Sunday, September 23, 2007

My Favorite Ghost Town In Nevada

For most of its history, mining has been the biggest industry in Nevada. Mining is the prototypical boom-or-bust industry; when the vein of gold or silver ore at a given location is depleted, that's it-----the surrounding community dies. As a result, Nevada has numerous outstanding ghost town sites. Nevada's dry desert climate helps preserve its ghost town sites, and does the isolation of many of the sites----once you get out of the Las Vegas and Reno metro areas, it's not at all uncommon to be over 100 miles from the nearest gas station or hospital.

My favorite ghost town in Nevada can be reached via a 2WD passenger car, but it's a very long way from anywhere. It's Belmont, Nevada, the former seat of Nye County. It's located about 50 miles east of Tonopah, NV, off state route 82 north after exiting Highway 6. When you get out here, there is no mobile phone service, no stores, no gasoline, and you can only hear a couple of stations on the AM and FM radio dials. You can literally drive for hours without seeing another car. Better make sure your car is in good working condition and you have a spare tire before heading out to Belmont!

Belmont was founded in 1865 when silver was discovered in the hills around it. It grew rapidly, getting a post office in 1867 and reaching a population of over 4000 by 1872. Belmont was a more substantial town than many mining centers; many of its buildings were made of brick and it boasted of an opera house known as "The Cosmopolitan" and, at one time, three newspapers. Because of their sturdy construction, many of the building are well preserved even today.

Because of its growth, Belmont was named county seat of Nye county in 1874 and an impressive courthouse was built there. The courthouse still stands (although it is now closed) and is a remarkable sight! The jail was located in the courthouse's basement. In 1875, two strangers arrived in town and killed a local merchant, H. H. Sutherland, in a gunfight that began as an argument. An angry mob descended on the jail, overpowered the local sheriff and tied him up with ropes, and then lynched the two strangers from a ceiling pipe in the basement jail. "Rough justice" was more than a figure of speech in Belmont!

Alas, the good times didn't last long for Belmont. The silver mine production began to tail off in 1878, and by 1880 miners----and mining equipment----began to relocate to more promising locations in the Carson City and Virginia City areas. The post office closed in 1889, the county seat was relocated to Tonopah and the courthouse closed, and in 1901 the last surviving business----a newspaper called the Belmont Currier----closed down. The last remaining residents left soon thereafter, and Belmont's short, wild life was over.

Today Belmont sleeps quietly. There is a small bed-and-breakfast outside its limits, but the isolation of the site meant I was the only visitor on a fine August afternoon. The Belmont town site is on public land and may be freely visited. It's out of the way but well worth the trip.