Tuesday, June 09, 2009
Gold Hill's Historic Treasures
You know the train is coming to Gold Hill long before you see it. It lets out a loud, throaty whistle and a cloud of smoke appears over the hill above the community—the signal that the Virginia and Truckee train is beginning its descent into the historic mining town.
The locomotive stops near the old Gold Hill Depot for passengers to disembark. For most of the last 130 years, V&T trains have been dropping people off here.
The former mining town of Gold Hill shares a similar history with Virginia City. In the late 1850s, both were the location of gold and silver discoveries that became part of the fabulous Comstock Lode.
Historians believe that Gold Hill was established in about 1859, initially as little more than a few dozen miners camping under trees, in tents, and in crude shacks. But within a few years, Gold Hill rivaled Virginia City in size and population.
By the early 1870s, the town claimed 8,000 residents as well as one of the most well known newspapers in the state, "The Gold Hill News." It had schools, several fire companies, banks, churches, a post office, a town hall, and was an important stop on the V & T Railroad line, which eventually stretched from Virginia City to Reno.
As with Virginia City, Gold Hill’s decline began in the late 1870s when the mines were played out. By 1882, the newspaper had closed (it moved to Idaho), and the people gradually drifted away. By 1943, Gold Hill couldn’t support a post office.
While much of Gold Hill has disappeared over the years—the buildings were generally victims of fires, neglect, and removal—enough remains to offer an interesting historic walking tour of this once-thriving mining town.
The old V & T Depot, for example, still sits on a flat near the north end of the canyon. The wooden board and batten frame building, constructed in 1872, was used until the Virginia City portion of the V & T ceased operating in the late 1930s.
In recent years, the depot has been partially restored and serves as the ticket office for the revived V & T Railroad.
Down the canyon from the V & T Depot is the former Bank of California building, which dates back to 1862. The red brick and stone structure is one of the few surviving commercial buildings from Gold Hill’s early days.
The bank building was originally the home of the Gold Hill Bank, and then was purchased in 1873 by William Sharon to become part of his Bank of California. In 1879, the Bank of California moved to Virginia City and since then the building has housed a variety of businesses including a pool hall and art gallery.
Next door to the bank is the Gold Hill Hotel, the oldest hotel in the state. The original stone structure—the front part of the building—was constructed in 1859. The two-story wooden section, to the rear, is a newer addition built about two decades ago.
Up the hill from the hotel are the picturesque remains of the Yellow Jacket Mine incline shaft and headframe, built in 1937. The warped, wooden chutes leading down the hill once carried ore from the headframe at the shaft at the top.
Adjacent to the hotel is the Crown Point Mill, constructed when the area's mines were reworked in the 1930s. Built in 1935, the mill processed ore from the Yellow Jacket and Crown Point mines. The main buildings have been maintained over the years.
Across State Route 341 from the Crown Point Mill are the Lynch House, a white Victorian on the highway, and the Pink House, a very pink-colored Victorian on the hillside above, which was once a very fashionable neighborhood in Gold Hill.
The Lynch home was built in 1869 by a state legislator while the Pink House was constructed in the 1860s for a nephew of U.S. Senator John P. Jones, who served as Nevada’s Congressional representative from 1873 to 1903. Both are private residences.
Next door to the Lynch place are the green-colored stone foundations of the Rhode Island Mill. Dating to 1862, the mill was one of the first stamp mills in Gold Hill.
Of course, throughout Gold Hill you can still find a handful of long-abandoned mining shacks and ruins, which provide an idea of the modest existences of most of the town’s miner-residents.
Two significant headframes mark the southern boundary of Gold Hill and the next town downhill, which is Silver City. The first, an impressive metal skeleton on the hill above the road (there is a mine shaft at the base of the hill) is part of the New York Mine and was built in 1913.
The other, located about a quarter-mile south, is the Keystone headframe. This wooden structure, surrounded by a metal fence, was built in the late 19th century and is considered one of the best remaining examples of the type of mining equipment once common throughout the Comstock.
Gold Hill is located about 20 miles northeast of Carson City via U.S. Highway 50 and State Route 341.
For more information check out the Gold Hill Hotel’s web site at http://www.goldhillhotel.net/.