reopened.

Ione’s most recent revival occurred in the early 1980s, with the development of a large gold mining operation by Marshall Earth Resources, Inc. The company, which today owns most of the town, also restored several of the town's original buildings.

For example, the old schoolhouse was converted into a general store while the former post office was made into the Marshall Earth Resources offices that were furnished with beautiful antique furniture.

As with previous booms, however, this one eventually ebbed and the town has lapsed into a quasi-slumber.

A special treat for visitors is the small Victorian-style town park. Encircled with a white picket fence, the park has turn-of-the-century Victorian street lamps. With its large shade trees, the park is a pleasant place for a picnic or to enjoy Ione's quiet ambiance.

The town's main business is the Ore House Saloon, a restaurant, gas station and bar that seems to have a seasonal schedule (depending on mining activity) and isn't always open.

Wandering around Ione, you'll also find other interesting sights, including, just north of the general store, a corral filled with a half-dozen buffalo. A sign warns not to get too close to the wooly animals, which do not appear to be particularly friendly.

North of the park, you will find other remnants from old Ione, such as an aged, wooden corral fence, an old wooden barn-like building (rumored to have served as the original Nye County Courthouse), several stone cabins, as well as half-buried dirt and grass structures that were once used as miner's residences, like the one pictured above.

The nearby Ione Valley is also notable because historic evidence indicates it once was home to a large, Native American population, which dates more than 5,000 years.

To reach Ione, travel east on Highway 50 to Middle Gate (about 40 miles east of Fallon). Turn south on State Route 361 toward Gabbs. Just before reaching Gabbs, turn east on State Route 91 (marked for the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park). Continue for 12 miles, then turn north on the dirt road marked for Ione, which is just before reaching Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park (a place also worthy of a visit).

A gravel road northeast of Ione passes over the Ione Summit, before dropping down into the Reese River Valley. From here, it is about 40 miles to Highway 50 and the town of Austin.

For more information about Ione, contact the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, 775-964-2440, or refer to Shawn Hall’s excellent book, “Preserving the Glory Days: Ghost Towns and Mining Camps of Nye County, Nevada.”

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