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Communities - Nevada

Tonopah Nevada

Elevation: 6,047 ft
Photo of Tonopah Nevada

Tonopah was one of Southern Nevada’s most prosperous mining communities, drawing hundreds of prospectors from its founding in 1900. Silver was first discovered on May 19, 1900, by prospector Jim Butler who was travelling through the area. On an overnight stop, Butler discovered silver outcroppings near the Tonopah Springs. When Butler’s friend Tasker Oddie (later Nevada Senator and Governor) had Butler’s sample assayed, it was found to be worth $50-$600 per ton. That August, Butler and his wife staked eight claims in Tonopah. Mrs. Butler christened the first three claims Desert Queen, Burro, and Mizpah. The Mizpah became Tonopah’s largest producer over the next forty years. Later that year, Butler leased his claims for one year, collecting 25% of the royalties from the gold and silver ore that was mined.

In 1901 several companies opened including the West End Consolidated Mining Company and the Tonopah Extension Mining Company. In January the mining camp had a population of 40, including three women. By springtime, the population rose to 250 and Tonopah’s first stage, the Concord, arrived from Sodaville. In May 1901, Tonopah’s first post office and the largest building in the city, The Mizpah Bar & Grill, opened. That summer, Tonopah’s population reached 650. W.W. Booth advertised the district through his newspaper the Tonopah Bonanza. As word spread, more prospectors entered the area and three large mining corporations were formed in early 1902: The Tonopah Belmont Mining Company, the Montana Tonopah Mining Company, and the Tonopah Mining Company.

The camp was still relatively primitive in 1902. Prices were high, there were crude sanitary conditions, and Tonopah’s isolation made it difficult to obtain supplies. This changed in early 1903 when construction began on a 60-mile long narrow gauge railroad connecting Tonopah with the Carson and Colorado Branches of the Southern Pacific Railroad at the Sodaville Junction.

By the end of 1903, Tonopah’s population surged to 3,000. With several profitable silver and gold strikes, production boomed and mining stocks listed on the San Francisco stock exchange since April soared. A building boom followed the mining boom. There were thirty-two saloons, six faro games, two dancehalls, two weekly newspapers, several mercantile stores, and two churches built before 1904. On July 25, 1904, the town celebrated the completion of the narrow gauge railroad with speeches, sporting events, horse-races down Main Street, and several dances.

The population continued to grow as transportation to the district became easier, and by May 1905, the Nye County seat was moved from Belmont to Tonopah, the post office changed its name to Tonopah, and construction began on a new $55,000 Nye County courthouse. On July 7, 1905, Tonopah’s first city government was incorporated. In the fall, the two railroads in Tonopah merged into the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad Company, its track gauge standardized and extended to Goldfield.

Tonopah survived the financial panic of 1907. The city had five banks, modern hotels, cafes, an opera house, a school, electric and water companies, numerous gambling halls, and several four to five story buildings downtown. In 1908 and 1909, Tonopah was devastated by a series of fires. In May 1908, fire destroyed an entire block of the commercial district. A year later the roundhouse and the machine shops at the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad burned to the ground. The infamous Belmont fire occurred on February 23, 1911, when the 1,200 foot mine shaft of the Belmont Mine caught fire. Seventeen men perished from the toxic fumes of the blaze.

Mining activity expanded in 1912 when the Belmont mine and mill began operating in July. The daily wage for a machine operator averaged $4.50-$5.50 per shift. The following year was Tonopah’s most profitable: Annual production in gold, silver, copper, and lead was valued at $10 million. Several mills were constructed to process 1,830 tons of ore daily including the Tonopah Belmont Development Company’s massive 500-ton mill on the east side of Mount Oddie.

Tonopah reached its peak production between 1910 and 1914. Between the end of World War I and the Great Depression four companies remained active: the Tonopah Mining Company, Tonopah Belmont, Tonopah Extension, and West End Consolidated Mines. In 1921 four out of the twenty-five principal silver mines in the nation were still in Tonopah and Tonopah was the nation’s second largest producer of gold. But on October 31, 1939, fire destroyed the Belmont Mine, and another fire in 1942 closed the Tonopah Extension Mill. World War II brought an Army Air Force Base to the area, but it was shut down upon the close of the war. When the Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad ceased operations in 1947, Tonopah’s remaining mines closed and the population dwindled.

The total production of Tonopah’s mines over its forty years of production is estimated at over $150 million, and during that time Tonopah produced many millionaires and statesmen including Tasker Oddie, Jim Butler, Frank Golden, Zeb Kendall, and Key Pittman. In the words of Nevada historian Stanley Paher, “Virginia City had put Nevada on the map; Tonopah kept it there.”


From: Southern Nevada The Boomtown Years - UNLV - Digital Collections

Tonopah Weather

Downtown Tonopah Gallery

Tonopah is a small community with a population of about 2,600. Tonopah is located at the junction of U.S. Routes 6 and 95 approximately half-way between Reno and Las Vegas. It is the county seat of Nye County, Nevada.

Photograph of Tonopah
Tonopah, Nv. - UNLV photo

people and buildings on Main Street, Tonopah
Main Street, Tonopah - UNLV photo

ore being loaded at the rail depot, Tonopah
Ore being loaded at rail depot - UNLV photo

men on horseback racing, Tonopah
Men on horseback - UNLV photo

First water piped into Tonopah - UNLV photo

Children outside bottle house - UNLV photo

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