Sunday, April 18, 2010
Markleeville, located 35 miles southwest of Carson City, is one of Eastern California’s most picturesque and historic small towns.
Its history is remarkably similar to that of many Nevada mining towns. In the mid-1860s, silver was discovered in the area and a number of small mining camps appeared almost overnight, including Silver Mountain City, Monitor and Markleeville.
By 1864, more than 5,000 people lived in the region, which was carved into a new county called Alpine. That year also turned out to be the historic peak in terms of population for the county, which is still among the least populated in California with only a few thousand residents.
As with most mining towns, the ore began to run out and by the mid-1870s, the population began a gradual decline. Silver Mountain City faded so quickly that Markleeville was named the county seat in 1875.
As mining declined, the lumber industry became more important. During the 1870s and 1880s, Alpine County became one of the major sources of wood for booming Virginia City. Records indicate that during one year more than a quarter-million cords of wood were cut and sent to the Comstock.
Today, Markleeville is a charming, quaint little town with a handful of historic buildings that show that things haven’t changed too much in the last century.
For example, the Alpine Hotel in the center of town has a friendly tavern and still offers a couple of rooms upstairs. There are also a few local businesses—the kind you usually only find in small mountain towns—like a bait shop and a general store.
Markleeville is also the location of the Alpine County Historical Complex, a museum that includes a collection of historic buildings that help tell the town’s story. The complex is open from Memorial Day through October.
Visitors to the museum will find the restored Webster School, a classic one-room schoolhouse built in 1882. The Webster School was used until 1929, and then allowed to fall into disrepair.
In the 1960s, it was stabilized and eventually restored to its original condition. Inside you can view an interesting photographic exhibit describing the restoration project.
In addition to the schoolhouse, the museum includes displays describing the area’s rich history. Exhibits include a re-creation of an old country store and a blacksmith shop, Washo Indian baskets, antique toys and dolls, and a pair of 19th century handmade, wooden skis that are similar to those used by famous Genoa resident John “Showshoe” Thompson.
The complex also includes the Old Log Jail, Alpine County’s original jail built from locally cut logs in 1875. The jail has two hand-riveted iron cells that were originally part of the Silver Mountain City jail before being relocated to Markleeville in the 1870s.
Located high in the Sierra Nevada, Markleeville is surrounded by alpine forests and beautiful mountain ranges. There are a number of campgrounds and hiking trails in the immediate area. Lists of both are also available at the Chamber of Commerce office.
Markleeville is located 35 miles southwest of Carson City via U.S. Highway 395 and Highway 88 and 89. For more information contact the Alpine County Chamber of Commerce, Box 265, Markleeville, CA 96120, 530-694-2475 or go to http://www.alpinecounty.com.