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The Complete Nevada Traveler by David W. Toll
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There are gaps in the line, but it's still possible to see what a grand city Goldfield once was. Like the fossil of some great beast, it is still impressive.
There are gaps in the line, but it's still possible to see what a grand city Goldfield once was. Like the fossil of some great beast, it is still impressive.


The Nevada
Travel Network
Description and History of
Goldfield
by David W. Toll
Goldfield, Esmeralda County Nevada
Goldfield, Esmeralda County Nevada
From The Complete Nevada Traveler, the Affectionate and Intimately Detailed Guidebook to the Most Interesting State in America. Buy the Book Here


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THIS ESMERALDA County seat was exuberantly (and briefly) named Grandpah by its enthusiastic founders in 1902. Two years later Goldfield was producing $10,000 a day, and two years after that it was a bigger city than Tonopah.
Gans vs. Nelson 1902 Gans vs. Nelson 1902
On Labor Day in that year saloonkeeper Tex Rickard promoted a prize fight for the Lightweight Championship of the World between Battling Nelson and Joe Gans. He offered the biggest purses in the history of prize fighting: $20,000 to the champion Nelson and $10,000 to Gans, the black challenger.


It was hailed as "The Fight of the Century" in the national press, and reporters from the east coast papers joined writers from the Pacific coast at ringside. The fighters battered each other for 42 punishing rounds before Nelson, bloodied and sagging, fouled Gans in a clinch. It was "as dirty a foul as was ever witnessed by spectators at ringside," the Goldfield Sun reported. Gans was awarded the victory and the championship, but the big winner was Tex Rickard. The $72,000 gate was a record, and the fight was the first in a long career of prize fight promotions that took him eventually from his Northern Saloon in Goldfield to Madison Square Garden in New York City.

So rich was the ore at Goldfield that miners employed hidden overall pockets, hollow pick handles and false heels on their boots to high-grade the best pieces of it. That practice, combined with the growth in influence and activity of the International Workers of the World, prompted the mine operators to persuade Governor John Sparks to call on President Roosevelt for Army troops to maintain order. The presence of the soldiers accomplished the mine owners' objective, which was to crush the union without open violence.

Goldfeld was a pit stop and photo op in the Great Race of 1908 Goldfeld was a pit stop and photo op in the Great Race of 1908.
By 1910 the Goldfield mines were in decline, but at its peak of prosperity Goldfield was an eccentric combination of wild western boomtown, and decorous, respectable city. There were miners and prospectors and saloon roughs, plenty of them, but there were also stenographers and telephone operators, shoe-shine boys and stock brokers. Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada and the Goldfield Hotel was the most opulent stopping place between Kansas City and the Pacific Coast.

Goldfield parade 1906
Goldfield parade 1906
George Wingfield was Goldfield's most prominent citizen. Wingfield had been a buckaroo on ranches around Burns, Oregon, and Winnemucca, Nevada, in the years before the turn of the century. He rode south when word of the Tonopah excitement radiated north, stopping in Winnemucca just long enough to borrow $150 from a banker there named George Nixon. Wingfield arrived in Tonopah with most of his stake intact, but instead of investing in a prospector's outfit, he put it down on the faro table at the Tonopah Club and ran it up to $2,200. He eventually acquired an interest in the gambling concession at the club and began dabbling in wildcat mining shares on the side.

Goldfield street scene Goldfield street scene
When Goldfield's bonanza was struck, Wingfield called for more backing from banker Nixon, and eventually from eastern financiers like Bernard Baruch. With their help he all but cornered the market in Goldfield mining stocks. By the time of the labor troubles with the IWW "Wobblies", Nixon and Wingfield were the bonanza kings of Goldfield. With the decline, Wingfield moved to Reno, where he dominated the state's financial and political activities for the next 30 years. Fortune Magazine called him "King George" Wingfield, "proprietor of Nevada."
Death Valley Scotty in Goldfield
Death Valley Scotty in Goldfield

In September, 1913, a flash flood wrenched houses from their foundations and laid waste whole neighborhoods. In 1918 Goldfield was the stone husk of a city left in the desert to die, and it died badly. In 1923 a fire blazed up to make ashes of 53 square blocks. Abandonment and decay have accounted for much of the rest. Today only a small village remains alive in the heart of this once-great city.
But there are landmarks of considerable interest in Goldfield still, and if you have a taste for Nevada antiquities, you can spend a full day exploring the old city and still not see all there is to see. Principal among them are the mines and dumps at the foot of Columbia Mountain on the north side of town. Until a generation ago the Florence Mine was still worked by a man and his wife; he blasted and mucked the ore, she ran the hoist: They are gone now, but the old workings draw continued interest from mining companies. Gone too is Hymie Miller, the blind miner who walked four miles each way from his home to his mine and back again after work, locating the seams of ore by taste.

This historic structure has a thousand stories to tell.
This historic structure has a thousand stories to tell.
Flesh and blood relics of the old times are few in Goldfield now, but brick and stone survives in profusion here. The most wonderful relic of the city's past is the great Goldfield Hotel, at the corner of Columbia and Crook streets. It dominates the city today just as it did in its prime. Built in 1908 at a cost of just under a half million dollars, the hotel contained 154 guest rooms, furnished with Brussels carpets and brass beds. The lobby was appointed in mahogany and furnished with overstuffed leather settees. The lobby ceilings gleamed with 22-karat gilt, although it has been somewhat stained and dimmed by water and by time. The dining room menu included delicacies such as squab and lobster, a thrilling item so far from the sea, and in a city where the staples were flapjacks, beefsteaks and beans.

The Goldfield Hotel reflected the affluence of its clientele.
The Goldfield Hotel reflected the affluence of its clientele.
George Wingfield owned the hotel, and it is said that when Goldfield's glory days were over he had a portfolio of photographs taken to show the building's luxurious touches to their best advantage. They were sent east, where they persuaded New York bankers to mortgage the property for a considerable sum — $100,000 by one report. He immediately abandoned the place to them, and it passed through several hands, each time at a considerable loss. By the 1930s, as the story goes, the hotel's newest owner tried to sell it back to him at the bargain price of $50,000, using the same set of photographs. Wingfield turned it down.

Goldfield Hotel
Goldfield Hotel
Spared by flood and fire, the hotel could not survive the decline of the mines, and it closed in 1936. But it was reopened in 1942 to provide housing for Army Air Corps personnel sent to the Tonopah Air Base. It closed again for the last time in 1949 and has never reopened. A new owner repaired the roof and began a major restoration, but expenses far exceeded the original estimates, and work has been stopped for so long that pigeons have reinhabited the huge old place, leaving mounds of guano beneath favored roosts, and feathered corpses in the upstairs hallways.

Antique trucks and automobiles inhabit the old Goldfield Fire Department now, and the Esmeralda Court House across the street is a museum in ints own right.
Antique trucks and automobiles inhabit the old Goldfield Fire Department now, and the Esmeralda Court House across the street is a museum in ints own right.
The massive old high school now stands forlorn, empty and falling down, but the castle-crenelated Esmeralda County Court House, an architectural curiosity of the Edwardian variety, is open to visitors. You will notice the original Tiffany lamps still used inside.


The landmark Mozart Cafe is gone now, along with the new Northern Saloon next door that had opened with such fanfare, leaving visitors without many options beyond the snacks at the E-Z Serve gas station.
Tex Rickard's Northern Saloon was at the heart of the action in Goldfield.
Tex Rickard's Northern Saloon was at the heart of the action in Goldfield.
The intersection of Main and Crook streets was once one of the busiest in the city, with a saloon on each of the four corners. The E-Z Serve now stands on the site of Tex Rickard's original Northern Saloon. So much beer did these dispensaries sell that they had to build stone warehouses nearby to store their kegs. Two of them still stand. So does Tex Rickard's house, which is the brick residence with the decorated ridges at the corner of Crook and Franklin and which boasted the only lawn in Esmeralda County — the whole town turned out to watch when he mowed it. The second house to the north of it, otherwise perfectly ordinary looking, is built of beer and whisky bottles.
The Tex Rickard House
The Tex Rickard House

The Santa Fe Saloon is one of Goldfield's longest-lived and most famous relics. Once it served the miners more than drinks, as the small cribs out back attest. Still a popular oasis today, the Santa Fe is almost as busy on a peak summer weekend as it was during the mining bonanzas, and the cribs have been replaced by a 4-unit motel. Another special glimpse of time gone by is provided at the Brown-Parker Garage where a 1920s-era machine shop is preserved intact. The elaborate system of archaic belt-driven machinery still works perfectly, and is a magnificent sight in full operation.
Joe Gans' victory over Battling Nelson is still celebrated in Goldfield.
Joe Gans' victory over Battling Nelson is still celebrated in Goldfield.
Joshua trees lend their weird presence at the Goldfield Cemetery where Virgil Earp — Wyatt's brother and fellow gunfighter — was laid to rest. His eternal repose turned out to be temporary, however, after a few years his body was dug up and hauled off to Portland Oregon by his daughter Nettie.


Goldfield Days 2012: food, drink, and an occasional surprise out of the blue.
Goldfield Days 2012: food, drink, and an occasional surprise out of the blue.
There are so many wonderful remnants to be found — the weed-infested pool of the former Turkish Baths, for example — that your first stop in Goldfield should be the Chamber of Commerce, where you can get detailed information about otherwise difficult-to-locate ruins, and the fascinating truth about the huge, empty (and is it really haunted?) Goldfield Hotel across the street.
Goldfield Days, 2012: the bus that burned
Goldfield Days, 2012: the bus that burned

Goldfield Days, held the third weekend in August, is the little city's annual celebration, and it's a dandy. Vendors sell hot dogs and cold drinks, jewelry, art and t-shirts. There are at least two parades, Old West gunfights, a Liar's Contest (strictly amateur, no politicians), bus tours, horseshoes and old-fashioned children's games. The Esmeralda County Land Auction takes place at 10 am on the given Saturday, at the Court House. In the evening there is live music and street dancing, and a Western BBQ, and some years they burn a bus.



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