Sunday, April 05, 2009

A Visit to Often Overlooked Golconda

To most travelers on Interstate 80, Golconda is just a name on a sign you pass on the way from Winnemucca to Elko.

More knowledgeable road travelers might recognize the word as Indian (as in the country). Indeed, railroad officials named the town in honor of an ancient city in India.

Golconda is a small hamlet that despite its somewhat modest appearance has played a part in many of the important events essential to the development of the west and the founding of the state of Nevada.

The town of Golconda is located 16 miles east of Winnemucca, adjacent to Interstate 80.
The area was first noted in the reports of explorer Peter Skene Ogden, who, in 1828, passed through the region while tracing the course of the Humboldt River.

Later, when large numbers of wagons began crossing Nevada on their way to California, the place now called Golconda became a stop on the famed Emigrant Trail because of its natural hot springs. You can still find traces of this route north of the town.

The hot springs, in fact, have remained one of the aspects of Golconda that continue to make it unique.

In 1868, the Central Pacific Railroad established an ore shipping station near the hot springs to ship gold ore found in the Gold Run mining district, located 12 miles south. A small resort was constructed to provide weary transcontinental travelers with a place to relax.

In the latter part of the century, Golconda was notable because it became the starting point for an ambitious canal project that was to carry local water 90 miles to the mines at Mill City.

The canal eventually reached Winnemucca, but was abandoned before it was completed because it leaked more water than it carried.

In 1897, there was renewed mining activity at Adelaide, located about 11 miles south of Golconda, and a narrow gauge railroad was built (called the Golconda and Adelaide Railroad).

The town sprouted to more than 500 residents, including several hotels and a post office, but the excitement quickly subsided when, in 1899, the mine was closed and the railroad ceased operations.

About seven years later, the mines, mill and railroad reopened, but once again proved unprofitable and all were shut down for good by 1910.

In the late 1930s, a large chemical plant was constructed outside of the town to treat ore from new manganese-tungsten discoveries, but it was closed by the end of World War II and dismantled in the early 1950s.

Mining has continued, however, since the 1930s at the Getchell and, later, Pinson mines, located about 20 miles north of Golconda.

The original hot springs hotel, which became regionally famous in the early part of the century, burned in 1961.

Today, visitors will find Golconda to be a sleepy roadside hamlet.

On the corner of the main street (parallel to the interstate) and the road leading to the center of the town is one of those great-looking 1930s-style gas stations that once lined Highway 40 (predecessor to Interstate 80). Now part of a private residence, the station, which is in good condition, still boasts its old gas pump, which reportedly pumped its last ounce of octane in the 1970s.

The town also has a striking gray and white, red-roofed school house, boasting a classical Victorian architecture. The building, constructed just after the turn of the century, now serves as a community center.

Standing guard over the quiet community is the original railroad water tower, a large black cylinder on stilts.

Less than a mile west of the water tower, you can also find the remains of Golconda's famed hot springs: a large pond of warm water fed by a few of the 12 springs found in the area.

About four miles west of Golconda is Button Point, a highway rest area that also happens to be one of the best places to view the incredible winding of the Humboldt River. Here, you can look out for miles across a relatively undeveloped landscape and truly see what Nevada must have looked like to the early explorers and pioneers.

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