By Sean Pitts
This is a continuation of a series of articles celebrating the 150th anniversary of the creation of White Pine County.
Residents of White Pine County faced an uncertain future in 1870. The extraordinary wealth produced from Treasure Hill and the surrounding area had all but paid out. Located forty miles west of Ely, the “Rush to White Pine” was over. The town of Hamilton which once boasted 24,000 residents had less than 5,000 with newspaper accounts suggest around one hundred people a day were leaving the area.
Some still held out hope. The Eberhardt and Aurora Mining Company based in London, England continued mining, hoping the tunnel they blasted in the base of the best ore producing mountain of the area would pay off. It stood to reason the ore in White Pine would be similar to the Comstock Lode, where the best ore was located 1300 feet below the surface. Their plan was to tunnel in, then up saving the expense of removing ore from the top of the mountain. The nearly ten year effort resulted in poor production. Still, British investors were convinced the mother lode would be found at the center of the mountain and continued to fund the shaft.
After a decade of drilling, blasting, and mucking, the tunnel was over 5000 feet long when it reached the center of the mountain. Hopes of a revival of the district occurred with a small discovery in 1873 but it would not prove to be the mother lode. Work would continue for five more years when the company finally ended its operation. The company had almost nothing to show for ten years of effort and an expenditure of over three million dollars (more than $55 million dollars today.)
Even the once crowded and busy streets of Hamilton were nearly deserted. Alexander Cohn, a cigar store owner saw no way to recoup his investment. A dwindling and penniless population proved to be poor customers. He took out an insurance policy on his business which mysteriously caught fire on the morning of June 28th. The fire would swept through the entire town costing $600,000 in damages. It would later be determined that Cohn was responsible for the fire and would be sentenced to seven years in prison for starting the blaze.
Rumors were rampant that the town’s water supply had been shut off before the fire was started, hindering the fire department’s ability to battle the flames. Newspaper accounts reported “it must have been two full hours before any amount of water could be obtained.” The report continued that the water company should blamed for being negligent in performance of its contract….” Whether intentionally set or very bad luck, the fire destroyed most of what was left of the town of Hamilton. What was once the second largest city in Nevada would never recover from the fire and the remaining population hastened their departure.
Hamilton would remain the seat of county government but the prospects of any revival looked grim. Even the White Pine News (forerunner to the Ely Times) relocated to the next boom town of Ward. There, the newspaper changed its name to the Ward Reflex and continued to report on the conditions of the county. One such report included the financial condition of the City of Hamilton. Its outstanding debt was almost $3,000 and the treasury contained an embarrassing $1.75.
A second fire in 1885 would seal the fate of the once prosperous community. The County Court House and what little remained of Hamilton were destroyed on January 5th. The White Pine Reflex, recently relocated from Ward to the town of Taylor reported the fire on January 10, and commented on the need for a new County seat of government. The remaining residents of Hamilton opposed the move, but the remote location and reduced population made for a compelling argument for a new location.
Next time: New Towns,