A later story tells of an assayer in the
notorious mining town of Pioche,
Nevada, just across the state line, who
was infamous for his overstated ore values. Referred to by area
prospectors as "Metalliferous” Murphy, two miners decided to pull a prank
on him and submitted pieces of a broken grindstone for assay. When Murphy
predictably reported the fragments contained silver to the value of 200
ounces per ton, the miners revolted, threatening to hang Murphy if he
didn’t immediately leave town. Murphy complied, but not before he tracked
the source of the fragments of the grindstone back to the area that would
soon be called Silver Reef. Murphy then headed to
search of the "sandstone silver.” Though there is no record of the assayer
ever filing a claim, he quickly drew the attention of other prospectors
and silver was soon confirmed to be hidden within the sandstone rock
formations, much to the surprise of many skeptical miners.
It was the
first and only time silver has been found in sandstone in North America.
In 1874, John Kemple
returned to the area and established the Harrisburg Mining District.
Though he filed several claims, for unknown reasons he never developed
them. Soon, word got out and the hills were crawling with prospectors.
The area drew the attention of two Salt Lake City bankers, who backed a
well known prospector by the name of William T. Barbee in 1875. The miner
staked more than 20 claims and established a town he called Bonanza City.
Though the settlement offered very little in its early days, the lot
prices were so high that most miners couldn’t afford them and instead, established a tent city nearby that they simply called "Rockpile.”
After the mines closed in Pioche,
Nevada in November of 1875, a number of
businesses moved into the area, setting up their establishments in "Rockpile,”
rather than Bonanza City.
The quickly growing community then changed the name to Silver Reef and by
February, 1877, the camp was filled with more than 1,000 men looking for
no time, the town boasted more than 100 businesses stretched out along a
mile long main street, including nine grocery stores, six saloons, a newspaper called the Silver Echo,
eight dry goods stores, a bank, a Wells Fargo office, a hospital, hotels
and boarding houses, and five restaurants.
Though surrounded by Mormon settlements,
Silver Reef never had a Mormon Church,
rather, the Catholic Church was the only one in town, a building they
allowed the Presbyterians to use for services. A school was also built
that other denominations used for services and where the community also
held public meetings and celebrations. The building was moved to nearby
Leeds in the early 1900s.
the town was called home to some 2,000 people and included a horse race
track, a brewery and a brass band. But, it was a bad year for the
settlement, as a major fire swept through the town, the price of silver
dropped, labor disputes erupted in the mines, and flooding occurred in
many of the low level mine shafts.
Reef endured, centered within a six mile area of active mines, from
which came more than a million dollars in ore each year. But its demise
was on its way. In late 1881, silver prices dropped world wide, the mines
were filling with water at rate faster than the workers could pump it out,
and mine owners began to lower wages.
Most miners could no longer afford to stay and began to move.
By 1884, most of the area mines had closed and
Silver Reef was quickly
becoming a ghost town. By 1890, less than 200 people remained in the area
and the following year, the last mine shut down, though ore continued to
be brought out of the area for the next decade. Over the years,
Silver Reef produced about 25 million dollars worth of ore.
In the early 1900s many of the remaining
buildings were demolished and in 1908 a fire destroyed most of what was
Today, a couple of historic buildings continue
to stand in Silver Reef, as well as a collapsed mine, numerous foundations
and ruins, and two cemeteries.
The 1877 Wells Fargo Office was utilized as a
residence until the late 1940’s. Listed on the National Register of
Historic Places, today it serves as a museum and art gallery.
The 1876 Rice Bank Building was completely
taken apart and then rebuilt to be utilized as a jail during a major
mining dispute in the late 1800’s, continues to stand. During the
conflict, one mine foreman was run out of town and another tarred and
feathered. The authorities then arrested the union leaders, but because of
the limited space in the old bank building, a line was drawn around the
building to "hold” the men. Anyone crossing the line was threatened with
being shot. In 1991 the building was fully restored.
Behind the Wells Fargo building is a restored
powder house that serves as an information center.
The Cosmopolitan Restaurant appears to have
been rebuilt to appear as it did more than a century ago. Though it looks
rustic on the outside, the gourmet restaurant serves European Cuisine in a
fine dining atmosphere.
Scattered around the town are numerous
abandoned ruins and foundations, especially in the gully behind the old
town site, where crumbling mine building continues to stand.
formerly mile-long main street has been reduced to several hundred yards
and is surrounded by an up-scale community of private homes, on a private
drive restricting public access. Nearby are the remains of both a Catholic
and a Protestant cemetery.
is about 15 miles northeast of St.
Utah just off
Highway 15. Take the Leeds Exit (#22) and travel 1.5 miles west.
of America, updated April, 2015.
Ghost Towns of
Utah Photo Gallery