Right down the road from where we were staying in Beatty and on the way to Death Valley is the ghost town of Rhyolite. We drove past Rhyolite numerous times on our way to and from Death
Valley, so we decided to take at least part of a day to see the old
ghost town plus a couple of other things nearby.
Rhyolite is under the protection of the Bureau of Land Management, and it is open to the public with no admission charge. In 1904, prospectors Shorty Harris and Ed Cross found gold on the side of a hill they later named Bullfrog Mountain. Word spread, and thousands flocked to what came to be known as the Bullfrog Mining District.
Settlements sprang up near the mines, and Rhyolite started as a two-man camp near one of the more promising mines called the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. Within two weeks there were 1,200 people in Rhyolite, and within six months the population had grown to 2,500.
The town got its name from the mineral rhyolite, which is an igneous rock similar to granite.
Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906 and invested heavily in the mine and the town. He had water piped in and paid to have electric lines run 100 miles from a hydroelectric plant in the Sierras.
By 1907 Rhyolite was served by three railroads. The first to arrive in 1907 was the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad. They built a depot in California-mission style that is still standing. In fact, the building fairly well preserved because it was converted for use as the Rhyolite Ghost Casino in the 1930s and then it became a small museum that was used into the 1970s.
Estimates of population vary, but it could have peaked at as many as 10,000 in 1908. As already mentioned, Rhyolite had piped-in water, electricity, three railroads and a railroad station. It also had telegraph and telephone lines, daily and weekly newspapers and a monthly magazine, a public swimming pool, two churches, a jail and an opera house. It also had three banks, the most prominent of which was the Cook Bank. Now just a shell, the building was once the largest building in Rhyolite. It was completed in 1908 at a cost of $90,000, which is the equivalent of over $2 million today.
The next photo shows the remains of the two-story, eight-room school. This was the second school building in Rhyolite, but by the time it was completed in 1909 there weren't enough students left in town to fill it.
The reason the new school had so few students was the Montgomery Shoshone Mine was slowing down because no new ore was being discovered, and the quality of existing ore was declining. The mine operated at a loss in 1910, and the population of Rhyolite fell further to about 675. The mine closed in 1911, and by 1920 the population of Rhyolite was only about 20 people. Many of the buildings were moved to nearby Beatty.
The best preserved building in Rhyolite is the Bottle House. The house was completed in 1906 by Tom Kelly who was a local miner. Kelly collected empty beer and liquor bottles from the saloons in town to build the house. The house is made from approximately 30,000 bottles. In 1925 Paramount Pictures restored the house for a movie, and in 2005 the BLM made further repairs and replaced the porch.
The "AB" on the bottles indicates they were made by Aldolphus Busch Glass. Adolphus Busch was also co-founder of Anheuser-Busch Brewing.
Next to the Bottle House is Rhyolite Mercantile. Built in 1906, the building was later moved to Transvaal, then to Beatty, then back to Rhyolite.
Another of the many stores in town was the Parker Brothers' Rhyolite Emporium built in 1906.
After we visited Rhyolite, we stopped at the Goldwell Open Air Museum, which is just down the road from the ghost town. In 1984, a Belgian artist by the name of Albert Szukalski visited the area and thought it looked like the Holy Land. He was inspired to create a sculpture that is reminiscent of Leonardo
DiVinci's painting "The Last Supper." The sculpture was originally located near the old railroad depot up the road, but it was moved to its present spot. The sculpture consists of ghostly forms created by forming plaster-soaked burlap over live models. The models, who were recruited from Beatty, had to stay still until the plaster hardened enough to stand on its own. As the plaster hardened, Szukalski refined the shapes of the shrouds to look just the way he wanted them.
Another Szukalski sculpture created by the same method is "Ghost Rider."
Szukalski had created similar sculptures in Europe, and they only lasted a few years. However, with a little extra protection they have lasted over 30 years in the Nevada desert.
A non-profit museum was created in 2000 following the death of Albert Szukalski to protect his work. Several other artists have added their own works to the museum. The volunteers at the Open Air Museum are very friendly and very knowledgeable about the artwork on display there.
"Tribute to Shorty Harris" was created in 1994 to honor one of the first prospectors to find gold in this area. There is an old cliche about some who drinks too much seeing pink elephants. It was said Shorty saw penguins.
"Sit Here!" is a mosaic couch that was moved from another location in 2007.
On our way back to the motor home, we stopped at another place that we have passed numerous times on our way to and from Death Valley - the Beatty Museum. The Beatty Museum has a number of artifacts on display from the early 1900s that represent the early history of Beatty and the Bullfrog Mining District.
The museum is housed in an old church with an addition to the right.
Margery is checking out some of the antique kitchen appliances on display.
We also watched a part of a video on two of the first railroads to be built in the area. The first to arrive in 1907 was the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad (LV&TRR). This is the railroad that built the depot in Rhyolite. The LV&TRR was built by William A. Clark. Clark was known as one of the three Copper Kings, and we ran into him last year in Butte, MT. To read about our visit to Butte and to William Clark's mansion click here. The second railroad was the Tidewater & Tonopah Railroad built by Francis M. Smith. He made his fortune in Borax and was known as the Borax King. The video had some great old photos from back in the day.
After the museum, we headed back to the motor home. We relaxed around the motor home over the Memorial Day weekend and left the sightseeing to the weekend warriors. We also had our usual pre-departure chores to do because we were heading west the Tuesday after the holiday. Our next post will tell you about our next stop.