By Mummy B.
During our road trip in Central Nevada we stopped in Tonopah. We arrived by night after our visit of Austin, where time seems to be suspended and taking the scenery Natural History Loop to discover the hidden gems of Monitor Valley and Big Smoky Valley.
But we were not in this town just for sleeping. Tonopah was an instructive and surprising travel back in time. Welcome in the 19th Century, when the gold and silver mines created boomtowns in the West which turned into ghost towns!
Mizpah, a victorian and historic hotel
On Saturday night, we arrived quite tired by our trip in Mizpah Hotel.
Sometimes you choose an hotel for its price, sometimes for its location… But Mizpah Hotel is a diffrent kind. A hotel that you choose because it doesn’t look like the others, it is a real historic heritage. Indeed it is one of the Historic Hotels of America. So it a place to spend the night, but also to dive into the life of the early last century.
The story of Mizpah
Opened in 1908, the local medias called it “the finest stone hotel on the desert”. Located between Las vegas and Reno, it offered a quality accomodation for prospectors and miners in the area. But in a few decades the Mizpah Hotel lost most of its clients when the mine stopped being exploited. It closed and reopened several times and luckily it has been restored through the years to keep its original elegance but also gain some modernity. Since 2011, it is reopened and the owners are proud to welcome tourists looking for authenticity in this unique and warm place.
The Lady In Red, the ghost of the Mizpah
Like a lot of other historical places (aka more than 100 years old in USA), the Mizpah is known for being haunted. The story said that in the 20’s, a prostitute has been killed next to the suite which is now called after her surname. Nowadays her spirit is believed to be haunting the hotel… Well, we had no paranormal visitor that night… or maybe we slept too deeply!
Great value for money
We booked the most little room of the hotel as we usually travel on a budget. So we only paid $99 for the Queen Economy. We also need to pay $10 more because of Doggy B. but in exchange we received a very nice dog kit.
The bedroom and the bathroom were beautiful and surprisingly not as small as we expected them to be. We really enjoyed our one night stay in this hotel.
There was only one detail which could have been a bit annoying : the noise coming from the window! It was sounding like a moaning… At the beginning I was alone when I heard it first and remembered immediately that the hotel is supposed to be haunted! But eventually that noise was only the wind and it stopped as soon as we closed our window properly. No ghost for us!
Pittman Cafe, the perfect place to eat in Tonopah
The hotel has two restaurants : the Jack Dempsey Room and the Pittman Cafe. The first one is quite luxurious (so prices are quite high). The second one was more what we can afford and offered a very nice dining area. So we have dinner and breakfast there.
The dishes were consistant and good and the service as well. It was really convenient to stay in the hotel to eat instead of looking for another place in Tonopah as it is a small town and it doesn’t offer many possibilities.
Tonopah Historic Mining Park, a place to understand how the miners used to live and work
The park is located on the site of the original mine and you can enter it from the parking lot behind the Mizpah Hotel. For us, it was so convenient!
Open daily (except holidays) from 9AM to 5PM, the entrance fees are only $5 for adults and $4 for children aged 8 to 17 (it is free for children under 8 years old). It is very affordable and we even paid $1 less as we brought the proof that we slept in Tonopah.
First we watched the 20 minutes documentary about the mine’s history and then toured the Visitor Center where you can see some tools and some models explaining how a mine works.
Then we toured the different sites of the park which presents the buildings, machines and tools needed for the extraction and transportation of the ore. We learned a lot about this part of the History of the USA. Even Mimi B. was interested in the explanations and understood with simple words what was the goal of a mine.
Dogs are allowed in the park, so we brought Doggy B. with us for the walk.
The unbelievable story of Jim & Belle Butler
In 1888, Isabella (Belle) is married and a mother of three but she is not satisfied by her marriage because her husband is an unemployed, drunk and violent man. She wants to divorce him in order to marry Jim Butler, a ranch owner. A fight between the two men happened in the street, both of them were wearing guns (it was usual in these times) and Jim killed Belle’s husband. Considering the violent personnality of the dead husband, the juge decided to set Jim Butler free. Belle and Jim organized their wedding just a year after.
In the spring of 1900, while Jim was camping near Tonopah, his mule escaped. He was looking for the animal when he found a rock that seemed to contain precious ore. He shared his discovery with some locals, but nobody is interested in his story. After coming back to Belmont, he asked for the rock to be evaluated and learned that it is silver. Belle requested him to head to Tonopah together in order to file claims on the lode site. They extracted several tons of silver, transported it to Salt Lake City and earned their first 500 dollars to buy what they needed to begin the mine exploitation.
In order to attract miners, Jim and Belle, who was very invested in her husband’s business (it was quite unusual but surely participated to their success) gave to them 75% of all profits of their claims. It was very interesting and had never been done before so a lot of miners were willing to work with the Butlers. At the beginning, miners were living in tents, then in basic cabins. This sudden rise of population was great for Tonopah which became a big modern city with its own water and electricity networks, telegraph and telephone services and connections to the railroad.
After some years, the Butlers sold their mine to a Philadelphia financer who formed the Tonopah Mining Co. The assets of this new company exceeded one million dollars. The Butlers moved to California for their retirement and had a luxurious life there.
How did a mine work?
During our mine tour, we were impressed by the numerous equipment and building needed for its exploitation. We learned that most of them were used for the extraction. As the exploitation became more and more industrial, the machines and tools had to more efficient as well as the extraction techniques.
At the beginning, extraction was only done on the first layers of earth but then the miners had to dig deeper and deeper to find some ore. Therefore the technics and machines became more and more efficient.
In the park you can only see the equipment and buildings that are abandonned nowadays. But the most impressive part of the mine stays hidden under our feet… a gigantic maze of galleries that are now unexploited!
The second biggest problem to solve for exploiting a mine was the transportation of ore. At the beginning, mules served to bring the silver to the first railroad station. But after some years, connections to railroad were created in Tonopah. Those lines remain now unused.
The end of an era, from boomtown to ghost town
Gold and silver mines in the West brought a lot of activity in areas that were isolated and poor. Boomtowns appeared to provide enough accomodation and comfort to the mine. Sometimes some small town already existed, sometimes they were created from scratch. These towns grew very fast and were amoung the biggest in the State as long as the mine was exploited and the ore was sold easily.
But it doesn’t last more than a few decades. Some mine just ran dry, there was no more ore to extract. Some were affected by the decline in prices of gold and silver. Profits were not big enough and the exploitation stopped. That’s what happened in Tonopah.
Boomtowns, which were reliant on the mine activity, were deserted. People, previously interested in the opportunity of work, left those towns.
Completely or partially abandonned, they are now called ghost towns. They can be just few crumbling remains of buildings in an isolated area, a big but totally empty town or a little town surviving thanks to tourism but they all have in commun to have been prosperous in the last century and then deserted after the golden period was over.
As you could understand, Tonopah taught us a lot about this part of the American History and more particularly in the West. We loved its authentical atmosphere. This town has managed to highlight its historical heritage without turning into a fake and superficial amusement park, more entertaining than really interesting, as it often happens in USA.