The Little Nuggets at Goldfield, Nevada

January 3, 2012 at 6:31 pm (Architectural Photography - Interiors, Black and White Photography, Landscape Photography, Leah McDaniel Photography, Photography, Uncategorized) (, , , , )

After hubby and I departed Rhyolite, we headed north, toward Reno. I really wanted to see Goldfield, but he, having driven through it as quickly as possible so many times in the past couldn’t understand the draw.  We weren’t there at the best time of day for photography, there was a biting chill in the air, and unbeknownst to us, the winds were rising as the desert sandstorms brewed to the north.  These factors conspired to make Goldfield just a short stop, but I was able to capture a few images you might find interesting.

But first, a bit of history. (I know, I know… my inner geek is showing.)

Arguably the greatest of the gold boomtowns in Nevada, prior to 1903 only about a dozen souls scratched out a life in the area.  Needless to say, gold was discovered (a great deal of it, actually) and in its heyday, the population swelled to around 30,000. From 1903 to 1910, Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada.

A pair of enterprising men, Jim Butler and Tom Kendall, grubstaked two young prospectors, Harry Stimler and William Marsh, to search for the suspected location where Thomas Fisherman, a Paiute Indian, picked up a gold specimen he called a “picture rock”.  As luck and lots of difficult work would have it, they were successful.  Originally they hung the moniker, Grandpa, on the townsite, claiming it was the Granddaddy of all gold camps.  However, when the town site was officially formed, the committee decided that the name Goldfield was more appealing and would have a greater draw than Grandpa, and thus the town was born.

Lots in Goldfield were originally sold for $500.00 each, but it wasn’t long before they were going for ninety (yes 90!) times the original price.  As people with gold-fever poured into the town, lot jumpers and squatters became commonplace and chaos reigned. By 1905, so much gold was coming out of Goldfield that the London Financial News predicted that the world market for gold was on the verge of a crash.

Vacancy - Most of the buildings in Goldfield are empty, but not abandoned. There is an active historical society and plans are in the works to revitalize many of the historic buildings, though the plans are moving at a snail's pace.

I did not get photos of some of the more famous buildings in Goldfield, such as the high school, hotel or the Esmeralda County Courthouse, which is still in operation and doing a brisk business.  (Do not speed through Goldfield.  I think traffic tickets are a major source of funding these days.) I  did, however, get a few shots of the Goldfield Nevada Fire Station number 1.

Goldfield Nevada Fire Station - Still in business

There are a couple of noteworthy points regarding the fire station.  From a construction standpoint, it is the best example of random ashlar stone construction in Goldfield.  It is a simple, rectangular, two-story building.  The residents raised half the cost of the building through donations (of both land and labor), and the county made up the difference.  The second thing that I find noteworthy is that it is still in operation.  According to the Firefighting News, this station is still operating with a staff of 10 volunteers, responds to about 45 calls annually, and has a response time of about five minutes from page to en route, day or night.   Certainly, if any place needs a fire department, based upon their history, it is Goldfield.

A few highlights:

On July 8, 1905, fire started in the Bon Ton Millinery shop, when a stove there exploded.  As there was not enough water available to fight the inferno, it quickly spread to adjoining structures, consuming two blocks of businesses and homes before being extinguished with barrel after barrel of beer.

On November 17, 1906, Hotel Goldfield caught fire and it spread to several residences and tent houses, killing many people.

On April 12, 1911, The Merchants Hotel and three adjoining buildings burned to the ground.  It seems that the fire was caused when someone tossed a glass of water into the stove to create steam to blow the soot from the stove-pipe.  An explosion resulted and the force unjointed the pipe in a room on the second floor.  Hot coals scattered over the carpet and that was all she wrote.

July 6, 1923 saw the massive destruction of Goldfield by fire.  The flames originating from a still-explosion at T. C. Rea’s place, from which he operated a moonshine trade, (The Fire Chief, I. N. Galliac, believed it was the result of a bootleggers feud), quickly spread next door to the nearly adjoining Brown-Parker garage at 6:40 in the evening. Fanned by gale-force winds, the fire took on a life of its own, and despite the fire fighters’ best efforts with water and dynamite, the conflagration raged for five hours, unabated, until it finally ran out of fuel.  Though some residences were burned, the business district suffered the majority of the disaster, devastating the whole of main street, a total of about 25 blocks.

What is left of the Sideboard Saloon in Goldfield, Nevada. Built in 1907 by Patrick Mullin, Saloonkeeper, it was destroyed, ironically, by a fire originating from a still-explosion. The Ish-Curtis Building can be seen through the arch in the background.

Goldfield has a rich history as well as some myths, widely believed now as truths.  Some of its authentic history includes:   Virgil Earp came to Goldfield in  July 1904 found work as a gambler and eventually as pit-boss at the National Saloon.  1905 saw him sworn in as  deputy sheriff, but by October of that year he had died of pneumonia.  Contrary to what many claim, Wyatt Earp had little to do with Goldfield, other than an occasional visit to his brother.

Goldfield hosted the 1906 lightweight boxing championship between Joe Gans (Joseph Saifus Butts) and Oscar Nelson.  Joe Gans won by decision after a grueling 42 rounds.  The phrase, “bringing home the bacon”, was originated when the ring announcer read a note from Gans’ foster mother telling him, ” Joe, the eyes of the world are upon you. You bring back the bacon.”  Well, he did, and the phrase caught on.  Not only did Joe win, he won under very adverse conditions.  He had to cut his weight to an unnatural low of 133 pounds and became physically ill.  But the social pressure was greater even still, as he was an African-American man competing against a Caucasian in an era when such things were not done.

Tex Rickard, a saloon-keeper, promoted the fight, later earning even greater fame when he promoted Jack Dempsey’s million-dollar fights.

The Goldfield Hotel was once the most luxurious hotels in the west.  It featured an elevator that ran at 300 feet per minute, one of the fastest in Nevada, though not the first elevator west of the Mississippi, like most people believe.

In December 1907, Teddy Roosevelt sent 300 federal troops to quell an impending miner’s strike, as perceived by the mine owners.  Though there was some friction between mine owners and miners, there was no serious disturbance in Goldfield that warranted such a reaction.  It was a common practice for miners to “high-grade” or in plainer terms, steal gold ore by hiding it in their clothing, and the mine owners adopted a rule that the miners must change clothes before entering and after leaving the mines.  The mine owners also objected to the union formations of both miners and other laborers.  Once the federal troops arrived, they noted that there were no disturbances and no need for their presence, but were required to stay on in case their removal caused chaos.  The mine owners took advantage of their presence and immediately reduced wages and announced that no union workers would remain employed with the mines.  The miners, as they say, got the shaft.  That was the limit to Teddy Roosevelt’s contact with Goldfield.  He did not visit the city, nor, as popularly claimed, make a speech from the Goldfield Hotel’s balcony to a teeming throng below.

A few oddities:

A smallpox scare swept through Goldfield.  Dr. O’Toole, who greatly feared an epidemic of smallpox, also happened to be the deputy sheriff at the time.  His solution was to arrest anyone suspected of the crime of having smallpox.  In the first few weeks, he arrested 126 people before falling ill himself.  As it turned out, nearly all of those arrested for the crime of small pox were actually suffering from chicken pox, except, that is, for the doctor/deputy O’Toole, who himself had contracted a mild case of small pox, from which he eventually recovered.

Antique subway station entrances in Goldfield, Nevada. These were rumored to have been moved from Las Vegas to Goldfield, but their origins are unknown.

The Nevada desert has historically attracted unique, self-sufficient, independent thinkers, capable of transforming seemingly nothings into somethings.  The modern-day perhaps isn’t very different.  Drive north through Goldfield and you cannot miss the art car park on Highway 95.  Many of the cars there were the vision of  Robert “Rockette Bob” Van Keuren III.  The artist is may have departed, but his art will endure for a while yet.

Art Cars outside of Goldfield

And finally, I will leave you with a bit of my own art, created from a bit of Goldfield.  Hope you like.

Warning:  Shameless self promotion ahead:

If you enjoy rusty old antique autos, and might enjoy the sight of one adorning a wry birthday card, check this out.

Antique Car Birthday Card card
Antique Car Birthday Card by Novelteeart
View other Auto Cards


  1. ♥Sin♥city♥girl♥ said,

    Reblogged this on ♥§incitygirl ♥ and commented:
    posted cause I live so close to Goldfield

  2. Tanya Carroll said,

    Great shot of the old house! My mom owns it. My great great grandfather Johan Jepperson built it in 1907. He was a faro dealer at the Goldfield Hotel.

  3. eponaleah said,

    I love that old house. It has so much character. What a neat history it must have.

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