Rhyolite Ghost Town: From Boom to Bust

Last Updated on April 3, 2023 by Jess

The West is littered with ghost towns built by the gold rush and mining boom of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Although most of these towns were successful for only ten years or less, they are significant to American history. One of these towns is the ghost town of Rhyolite in southwestern Nevada.

Learn more about its history and how it went from boom to bust in just a few years.

Where is the ghost town of Rhyolite?

The ghost town of Rhyolite is located about 120 miles northwest of Las Vegas in Nye County, Nevada. It is located near the Nevada-California border at an elevation of 3,819 feet.

Three mountain ridges border the site, with Sawtooth Mountain rising to 6,000 feet about 3 miles northwest of the ghost town. To the south is the Amargosa Desert. You can reach the ghost town via Highway 374, which runs from Beatty, Nev, to the California border.

Why did people flock to Rhyolite in the 20th century?

In the early 1900s, thousands of Americans flocked to the Bullfrog mining district, hoping to strike it rich. On August 9, 1904, someone found gold on the south side of a hill in Nevada that was later named Bullfrog Mountain.

Ore samples yielded a value of $3,000 per ton, which equates to $90,000 per ton in 2021. This area became known as the Bullfrog Mining District.

Rhyolite was located near the largest producer in the region, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. Therefore, the population skyrocketed with miners and contractors seeking their fortune.

View of the ghost town of Rhyolite.

How prosperous was Rhyolite during the boom years?

Chares Schwab, a business tycoon, bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine and invested heavily in Rhyolite’s infrastructure. The town benefited from its proximity to the mine and received water and power lines and rail connections.

In the boom years from 1906 to 1908, Rhyolite had electric lights, water lines, telephones, newspapers, a hospital, a school, an opera house, and a stock exchange.

Although no one knows the maximum population figure, scholars believe the town had between 3,500 and 5,000 residents. However, by 1916, Rhyolite was essentially a ghost town.

What role did Charles Schwab play in Rhyolite’s prosperity?

In February 1905, the Montgomery Shoshone Mine was producing ore at a grade of $16,000 per ton, which would be worth $483,000 per ton in 2021. In 1904, only a handful of people lived in Rhyolite; by 1905, there were a few thousand. Charles Schwab bought the mine in 1906.

Schwab significantly expanded operations at the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. He hired more workers, opened new adits, and built a large mill to process the ore.

He also contracted with the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad to operate a branch line to the mine. Eventually, three rail lines passed through Rhyolite. The city’s boom years were due in part to the shrewd business decisions of this tycoon.

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What happened to cause the collapse just a few years later?

Rhyolite’s success was short-lived, however. In 1908, shares fell dramatically from $23 to 75 cents. No new ore deposits were discovered until 1909, and the mine was shut down in March 1911.

In addition to the decline of the Montgomery Shoshone Mine, Rhyolite was also affected by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Rail traffic was rerouted after the disaster.

The financial panic of 1907, when the government restricted mine funding, also contributed to the mine’s decline.

The 1910 census showed that fewer than 700 people lived in the town. In 1916, water and electricity were finally cut off, leaving Rhyolite a ghost town. By the 1920 census, only 14 residents were still living. And the last resident, a 92-year-old man, died in 1924.

A school in the ghost town of Rhyolite

Who manages the ghost town of Rhyolite now?

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the U.S. Department of the Interior, now manages the ghost town of Rhyolite. The Tonopah Field Office oversees the land.

You can visit Ghost Town Rhyolite by driving four miles west of Beatty, Nev. on Highway 374. However, the visit must be made during the day, as the town cannot be entered after sunset. Since it is public land, there is no charge to visit.

Please note: The next ghost town on your bucket list is the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas!

What can you see in the ghost town of Rhyolite?

The Cook Bank Building, one of the most photographed buildings in the West, is a popular tourist destination.

There are other ruined buildings to see in the ghost town of Rhyolite, including the schoolhouse overlooking the desert in Amargosa Valley. The breathtaking view of the mountains against the desert backdrop has not changed in a hundred years.

Visitors can also tour the HD & LD Porter store, which was owned by two brothers and sold food, clothing, mining supplies and other items during the boom years.

In Rhyolite, you can also visit the Bottle House, built in 1905. About 50,000 glass bottles, mostly beer bottles, were used to construct the walls. Paramount Pictures restored the Bottle House in January 1925. This is also a popular tourist destination.

Is the ghost town of Rhyolite worth a visit?

If you’re interested in the old mining towns of the West, Rhyolite is worth a visit. Plus, the town is close to Death Valley National Park, so you can easily fit it into your Southern California itinerary.

The ghost town of Rhyolite is not a place you can spend all day exploring, but it’s fun to walk around and imagine what life might have been like in the heyday of the Gold Rush in the West.

So the next time you’re exploring Death Valley or driving from Las Vegas to Carson City, stop in the ghost town of Rhyolite. Check out the bank, the schoolhouse, the Porter Store, the bottle house and the beautiful scenery that surrounds this once thriving Nevada mining town.

Do you enjoy visiting the ghost towns of the West?

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