In a state that became famous for its monumental silver strikes and modern day ghost towns, it’s safe to say you’ll run into more than a few historic ghost towns when exploring Nevada. Home to more than 600 ghost towns—more than actual populated towns—they’re all around us. But some just rise to the top of the must see list, and Hamilton is one of those places.
THE GREAT MINING ERA OF 1868-1870
You may know the eastern Nevada town of Ely, who became, and still is revered for its copper production. But before that discovery was made and Ely became Ely, silver was discovered in the area. It was 1867 when silver was discovered on a place called Treasure Hill, drawing around 5,000 people within the first year. But it wasn’t your run of the mill silver discovery… this initial discovery is one excited early prospectors because of its size. At nearly forty feet wide, seventy feet long, and barely 28 feed below the surface meant that this strike was going to be easy to mine and deliver a serious payoff. It is extremely rare to achieve a million dollars measured in square feet, but that was the case of this individual discovery, and would later lead to a whopping one million dollars—1869 dollars to boot—in silver.
Most early prospecting stories tend to move east to west, but the silver strike in Hamilton was so serious that it persuaded miners from already established mining camps—think places like Austin and Virginia City—to double back to the east to get their piece of the pie. Then? Then it was determined that it was not only a gargantuan silver vein that was easy to access and mine, but that it was the purest silver ever discovered in Nevada.
Though 5,000 people had already flocked to the area, the introduction of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869 brought loads of people west, who would detrain in Elko and head south for Hamilton. Then the race was on to stake their claims, earning their American Dream. By the early 1870s, around 24,000 people had settled in the high elevation valley below Treasure Hill, forming Shermantown, Eberhardt, Swansea, Babylon, Hamilton and Treasure City. True to Wild West fashion, the first building to go up was a saloon, but by the 1870s you could count on finding a business offering every type of good or service. Hamilton was the largest town, and had nine assay offices, 29 attorneys, and “two saloons for every lawyer”. Renowned bank branches set up multiple branches in both Hamilton and Treasure City, along with elaborate court houses, schools, churches and hotels.
Like all great boomtowns, the mines eventually dried up, there was a devastating fire, and everyone moved on to more profitable up-and-coming mining camps. Most of Hamilton’s population had hit the road by 1895, and when all was said and done, the mines in the area brought in an impressive $20 million dollars.
VISITING HAMILTON AND TREASURE CITY TODAY
This silver camp boomtown—now more than 150 years old—certainly took a beating both by fire and long-term exposure to the high desert Nevada elements. You’d think that means little to nothing can still be seen here, but guess again guys. Miraculously enough, both Hamilton and Treasure City has tons of still-standing relics that making a visit to both top notch.
Think you left the Loneliest Road in the rearview when you turned off to Hamilton? While you did indeed leave the modern day Lincoln Highway behind you, the original route went right through Hamilton upon its 1912 completion. Keep your eyes peeled for a historic marker that designates this celebrated route.Once arriving in this formerly booming basin, keep an eye out for a standing arched brick building—this was the Wells Fargo bank building that served these communities. This continues to be one of the most photographed buildings in town, though there are many residences still lingering, along with what appears to be an assay office, and mill site brick chimney. Compared to most other ghost towns, and tons and tons of debris is found throughout the region, so be careful where you step!
Before heading up to Treasure City, pay attention to the roof construction on each of the buildings… they’re made entirely of flattened tin cans. Though common to the era they were built, not too many examples of this construction can be found in other ghost towns peppered throughout the Silver State. Oh and Hamilton’s cemetery? Gotta be at the tippy-top of the list to explore.
Be prepared to get your mind melted by some impressive stone masonry up in Treasure City. Take the time to walk through the buildings. If you’ll notice, most of the debris found in Treasure City are a testament to the lifestyle and wealth in this 1870s boomtown: they’re all shards of oyster tins and champagne bottles.
TravelNevada PRO TIP: Nevada is unlike any other place because quite literally, there aren’t a whole lot of fences… the exploring is yours for the taking. And, just because you might not always run into a “No Trespassing” or “Private Property” sign, it doesn’t mean that’s not the case. It’s safe to say that no matter where you go, the land you step foot on belongs to someone. Whether that be local ranchers, someone in the nearest town, an American Indian tribe, or it’s under the watchful eye of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) or United States Forest Service and is considered public, either sooooomebody owns it or an agency manages it. Be respectful. Finders doesn’t mean keepers, guys. Leave whatever relics you find where you found them, so you can make this experience possible and enjoyed by the next ghost town explorer checking out the area.
Successfully making it into Hamilton is all the more satisfying because this is no easy feat. From Ely, follow the Loneliest Road in America (Highway 50) east for 47.5 miles, or 1.5 hours. Look for the Illipah Reservoir turnoff, along with the blue Nevada Historic Marker sign detailing out the history of Hamilton Ghost Town, and hang a left (or south) toward Hamilton. It’s only about a 10 mile road into Hamilton and Treasure City, but plan for lots of time, and don’t even consider it if the roads are wet. A high-clearance, four wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended, and summertime access is your best bet. The road to Hamilton is a seasonal road, and completely closed during winter months.
For more information about accessing the area, and potential tour offerings, please call the Bristlecone Convention Center at (775) 289-3720.