Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Tales of Unionville
The mining town of Unionville is rich—but with stories, not silver or gold. In fact, it was famed writer Mark Twain who first dredged up a few tales about this once-promising 19th century mining camp.
Twain arrived in Unionville in the winter of1861 and promptly set out to make his fortune as a miner. In his classic book, “Roughing It,” he described early Unionville as consisting “of eleven cabins and a liberty pole. Six of the cabins were strung along one side of a deep canyon, and the other five faced them.”
He went on to write: “The rest of the landscape was made up of bleak mountain walls that rose so high into the sky from both sides of the canyon that the village was left, as it were, far down in the bottom of a crevice. It was always daylight on the mountain tops a long time before darkness lifted and revealed Unionville.”
After a short time in the mining town, Twain wrote that he discovered a shiny piece of rock that he knew had to be gold. His glee, which he called “a delirious revel,” turned to embarrassment when a more experienced prospector revealed his “find” was only granite and glittery mica.
“So vanished my dream. So melted my wealth away. So toppled my airy castle to the earth and left me stricken and forlorn,” he noted. “Moralizing, I observed, then, that ‘all that glitters is not gold.’”
Later, however, Twain made a more important discovery.
“We had learned the real secret of success in silver mining—which was not to mine the silver ourselves by the sweat of our brows and the labor of our hands, but to sell the ledges to the dull slaves of toil and let them do the mining!”
Of course, Twain’s stories aren’t the only ones told about Unionville. For instance, it began life in the spring of 1861 as a mining camp that was named Dixie by a group of miners who identified with the Confederacy—remember this was during the Civil War.
Soon, however, more people flocked to the boomtown. Most of the later residents were Union sympathizers and, after a brief political skirmish, the town’s name was finally changed to Unionville.
Another tale about Unionville is that even though it was the first seat of Humboldt County, it wasn’t really built to last.
Stanley Paher, author of several Nevada history books, has written that lumber shipped to the town was so bad that one newspaper reported that when it rained the county clerk stacked his papers into one corner of his office “where the rain didn’t come any thicker than it did outside.”
Despite the travails, Unionville managed to grow during 1862-63. During that time, it had nearly 1,000 residents and numerous businesses including ten stores, six hotels, nine saloons, a brewery and a newspaper.
The town experienced brief spurts of mining activity during the next decade before losing the county seat to Winnemucca in 1873. By 1880, the good years were behind Unionville, which slowly slipped into obscurity.
Fortunately, Unionville never completely disappeared. After mining ceased, the local economy shifted to ranching and agriculture and, in recent years, tourism.
In fact, the main thing happening in the town today is the Old Pioneer Garden Bed and Breakfast. The two-story bed and breakfast is located in a former wagon maker’s home (only the stone walls remain of the original building) and offers 11 rooms, six with private baths (775-538-7585 for reservations).
Additionally, there are other ruins of old Unionville sprinkled throughout beautiful Buena Vista Canyon, which is the site of the town. Stone walls and foundations, a few intact wooden houses, tall cottonwoods, old barns and a picturesque one-room school house (not open to the public) are among the historic survivors.
A small creek, which runs down the canyon and through the town, enhances the general sense of peacefulness found here.
And, of course, there are plenty of good stories.
Unionville is located about half-way between Lovelock and Winnemucca. To reach it, travel east of Lovelock on Interstate 80 to the Mill City exit. Head south on State Route 400 for about 15 miles, then drive west for three miles on a good dirt road.