By Sean Pitts
The first two major towns since the formation of White Pine County had passed their prime. Hamilton, the original County Seat saw its population plummet from 24,000 to less than 500. Ward, the second boom town had suffered a similar fate. While never reaching the size or stature of Hamilton, it had also experienced a dramatic loss of population when the silver ore had paid out. County residents recognized Hamilton’s continued decline was inevitable and looked to the town of Ward as the new County Seat but it boomed and died before necessary arrangement could be made. A fire destroyed the town and any hopes of a viable home for County government.
Like other towns, the timing was perfect. Had the ore lasted, Ward would have become the County Seat, but the silver was not abundant. After three good years of production, the mines closed, its population dropped, and residents were looking for the next bonanza. County government would continue to reside in Hamilton, despite its dwindling population.
A new hope emerged with the discovery of gold in Cherry Creek. Soldiers had been sent to protect the Pony Express Route and the Overland Stage in 1861 and were garrisoned at Schellbourne. During their off hours, they prospected the surrounding area eventually discovering gold in 1863. The initial discovery was not promising. Employees of the Egan Mining Company joined the soldiers of the Second Calvary of California Volunteers to further explore the area. Production continued for nearly a decade before a mining district was organized in November of 1872. Even then, the best producing ore lay undiscovered until 1880.
Three newly discovered mines opened the canyons around causing Cherry Creek to become the next boom town. Although the town was laid out in 1873, the population remained low. By 1880, the Star, Exchequer, and the Teacup mine averaged production of a million dollars each. It was enough to lure residents from other towns. The population of the Cherry Creek climbed to over 1500 people.
The usual amenities were constructed. A school, church, and Wells Fargo Office opened in 1879. Fraternal organizations such as the Moose Lodge and the Grand Army of the Republic Post for Civil War Veterans was opened in the same year. The Williamson dance hall became famous for the extravagant dances that attracted residents from all around the county.
During its brief boom, Cherry Creek boasted the fastest horse racing track in the State. The flat and sunbaked Steptoe Valley contributed to the right conditions for horse racing. Horse owners would bring their fastest steeds to race on the mile long track, complete with grandstands. Betting the ponies was a popular past time with races nearly every week.
By 1882 Cherry Creek was the largest town in White Pine County with the largest production of ore. Residents felt the time was right to get the county seat moved to the new boom town. They petitioned the County Commissioners who placed the issue up for a vote of County residents. The vote failed because the last remaining residents of Hamilton did not want to move a distance of nearly one hundred miles.
History would show this was a fortunate failure. One year after the vote in 1883, a fire ravaged through the town of Cherry Creek, destroying most of the buildings. The town would never fully recover.
Next time: White Pine County Government Finds a Home.