Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ghost Town Tuesday - Gold Hill, Utah

People love gold. For as long as humans have had the capacity to care about things, gold has been pretty high on the list of things we have cared about. Frequently beating out other basics like food, water, and not being trapped in a dangerously unstable, poisonous gas-filled tunnels deep within the bowels of the earth. And true to our nature, once we have set our minds to something we will do pretty much anything to see our obsession fulfilled. Nothing is out of bounds when it comes to gold. There’s gold under the orphanage for sad kittens? Tear it down. That old guy over there has gold? Stab him in the neck and take it. There’s gold 1000 feet down under our feet? Let’s build a crude tunnel down to it. What if the tunnel starts to cave in? Aw, just shove a couple of two-by-fours down there and you’ll be fine. What’s great is that people back in the olden days didn’t care about all the fancy, modern uses of gold, like printer cables and gaudy opera houses. No, they needed gold to live. And by live I mean for prostitutes.

Why are we talking about gold? Well, we’ve already covered silver in the “Silver Reef” post, but by doing so it seems like we’ve been ignoring the real star of the subsurface world. And make no mistake, Utah has been in the middle of a long, steamy, often rocky relationship with gold. While it is in no way the leading producer of gold, Utah can trace much of its history back to this shiny yellow rock. I would post a picture of gold, but frankly I can’t afford any of the stuff to take a picture of. All I have is one of those gold-colored tinfoil coins with chocolate in the middle and soon I won’t have that anymore. Anyway, if you haven’t ever seen gold then perhaps this blog is too advanced for you, but just for the sake of moving on with the story, it’s yellow and amazingly valuable. I hate reading the newspaper because there’s the chance that I might accidently read a story that will make me think about stuff, and I am too lazy to do searches on the internet so I can’t tell you an exact price, but I think gold is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1,100 an ounce, which is hefty amount of moneys for such a little amount of something.

Anyway, enough about gold. Let’s take a look at one particular blob of history that can be found waaaaayyyy over by the Nevada, about 130 miles due west of Salt Lake City in a ghost town named Gold Hill.

Here’s a map I have drawn on a napkin. You don’t pay me for professionalism. You don’t pay me at all.

I imagine that the town got the name “Gold Hill” because there was a hill there, and gold was found in it. In an equally creative display, the main mine in the area was named “Gold Hill Mine”. Apparently the one thing that gold doesn’t inspire in humans is the ability to come up with imaginative names for the places where it can be found.

Well, there’s no point avoiding it. We are going to have to look into the history of Gold Hill at some point, so let’s get to it. Gold and other intresting rock things was first discovered in the area by various folks headed to California around 1857. People tinkered around in the area and created a number of smallish mines and such, but nothing really took off. Then, for no apparent reason, people started to get really interested in the area. The town of Gold Hill was formally set up back in the good old year of 1892, and indeed, was so named for the gold-bearing hill located to the east of the town. A fella by the name of James P. Woodman set up a mill in the middle of town to process ore from a number of different mines he had in the area. Mr. Woodman had made a bucket of money with his discovery of the Emma Mine near Salt Lake. Here's a picture of Mr. Woodmaan

As an interesting side note, the Emma Mine has a bit of a sorted history that is worth mentioning here (cus who’s gonna stop me?). Folks had high hopes for the Emma Mine. Assayed samples showed that anyone could close their eyes and swing a pick in any direction and make a fortune. Obviously that’s not exactly what the assayer said, otherwise you would probably have mine filled with people blinding swinging dangerous mining equipment around and goring each other, which is a poor way to run a mine. But there was a fair share of optimism about the claim. The mine had a good couple of years, but the ore body was smaller than expected, and when management feared that the ore was running out they sold it to some English suckers for a ton of money, conveniently forgetting to tell them that there wasn’t much left down in the hole. Anyway, the mine ran out of ore not long after the sale and our friends across the ocean weren’t amused. Lawsuits were filed and various threats were made, but I don’t know how it turned out. It was in all the papers. Go read it for yourselves.

Anyway, Mr. Woodman had money and was good at finding mines, which was potent combination back in the wild west. Gold was the main draw to the town, but soon other earthy bonuses showed up. Lead (whose dirty little secret of being toxic hadn’t been discovered yet) was a big player in the area, as were tungsten, arsenic and bismuth, which are three minerals that have uses, but I couldn’t tell you what there are. In a few short years the Alvarado and Cane Springs mines produced $200,000 to $300,000 worth of valuables. One shoot of the Alvarado Mine alone produced $1,100 of gold per ton for a couple of months, which is sort of the mining equivalent winning a local hot dog eating contest at the county fair. But the good times can’t last forever and people got bored with Gold Hill and moved on. The mill was shipped off to some other site like some sort of bulky, mechanical orphan. Here’s what’s left of it….

The road up to the mill was covered in snow, so I didn’t try to get up there. Anyway it didn’t seem like there was going to be much to see, so this picture will have to do. The rest of the town had consisted of tents and cheap wooden structures (as opposed to now, where the town consists of mobile homes) so nothing is really left of the earliest phase Gold Hill other than the impressive foundation of the mill and the mines themselves.

The Alvarado Mine

The Gold Hill Mine

Rube Gold Mine

And various other mines that for whatever reason never deserved a name

And so things sat until 1916, when Archduke Ferdinand of Austria got shot and Europe decided to go to war over it. I speak, of course, of WWI, and as horrible as war is it is pretty great for the mining industry. Copper values shot through the roof, and Gold Hill was ready to serve. A rail line was laid to several of the larger mines, and in 1917 a million big ones worth of copper ore left Gold Hill for smelters in Salt Lake City. Schools were built, streets were named, puppies were patted playfully on the head, churches and libraries were set up, and, most importantly, a huge pool hall was built. It also served as city hall, but it seems that the pool hall use was more important, which is entertaining to me. The Gold Hill News (an equally creative name for a town newspaper) was set up and printed up steaming piles of news daily. The population boomed to 3,000 brave souls, and water had to be shipped in from other sources. If water wasn’t available, alternative sources of moisture could be found at the local saloon. From what I can tell, this seemed to be the route that most folks went. There were so many mines that folks used to build their outhouses over abandoned shafts, which seems like a pretty dangerous thing to do, but I guess you did what you had to back in the day. I guess this is a pretty good reason to not go into any of the abandoned mines you find out there. In addition to the shafts that also served as sewage plants, several shafts were located in the middle of the streets which probably adversely affected traffic flow. City planning didn’t seem to be too much of a concern to the good folks of Gold Hill. Most of the remaining buildings at Gold Hill seem to have come from this period of boom-townism. Which is to say, the two remaining buildings. This one…

And this one next to it. Someone was living in it, so I didn’t go in.

Here's how they used to look. Well, how they looked in the 80's, I guess.

As a ghost town the place is pretty disappointing. I guess there are probably more old foundations to be found on the nearby streets, but nothing really standing other than the impressive array of mobile homes that are parked all over the place. There was a dead bat though! Check out this little guy!

I think he was dead anyway. Who can really tell with bats. Anyway, someone also apparently dumped a bunch of cheese in the basement for the rats, which seemed like an unusually kind gesture. That Jethro, always looking out for the rats.

I wanted to get into the small safe that appeared to be located near the back of the store, but the lack of a floor and the somewhat dangerous looking nature of the roof made me decide that the building could keep its secrets. Hey Goodwin Mercantile Company, fix your damn floor!

Anyway, back to history, apparently someone once tried to rob the local railroad, and made off with a good $4, some mail, and the conductors pocketwatch. The mail and the watch were found in the bushes the next day. The $4 probably went towards some sort whiskey, or possibly a particularly cheap prostitute. Who knows with the old west. Anyway, the young bandits were caught a few days later and faced significant jail time for messing with the mail. Apparently mail fraud was a no-no to these people. Also they accidently shot someone in the leg. But it seems like the mail thing was the main problem. Sometimes you learn something about the old west that seems to take the glamour away a little.

As WWI carried on, the US found out that it needed more tungsten for some reason. I think it’s used to make steel, but I could be wrong. Also, unknown to most people is another war the US was waging at the same time as WWI. I speak of the war on the cotton boll weevil, this guy….

Apparently this cuddly little fella had gathered a few of its friends and went coo-coo for cotton balls. You don’t hear much about this war. It was discovered that arsenic will kill this little bugger (along with several other things) off in packs, so suddenly there was a large demand for the stuff. It just so happens that Gold Hill was up to its knees in arsenic, and without too much trouble the mines started to produce arsenic in huge amounts. So Gold Hill saved the day. But then in 1924 Uncle Sam found cheaper sources of arsenic and kicked Gold Hill to the curb. Slowly the town died once again, just like the all the cotton boll weevils that it had so mercilessly slaughtered years before. Makes you think. This is sad. Let’s look at the bat again.

Anyway, in 1938 the last train pulled out of Gold Hill, and 1940 the tracks were torn up. You can still see the railroad grade though. See?

They say that in 1940 that all the mines around Gold Hill managed to produce a single ounce of gold. Which, it turns out, is not enough to support a town. I don't know who "they" are, but they are probably better informed than I am.

And so, again, things sat until war once again came upon the US. WWII sprung up, and once again Gold Hill was momentarily useful. Arsenic and tungsten were needed for various arsenic and tungsten war things. I don’t know why it is that cotton boll weevil only shows up during times of war. Maybe they are better organized than we think. Either way, the Gold Hill boomed once again. Several apartment houses were built, the pool hall/city hall was repaired and reopened and a bowling alley was built. They even got their own post office and electric street lights! None of these things were apparent during my visit to the city. In 1945 the US had won the war against the Axis and the Weevils, and once again Gold Hill was told to get lost. The apartment houses were moved to other more popular towns with better skin, and the schools and post office were closed in 1946. By 1952 the telephone lines were gone and the population was down to 5 people.

As I said, there doesn’t appear to be much left from the ‘40’s. I think this old camper was from the forties.

Also this building/whatever

I didn’t see any electrical street lights though. So I guess you just have to imagine them.
We met a very nice lady out at Gold Hill who represented 25% of the total population. She told us a little about what’s left and didn’t seem at all irritated that we flagged her car over so we could pester her with questions. She didn’t seem to totally trust us city folks either and was seen driving around to the houses of the other 3 residents, probably to ready the troops if we got unruly. They would take us out like cotton weevils. Anyway, it seems to me that if you rounded up 5 or 6 people you could probably take over the city, but I wouldn’t recommend it.
So that’s Gold Hill. Not a lot to see unless you really like dank, cold holes in the ground. Which it turns out I do, so it was great for me. If you don’t, then it sucks to be you. Here are some more pictures of the hills surrounding Gold Hill. Was it really foggy that day? Or are you developing cataracts? Nah it was foggy. You should probably get your eyes checked anyway though. You can never be too careful.


Dan said...

awesome post Scott. It was extremely informative. It would be a lot of fun to go back there in the summer when you can see more stuff. That old mercantile building is amazing. I wonder who owns it? I agree with you that it looks pretty dangerous.

How did the gold get there if there is no surface water? Does that mean that the gold is likely extremely old?

I have heard that a lot of people still tinker around panning for gold in American Fork canyon. We should do that sometime this summer. Where can buy panning equipment?

Cheetah said...

Summer would be the better time to check out Gold Hill. The roads had been plowed around the time that I was there, but it's likely that they aren't plowed all that often. The whole place smelled pretty old.

The mineralization of Gold Hill took place about 152 million years ago when magma was shoved into the pre-existing sedimentary rocks. 152 million years ago seems pretty old. (I got this info from "Selected Mining Districts of Utah" by Carl Ege. A great book).

I want to go to American Fork Canyon! I want to be rich!

B. said...