Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Ghost Town Tuesday! - Silver City, Utah

I started this post on tuesday, so that title is somewhat correct. If this sort of thing is a problem for you, then I'm betting you aren't the super-popular type. I've got 99 problems, and people who have a hard time figuring out poorly-titled posts aren't one. Neither is tetanus (I got my booster!)

You know what I like most about ghost towns? It's not the history or the inspiring stories or any of that crap. It's that no matter how badly you are doing in life, the ghost town is most certainly doing worse. I mean, they're all dead and I'm still here! I may not have a job or a girlfriend, but at least I'm not a moldering corpse! Sometimes it's fun to walk to the center of town and dare someone to judge you. They can't! They wore crazy pantaloons and bonnets! Also there's no one there. This paragraph reflects very poorly on me.

Silver City is as desolate as any ghost town you will ever see. Time, weather, misapproapriation of funds, lack of effective city planning/population have all taken their toll on the moldering remains. Nowadays all that awaits you is a field. This field, in fact....

Also sheep. Lots of sheep. Here's a fun fact about sheep dogs. They are a really mean. Like 8th grade english teacher mean. Maybe YOU aren't applying yourself Mrs Stevenson! Bah.

The rise and fall of Silver City mirrors the rise and fall of the Tintic Mining District (in which it is located). Let's take a closer look at our trusty map so we have some idea of where we are. Remember, by trusty I mean that I'm going to draw it using my memory.

That's a good start. If I had bothered to make a map for the post on Diamond, you would see that the two towns were neighbors at one time. They probably had deragatory names for each other! Towns do that sometimes. Anyway, here's a close-up....

There. Now we have some bearings. Or we are just as lost as ever. Either way let's get on with this. Much like the ghost town of Diamond, Silver City was founded as the result of several rich mines being identified in 1869. The Grand-daddy mine of them all (not quite, but it was a pretty nifty find) was the Sunbeam, discovered by a fella named George Rust. Here he is now!

What's that, Mr. Rust? You have something to say?

Legend has it that the Sunbeam claim was identified when Mr. Rust saw the sunlight shining off an outcrop of ore. The story seems to be missing a few pieces as to what happened next, but apparently a group of mormon cowboys filed the claim (where Mr. Rust went, I couldn't say) and were promptly booted from the mormon church as mining was somewhat frowned upon in early Utah. Here's where the Sunbeam Mine is located....

It's pretty close to town, which is convient considering that the bus system was probably pretty bad. Here's the Sunbeam Mine nowadays!

Not much to look at. That was reclaimed in 2010, so now it looks like even less. Dust to dust and all that I suppose. Shortly after the Sunbeam Mine was staked, several other promising mines were staked in and around Silver City. These include the Swansea....

The South Swansea....

The Four Aces and Picnic Mines...

All of which were also located very convenently near town....

And so, here we are. We have miners, we have mines, we have ticks, and we have people who were willing to bleed them all dry. These are the ingredients a person needs for a town. And sure enough, in 1870 the town of Silver City was officially born.

Like all good towns, it started out being little more than tents and mud, but this wasn't to be the case for long. The mines were booming, and as a result the miners were ready for some prostitutes and whiskey, both of which require a somewhat more perminant building (not really, but I suppose it's preferred). As one observer put it....

"A billiard saloon, balcksmith shop, grog hole, some tents, several drunks, a free fight, water some miles off, a hold down 90 feet hunting a spring without success, and any number of rich or imaginary rich lodes in the neighborhood. The owners are all poor and poor men work for them. By next spring the poor with be poorer."

That doesn't sound so great I guess. But it doesn't matter. That observer was wrong and as such he doesn't even get his named mentioned in this post (also I don't know it). Silver City soon was the early center of the Tintic District, with the Mammoth claims to the north, and Diamond to the south. The name "Silver City" came from the rich silver mines that were basically in the middle of town. Silver City is a cool name. By 1883, the Salt Lake and Western and Tintic Range railroads had been extended into Silver City, and the mines were free to really take off.

As these things typically go, things didn't last very long. At a depth of 250 feet, the rich silver bodies that had everyone willing to live in that sheep-infested valley pinched-out into thick beds of worthless pyrite. One by one the mines closed down and the miners moved to the recent strikes at Alta and Park City. Silver City didn't disappear, but I bet land values were very affordable at that point. Gangs of wild sheep controlled the streets, and nobody went out at night for fear of being "sheared" clean by ill-tempered sheep crime-lords.

That could have been the end of our story if it wasn't for one brave soul who was determined to stick it out. He dug and dug into the pyrite and in July of 1896 he was rewarded! At a depth of 350 feet, a silver-rich galena body was found! Galena is valuable! Silver is valuable! The sheep were temporarialy shooed away, and Silver City exploded (figuratively). By 1899 the population was at 800 people, and all the mines were advanced into the rich ore bodies below the devilish pyrite that had at one time tormented them so. This is considered the golden-age of silver city.

It is a worthwhile exercise at this juncture to step back and make a mental list of the things miners hate. Step into the body of a turn of the century miner (mind the syphallis!) and take a look around. As a miner, you probably find that you dislike corrupt mine bosses, poor safety records, and other miners. You also hate watered-down whiskey and the chinese (you're a tad bit racist). But what about the very substance of life? I speak of water. Now, water is great in managabile quantities. Hell, it's not only great, it necessary. But what if it gets out of hand?

That is a flooded mine. Water floods mines. Miners can't breathe in water. This is a problem. Groundwater near the mines in the vicinity of Silver City showed up at a depths ranging from 300 to 650 feet below the current ground level. No matter how rich a mine is, it means nothing if you can't get at the ore. The mines that weren't dripping with valuable minerals had to close, as they couldn't afford to battle the constant flow of water that took over the mines. The major mines initiated an expensive pumping system and continued to plunge into the earth to find more of the good stuff. Look at how much digging the Swansea Mine did!

But, alas, even they weren't immune to the ravages of water and water-related troubles. Eventually the water over-powered their pumps and the mine had to close. The town began to shrink again. Then in 1902 the whole place burned to the ground. That shrunk it up real fast.

The town was somewhat rebuilt a third time, although it was no longer particularly important (like the postmaster general). It limped on, probably filling up with the less social folks (get off my land!) and sheep. But Silver City was to get one more chance to make it to the big leagues.

Allow me to introduce Jesse Knight.

Mr. Knight is a monumental figure in the Utah Mining world and was at one point owned most of the Tintic District, but I'm not going to get into that here. Or anywhere in this post. And probably never at all. All you need to know is that if he asked you to eat a pinecone, you ate as many as you could as fast as you could. Unless you had some self-respect.

Mr. Knight had a problem. Smelter rates were too high, and it made it hard to make a profit off all the ore his mines were producing. So he did what rich people do and decided to simply build his own smelter (and then charge himself much more reasonable rates I imagine). In 1907 he selected a nice flat spot outside of the decaying remains of Silver City and built the Utah Ore Sampling Company Smelter. Need proof? Here you go!

With the nearby smelter hard at work, Silver City boomed once again, reaching a population of 1500 in 1908. Buildings were constructed as fast as the lumber could get there, with most of hte population being employed in one of Jesse Knights many ventures in the area. The smelter was such a success that it got its own holiday. On July 24th, 1908, the good people celebrated "Smelter Day", complete with free food, free transport to the event, and even a marrage. It was probably the only time you will ever see a mine smelter at the center of a positive event, but those were different times. But what did they care? Things were good again! And they were going to last this time! Right?

Nope. Shipping rates dropped, and suddenly it became more economical to just ship your ore to Salt Lake City than it was to ship it to your smelters in the mountains and let the hill people deal with it. So Mr. Knight took down his fantastic, wonder-astic smelter and moved it to Salt Lake City one year later (October of 1909). Now instead of producing silver and copper, the smelter produces a large amount of concrete debris.

And so, we (again) reach a rather gloomy part of our post. You see, without mines or any sort of mine-related income, the town of Silver City once again found itself without purpose. But, like a rich elderly relative, it refused to die. Silver City lingered around, feeding on whatever scraps the town of Eureka didn't want. The remaining inhabitants didn't care much for outsiders. Or foreigners. Two Croat smelter workers who had decided to hang around the smelter closed were involved in a killing, which resulted in the following statement from a Silver City resident -

"Before the smelter was completed a boat load of Turkish people (Greeks) was imported for cheap labor which of course caused contention among the working people, these Turks were housed in large rooming and boarding houses near the smelter and much of them selves. and a good thing because these people were considered very dangerous and most of them carried long knives in the wide sash around their waist and we kids were admonished to stay away from that part of town or we would be butchered and eaten."

There were no reports of cannablism, so I guess the two parties stayed away from each other. Life puttered on through the 1920's with the population holding steady at 650 folks. Look! Here's the graduating class of 1927!

By 1930, the population had dropped to 278 people, and by 1933 the town was deserted and left to the elements (who showed no mercy). Various fires encouraged the wooden structures to move towards the white light, and the ever present sheep romped about like they owned the place. That leads us to this.....

(That is the old waste-water pond from the smelter. The people of Silver City used to love to swim in it. It probably wouldn't have been as popular if they had known that lead and arsenic also loved to swim in it. But who knows? All the swimmers are dead, so we can't ask them).

A few crumbling concrete foundations, a few rusty tools, and lots of sheep. Seriously, the sheep are endless out here. And so we end our visit to Silver City. Because it's boring out there nowadays and I'm sick of talking about it.


Lostinthought said...

Loved this article/blogpost. Wish I could get out to one of these some day.

Patti Jo Beal said...

Well...George Rust is a relative of mine. He mined for a bit and was off for the next adventure. He was always on the hunt, it seems as our family lore has been told he enjoyed the hunt more then the catch. His family lived in Caineville, his son Dave Rust was an explorer in the Grand Canyon and Glenn Canyon. His camp is now Phantom Ranch.
Interesting article!

Quinn. said...

Loved it, also related to George!Thx for the write up!