In my 9 years (thus far) “on the road”, Goldfield Nevada is a unique find. About a 50 mile drive from Area 51, located along U.S. Rt. 95 – a main artery connecting northern and southern Nevada, and a solid 3 hour drive from Las Vegas, sits the truly strange and historic town of Goldfield, Nevada.
I KNEW it was going to be worth spending some time here so I scheduled a 3 day/2 night stay at a campground IN the “ghost town” of Goldfield – the Goldfield RV Park. (Their rate is $30/night, and there’s a 2nd rv park on Rt. 95 at the north end of town.) Why the quote marks? Well, Goldfield IS a ghost town – but it isn’t. Allow me to elaborate…
Goldfield’s colorful history
Goldfield’s story began at the inception of the 20th century (1902) upon the discovery of silver and gold. Goldfield, Nevada quickly became one of the largest towns in the entire western part of our nation – and the largest in the entire state of Nevada! The population peaked in 1906 at about 25,000. As with many mining towns, the transformation from boom to bust came quickly.
In Goldfield’s case, the population dropped from 25000 to a few hundred quickly due to a miner’s strike in 1906, a flood that resulted from a dam break in 1913 and then a fire in 1923 caused by the explosion of a moonshine still.
One of the major events that led to a massive decline in Goldfield goes like this – in 1906 the miners organized a union and called a strike for better wages. They may have won better wages, but the mine owners retailiated. The owners were being robbed by miners who were literally lining their pockets with some of the gold they were extracting from the mine. They were able to do this as they were wearing their own clothes to and from and IN the mine. The owners then built a changing room and insisted that a mining uniform be worn when in the mine and removed BEFORE leaving the changing room – thus gold could not easily be removed by the miners. As a result, many left for other towns where wages were better and the population began to decline.
By the time of the Great Depression, Goldfield was a shadow of its former self, but thanks to a small remnant of residents remaining, and the survival of major buildings including the hotel (more on this shortly), the school house, and the courthouse, and numerous smaller buildings, the town lived on.
Today there are about 190 souls that reside and live in Goldfield. Mining activity continues to this day – and should gold go up in value significantly, I believe Goldfield is poised for another boom. Upon my visit in October, the nearest food and fuel was 27 miles north in Tonopah – and the grocery store there was no great shakes! If you want a well-stocked grocery store, you have to head south to Vegas! The status of readily available grocery items and fuel will soon change as a truck stop is being built at the south end of town.
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Goldfield Struck a “chord” with me
Ok, I’ll admit it, I like ghost towns! Perhaps its my interest in history and in seeing ‘up close and personal’ how people lived in a simpler time. Goldfield is unique in the sense that its still a (somewhat) functional community and much of the original Goldfield remains. But it was more – I spoke with several residents, owners of local businesses (rock shops, souvenir shops, an operational restaurant called the Dinky Diner. The Dinky Diner incidentally is effectively a town meeting site as many of the locals eat there – and the food is pretty good (in fact dinner was excellent!)
One of my first stops was the courthouse – there’s a placard outside that shares the history of the building – but the real treasure is inside. Upon entry, I was approached by the Court Clerk who offered a brief tour (see photos.) Her office area (where records are kept) has the original furniture installed in 1905 – including the giant register books to record events in the town.
She invited me to self-tour the building (see my narrated slide show below) – the courtrooms and judges chambers are as they were over 100 years ago, including the leather surfaces to the table tops! She also shared Virgil Earp’s (Wyatt Earps brother) sheriff’s papers awarded him in 1905. He was briefly Sheriff of Goldfield before passing away later that year from illness. Wyatt Earp actually lived in Goldfield briefly while his brother was Sheriff of the territory.
Interestingly the county Goldfield is in an unincorporated county and has no zoning laws or building codes! This makes the residents quite independent. As one resident put it to me, if you build it and the walls collapse or the roof falls in on you, it is your problem and your fault alone. I kinda like that attitude! It explains why the owner of property across the street from the RV park I stayed at was building a home out of stacked storage containers!
A walking tour of Goldfield
There’s actually a guide to the homes, buildings, and sites with over 100 catalogued – each with its own unique story. The Goldfield Hotel *may* re-open as it is under renovation. It would be the first time since this 1906 structure functioned as a business since the 1940’s!
The schoolhouse is also well on its way to renovation (see narrated slideshow above). This is in stark contrast to some of the homes that appear to be ready to cave in from time and lack of attention. Some of the residents expressed an interest in preserving these buildings, but understand that most are privately owned and it’s not their role to take such action on another’s property.
Goldfield Car Forest
Ever been to the Cadillac Ranch near Amarillo, Texas? That’s the closest I can compare Goldfield’s car forest to. The difference is these cars were painted by an artist, so visitors are not invited to spray paint the cars (as they do at the Cadillac Ranch.)
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A brief visit to Coaldale – situated between Tonopah and Goldfield
Coaldale, so named in 1894 when coal was discovered here. Where is “here”? About 20 miles south of Mina, and a 90 minute drive from Goldfield. Coaldale is now abandoned, and in fact the entire “town” was recently for sale! Coaldale is a very small site and all that remains are a few abandoned buildings – a restaurant, gas station, motel and (presumably) employee housing. What follows is a slideshow illustrating what I saw upon my visit in Oct. 2020.
Goldpoint – another must visit ghost town while in Goldfield
Goldpoint is an easy 40 minute drive to the southwest of Goldfield. Goldpoint is another well preserved ghost town that also still has a few residents – and a functioning bar that is apparently a draw from miles around!
Founded in the 1880’s when gold was discovered, Goldpoint precedes Goldfield, but never rose to Goldfields size or prominence. Goldpoint grew and collapsed periodically until 1908 at which time a more substantial precious metal find was discovered. This led to wooden homes replacing tents along with the establishment of a post office and a newspaper. A real town was born! At its peak, Goldpoint sported 13 saloons. Just a year later in 1909, lawsuits and poor milling practices caused many to move on and most businesses to close.
Goldpoint remained occupied and mining resumed in 1915 (for a few years) and then again in 1927 as new strikes were recorded. World War II saw the end of mining by government decree, but mining resumed after the war and continued in Goldpoint until the 1960’s. This explains why over 50 buildings remain and the town is relatively pristine condition. At this time, it is estimated that Goldpoint has 7 permanent residents. Upon my visit, I saw a couple of residents and it was clearly evident that several of the homes were occupied.
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