“Though nothing can bring back the hour, of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower; We will grieve not, rather find, strength in what remains behind.” – William Wordsworth
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Rhyolite, Nevada has been called “the most photographed ghost town in the West.” It was built in 1905, at the edge of Death Valley, 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Las Vegas. Rhyolite was also one of several mining camps that sprang up during gold rush.
A Lightning-Fast Rise
Starting as a two-man camp in January 1905, Rhyolite became a town of 1,200 people in two weeks. It reached a population of 2,500 by June 1905. By then it had 50 saloons, 35 gambling tables, cribs for prostitution, 19 lodging houses, 16 restaurants, half a dozen barbers, a public bathhouse, and a weekly newspaper – the Rhyolite Herald. Industrialist Charles M. Schwab bought the Montgomery Shoshone Mine in 1906. He invested heavily in infrastructure, including piped water, electric lines and railroad.
Rhyolite in 1907 had concrete sidewalks, electric lights, water mains, telephone and telegraph lines, daily and weekly newspapers, a monthly magazine, police and fire departments, a hospital, school, train station and railway depot, at least three banks, a stock exchange, an opera house, a public swimming pool and two formal church buildings. By 1908, it had a population of 5,000.
Unfortunately, Rhyolite, NV Didn’t Last Long
The town’s decline was as fast as its rise. Production in the mine fell quickly as soon as the richest ore was exhausted. Moreover, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and the financial panic of 1907 made it more difficult to raise development capital and soon the company’s stock value crashed. In 1911 the mine closed after operating at a loss for a few years. By then, most workers had already moved elsewhere and the town’s population was below 1,000. By 1920, it was close to 0.
This is when Rhyolite started becoming an attraction as a “ghost town.” The town was used as a backdrop for movies even since the silent film era, starting with The Air Mail in 1925. Other movies that followed were The Reward (1965), Cherry 2000 (1987), Six-String Samurai (1988) and The Island (2004).