Southern Nevada and Utah are known for their many ghost towns, but most are simply scattered dusty ruins and a plaque. But just 45 minutes north of Mesquite is a ghost town complete with restored buildings, a museum and guided tours.
Welcome to Silver Reef, situated along a geologic formation that is unique in the country, a ridge of sandstone with silver ore. The Utah ghost town was founded in the 1870s after the discovery of silver and the collapse of mining in nearby Pioche. By 1879 over 2,000 people lived in Silver Reef and a mile-long main street was constructed, complete with saloons, hotels and a Wells Fargo bank. The only church in town was Catholic, built to serve the mainly Irish miners.
Mining in the area continued until 1901 when most of the buildings were leveled or moved to the nearby city of Leeds. In its prime, the area was the site of 33 mines that produced over seven million ounces of silver.
Today, the Wells Fargo office, Rice Building, powder house and a rebuilt Cosmopolitan Restaurant survive along with numerous walls and foundations, and a vibrant community group that brings history alive for visitors.
The Silver Reef Foundation operates a museum and gift shop in the old Wells Fargo building, and maintains the site for visitors and historians alike.
Last week the foundation held a special event where 19 families of historical residents of the mining boom era were contacted and invited to view a picture wall of their forbearers with a description of their life and times in Silver Reef. Greeting the families were Manuel and Joy Goyaka, dressed as “Mayor and Mrs. Sam Wing,” historical characters from Silver Reef.
The event also featured Dr. Bob Skylar, a historical archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania who has been researching Silver Reef since 1980. “One of the reasons we know so much about the daily life of Silver Reef is that we still have most of the issues of the Silver Reef Miner newspaper that was published from 1878 to 1883,” said Dr. Skylar.
The papers exist today from two unlikely sources: the Catholic priest serving the area and a Mormon bishop in St. George. Both saved copies of the newspaper which have proven priceless for historians such as Dr. Skylar. “Because of the papers we know about gun fights, local businesspeople and even a lawyer with a bad temper,” he said.
One of the most famous events was the murder of a Cornish mine foreman by a miner he had fired. The foreman was popular and the miner was taken to St. George where he was hanged. The family of the murdered mine foreman was one of those invited to the event last week.
Those who want to know about future events at Silver Reef can join the foundation for a small fee. The foundation operates a web site at www.SilverReef.org.
To find Silver Reef, take I-15 north to the Leeds exit and follow the signs. The museum is open Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm. Guided tours are held throughout the day, and an interpretive walking tour is open during daylight hours.