Monday, June 14, 2010

Goldfield Walking Tour - Part 3

Finishing up with our walking tour of Goldfield, we head off the main boulevard (Crook Street/U.S. 95) and wander the side streets of this historic mining town, which is located about 240 miles south of Reno via U.S. 95.

For example, on the corner of Ramsey and Euclid avenues is the former Goldfield High School, built in 1907. Sadly, the school has been vacant since the 1940s and has deteriorated in recent decades (although efforts have been made to stabilize the building).

The school is a two-story stone and brick Georgian Revival-style building that sits atop a half-story full basement, which makes it seem even larger. The entrance is enhanced by wide wooden steps leading into an elegant archway and vestibule. During the town’s boom, the high school accommodated more than 400 students.

Down the street, at 206 E. Ramsey Avenue, is the Southern Nevada Consolidated Telephone-Telegraph Building, once part of the town’s commercial district. Constructed in 1906, the building is a one-story, stone structure, which has a full basement containing much of the phone company’s original wiring and relays.

The building is significant because the Southern Nevada Consolidated developed the first communications systems in Goldfield. It extended its telephone and telegraph lines from Tonopah to Goldfield in 1904.

By 1907, when Goldfield was teeming with more than 20,000 people, the phone company was bursting with activity as it tried to keep up with the demand for communications services (records indicate revenues in excess of $250,000 in 1906).

The town began its long decline after 1913, but the phone company managed to survive for another five decades before finally closing its doors. Today, it is in fairly good shape (it was used as an apartment for a number of years) and is one of only seven commercial or public buildings made of stone that are still standing.

Adjacent to the phone company building is the Goldfield Consolidated Mines Company Building, also known as the Nixon and Wingfield Block.

This three-story stone structure is probably the third-most impressive building in Goldfield (after the Goldfield Hotel and the Esmeralda County Courthouse). Built in 1907, this was the nerve center of the Goldfield mining empire of Senator George Nixon and financier George Wingfield.

Nixon and Wingfield dominated Goldfield’s mining industry during its early boom period. By 1907, they had purchased controlling interest in nearly all of the productive mines in the district.

A year later, Wingfield acquired Nixon’s share in the company and virtually ruled the town’s mines until 1932, when he suffered financial setbacks as a result of the Great Depression.

Directly next door to the Goldfield Consolidated Building is the Curtis and Ish Building, also erected in 1907. The Curtis and Ish is a three-story concrete and stone structure that utilizes a Neo-Classical Revival style.

The impressive commercial building was constructed by two successful Goldfield businessmen, Loren B. Curtis and Marvin E. Ish.

Curtis was owner of the Nevada Power, Mining and Milling Company, which supplied electrical power to Goldfield and Tonopah. Ish and his brother were mine developers, who made nearly $1 million from the Mohawk Mine (later acquired by Wingfield).

Across the street from the Goldfield Consolidated Building is the less auspicious Elks Building, built in 1925. This was one of the last substantial structures erected in the town, having been built on the foundations of the former Tonopah & Goldfield Railroad Building, which was destroyed by fire in 1923.

A couple of ruins worth noting are the former sites of the Montezuma Club and Sideboard Saloon.

The Montezuma Club (on Columbia Street) was once the most influential and powerful social institution in the town’s history. Its members included the richest and most successful businessmen in Goldfield.

The original structure, which was three-stories high and one of the largest buildings in town, was destroyed during the 1923 fire. Today, all that remains is a shallow pit, stone foundations and the original cornerstone, which is inscribed: “Montezuma Club - July 1907.”

The Sideboard Saloon ruins are noteworthy because of the unusual 12-foot, round, stone arch—once the entrance—that stands in an empty field. The original building was erected in 1907 but destroyed in the 1923 fire.

The last building of significance is the Santa Fe Saloon, built in 1905. This modest wooden drinking establishment is located well outside of the main commercial portion of Goldfield but adjacent to the town’s mining fields.

The Santa Fe is one of a handful of businesses that have managed to stay open in Goldfield for the past century. It’s a classic frontier-style saloon with a wooden false front and sidewalk.

Inside, it boasts a century-old backbar, uneven floors and plenty of authentic, old Goldfield character (or characters, depending on who’s there).

For more information about Goldfield, contact the Goldfield Chamber of Commerce, 165 Crook Ave., P.O. Box 204, Goldfield, NV 89013, 775-485-3560,

Friday, June 04, 2010

Goldfield Walking Tour - Part 2

This week, we’ll continue our walking tour of the mining town of Goldfield, once Nevada’s largest and most influential community.

Wandering the dusty streets, and seeing the dozens of building foundations and decaying, abandoned structures, it’s clear that Goldfield was once a substantial place.
Founded in 1902, it had more than 20,000 residents by 1907, then declined almost as rapidly as it rose.

Across the street from the magnificent Goldfield Hotel (on U.S. 95, which runs through the center of town) is the impressive Esmeralda County Courthouse. Built in 1907-08, this two-story, stone structure is perhaps the best-maintained building in town.

The courthouse, which is still in operation since Goldfield remains the seat of Esmeralda County, is an outstanding example of an early 20th century hall of justice.

The building’s exterior is composed of course, rockface stone. It has a tall, stepped parapet at the roofline above the entrance and notched walls at the four corners of the building—all of which give it a dramatic castle-like appearance.

Inside, the courthouse has finely crafted wood staircases, ornate light fixtures and expensive courtroom furnishings, including original Tiffany lamps.

The courthouse reflects the political muscle once exerted by Goldfield. When gold was first discovered in Goldfield, Hawthorne, located 125 miles north, was the Esmeralda County seat.

As Goldfield grew, its community leaders became unhappy with the expense and inconvenience of having to deal with such a distant county seat for business transactions. So, in 1907 Goldfield wrestled the seat away from Hawthorne (which later was able to regain its status as a county seat when Mineral County was created from part of Esmeralda County).

Adjacent to the courthouse is another of Goldfield’s better preserved survivors, the First M.E. Church of Goldfield. With architecture that echoes the courthouse, the church was built in 1912, just as Goldfield was beginning to slump.

The church is a single-story structure with an articulated, square bell tower that rises 30-feet. While its facing resembles the courthouse’s stonework, the church was constructed with rusticated blocks, which is concrete that is cut and molded to resemble stone.

Across Crook Street (U.S. 95) is the E.A. Byler house, which has the distinction of being one of the few bottle houses remaining in Nevada. This residence, built in 1905, was actually constructed of used beverage bottles that were covered with adobe. In places, some of the adobe plaster has worn off, exposing the bottles.

Continuing down Crook Street, there are several other significant structures to be seen, including the 1908 Goldfield Fire Station No. 1, still used as a fire station.

This simple, rectangular, two-story stone building was paid for by the people of Goldfield, who raised half its cost by donations (the county paid the rest) and erected it using donated land and labor.

Near the firehouse is the ornate G.L. “Tex” Rickard house, probably the finest of the original boomtown homes still to be found in Goldfield. The flamboyant house was built in 1906 by Rickard, co-owner of the Northern Saloon and promoter of the 1906 Gans-Nelson championship boxing match, held in Goldfield.

Rickard is one of the more interesting persons drawn to Goldfield during its boom. The publicity he generated for the Gans-Nelson fight catapulted Goldfield into the national consciousness as an up-and-coming mining community, which helped its mines attract eastern investors.

Rickard later built and managed the first Madison Square Garden in New York.

Another unusual house is the Charles S. Sprague home, a one and a half story structure located at the intersection of Crook and Sundog avenues (at the place where U.S. 95 turns sharply south).

The Sprague place, built in 1907, was one of Goldfield’s most substantial homes. Sprague was owner of the Goldfield News and a prominent Goldfield businessman, who served as Esmeralda County’s state senator during the 1920s.

The house has a steep, gabled roof that extends the length of the house and is noteworthy for its large size and unique design, which architectural historians describe as Craftsman Bungalow style. Over the years, it has been used a residence and commercial business, most recently as a restaurant.

Still more on Goldfield next time.