Nevada is the location of “The Great Basin”, a desert region characterized by numerous wide valleys bordered by parallel mountain ranges. The climate is generally very dry, and the high altitude brings a range of temperature and weather extremes.
This inhospitable region doesn’t support a lot of life, but it is one of the nation’s richest mineral-bearing regions. The first mines in Nevada were discovered in the 1850s, and by the 1860s new districts were being discovered throughout the state.
These are some of the best historical photos from Nevada’s notable mining districts.
The discovery of silver at Austin in the early 1860s resulted central Nevada’s first major mining excitement. The founding of the town of Austin created a staging point for prospectors that pushed deeper into the Nevada wilderness, making many new discoveries and settling numerous new camps and towns.
Although Austin was in a remote part of Nevada, it’s location on the established Pony Express route made it one of the easier boom towns to reach at the time, which accelerated the pace at which the district was developed.
The early 1880s saw a decline in production from Austin mines and by 1887 most major mines were closed. Almost $20 million in silver production is credited to the district up until this point.
Silver was first discovered at Candelaria by a group of Spanish prospectors in 1863. Not much mining occurred in the area until the discovery of the Northern Belle Mine in 1873.
Initial development of the district was slow, largely due to a lack of water. By 1876 the mines were finally developed to the point to support a town, and Candalara was established that year. In 1882 the name was changed to Candalaria.
The following image is a rare view of a mine surveyor at work underground in a Candelaria mine in the early 1900s.
The town of Belleville was established as a milling center for Candelaria ores, at a location where water was easier to obtain. Belleville was the district’s first settlement, however the construction of a 27-mile pipeline brought water to Candelaria in 1882, which caused Belleville to decline as milling was moved closer to the mines.
According to a 1914 newspaper article, “Belleville at one time was quite an important point in the early days and practically the outpost of civilization in southern Nevada. It was in the old narrow gauge railway depot, which is still standing in Belleville, in which the late United States Senator George Nixon, as station agent and telegrapher, began his career in Nevada.”
The mines here were in decline by the turn of the century, and both Candelaria and Belleville are now ghost towns.
Known as “the Pittsburgh of the West”, Eureka was the nation’s first important silver-lead district, and was Nevada’s second richest mineral producer during the 1800s.
Mining peaked in 1878 with over $5 million produced. Over 9,000 people lived in and around Eureka during this time, supporting over 100 saloons, dozens of gambling halls, theaters, multiple newspapers, hotels, restaurants, an opera house, and five fire companies.
Sixteen smelters operated just outside town, treating ore from over 50 active mines.
Pictured below is the Lawton shaft of the Eureka Mine, one of the district’s numerous important producers.
Goldfield was the site of a rare post-1900 major gold discovery in Nevada. The ore initially was very rich, spurring rapid growth of the town from 1904 to 1908. Goldfield became Nevada’s largest city with over 20,000 people. Virgil Earp was made sheriff here in 1904 and Wyatt Earp also called Goldfield home.
1904 was the year that defined Goldfield as a boom town. The mines were starting to produce rich returns and thousands of men arrived in the camp to work at the mines or try their own luck at prospecting. By August the mines were producing over $10,000 in gold ore every day.
The mines of Goldfield were very rich at the surface, but the value of the ore declined at depth, and the district was already in decline by the 1910s.
In the photo below, “Rich Ore is being hand sorted and shipped. The deputy is watching for high-grading.” The man in the center that is hidden in the shadow is the deputy, his badge is visible as the bright object on his chest.
The earliest mines of Goldfield produced a substantial amount of high-grade ore, as seen in the photo below of the January lease. The bags are all full of high-value ore ready to be shipped to distant mills.
While the richest Goldfield mines were mostly consolidated and worked by just a few companies by 1910, the early mines were often small operations with modest infrastructure.
These well-equipped prospectors are ready to explore the region around the boom town of Goldfield around 1904.
Rich silver deposits were discovered at Tonopah in 1900 by Jim Butler. The mines here would make Tonopah one of the nation’s most important mining areas, however like most new districts the first mines were modest operations.
A November, 1901 newspaper reported on the excitement at Tonopah: “The present large influx of people into Tonopah is only equaled by the influx of wealth in the shape of fat smelter returns for ore shipped from the camp.”
By 1902 the mines of Tonopah were already rich and attracting international attention, but additional ore discoveries in the winter of 1902-03 further boosted the camp’s fortunes. In april of 1903 Tonopah mining stocks were listed on the San Francisco stock exchange.
Tonopah peaked during the years 1910-1914 with over $8 million produced from the mines annually, making it one of the richest mining districts in the West.
The Comstock Lode
The Comstock Lode is Nevada’s most important historical mining region, so much so that an entirely separate collection of photos has been presented for that area: The Comstock Lode: Nevada’s “Big Bonanza”
More Photo Collections from Western Mining History
The following collections capture more of the West’s amazing mining history:
A Collection of Arizona Mining Photos
A Collection of Arizona Mining Photos highlights some of the best historic scenes from various Arizona districts during the peak mining years between the 1870s and the 1920s.
50 Incredible Photos of Colorado Mining Scenes
Colorado’s spectacular scenery and the richness of the state’s mines attracted many of the top photographers working at the time. These are some of the most incredible mining scenes from the state of Colorado: 50 Incredible Photos of Colorado Mining Scenes
Best Historical Photos: Colorized Mining Scenes
This collection images highlights some of the best colorized photos of historic western mining scenes. Included are mines, miners, historic mining towns, and related scenes: Best Historical Photos: Colorized Mining Scenes