It was in 1906 that an enterprising miner named Tom T. Kelly built the Bottle House out of 50,000 beer and liquor bottles. This building still stands today and sometimes locals will give tours of the building. Rhyolite also saw the building of two railroads – the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad and the Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad. The LV&T sent the first passenger train into Rhyolite on December 14, 1906, arriving through the heart of the residential district. Later the T&T Railroad would pass through the outskirts of town. At one time, the railroad sidings could accommodate 105 train cars waiting to be unloaded of incoming freight and reloaded with outgoing ore.
By the end of 1906 Rhyolite boasted several hotels, stores, an ice plant, two electric plants, foundries, machine shops, a miner’s union hospital, a stock exchange, and a Board of Trade.
In January 1907 a network of 400 electric streetlight poles were installed in Rhyolite and the town boasted plumbing and telephone service. A number of very impressive buildings were erected including a three-story bank building and a large mercantile store. In March 1907, the jail was built out of concrete with four steel cells.
The Las Vegas & Tonopah Railroad depot was built of cut stone hauled from Las Vegas. On June 18, 1907, Rhyolite saw the arrival of yet another passenger train – the Bullfrog & Goldfield. In August, a mill was completed that would handle 300 tons of ore a day at the Montgomery Shoshone Mine. The mine had become nationally known because Bob Montgomery once boasted he could take $10,000 a day in ore from the mine.
By this time Rhyolite had reached a population of about 10,000 and supported 45 saloons, an opera house, a slaughterhouse, two railroad depots, three public swimming pools and dozens of businesses. Over eighty-five mining companies were active in the hills around the city.
However, in the summer of 1907, the American economy was showing signs of weakness, as a number of businesses and Wall Street brokerages went bankrupt.
In October, the respected Knickerbocker Trust in New York City and the Westinghouse Electric Company both failed, touching off a series of events known as the Panic of 1907. This was to spell the doom for Rhyolite.
In the wake of the initial business collapses, stock market prices plummeted and depositors made a massive run on the nation’s banks. Because most of Rhyolite’s investors were from the east, they began to withdraw their backing. Smaller mines began to close but the devastating effects of the panic did not dramatically affect Rhyolite until the spring of 1908.
In January 1908 the John S. Cook Bank building was completed, the ruins of which are today the most photographed site of all Nevada ghost towns. Also, a large mercantile store was built and an impressive train station. The post office soon outgrew the tent and was reestablished in a frame building on Broadway. In July 1908, it moved to the 30 x 70 basement of the Cook Bank Building. But all of this was a little too late for Rhyolite.
After the 1907 Panic, more and more mines began to close and banks started to fail. At about the same time the gold started to pan out in the area mines. Soon, the trains were mostly filled with people leaving town.
When gold was discovered at the Pioneer Mine in 1909, several miles away, half of the population moved to Pioneer. It was at this time that the new two-story brick schoolhouse was completed which included both classrooms and an auditorium; however, it was used only briefly and was never filled. By the end of 1909, the population was well below 1,000, as the town continued to struggle to stay alive hoping for a new boom that never came.
By 1910 the production at the Montgomery-Shoshone mill had slowed to $246,661 and there were only 611 residents left in the town. On March 14, 1911, the directors voted to close down the Montgomery Shoshone Mine and Mill. It had grossed almost $2 million and netted about $1.5 million, but it was severely in debt to the tune of about $200,000, mostly because of the mill. Two weeks after the mine shut down, the final issue of the Rhyolite Herald was published and Clemens left for the coast.
By 1915, the town had only 20 people and the next year the power and lights were turned off. By 1920, Rhyolite’s population was just 14 and its last resident died in 1924.
Soon, the weeds began to overgrow the town but people continued to visit to see the old railroad station and the bottle house. The bottle building was restored and re-roofed by Paramount Pictures in 1925 for a movie set, then given to the Beatty Improvement Association for maintenance as a historical site.
In 1936, N.C. Westmoreland rescued the depot and converted it into a casino and museum. His sister H.H. Heisler maintained it later as a museum and curio shop. Today, it is closed and owned by the Bureau of Land Management. It is one of the few complete buildings left in the town
Paramount Pictures showed up again and used the deteriorating Cook Bank as a Mexican ruin, further damaging it in the process.
Today, visitors can find several remnants of Rhyolite’s glory days. Some of the walls of the three-story bank building are still standing, as is part of the old jail. The Bottle House and a small stone cabin have been rehabilitated. The ghost town of Rhyolite is on both federal and private land.
At the edge of Rhyolite sits the Goldwell Open Air Museum off the road leading to Death Valley, California. The Museum began in 1984 with the creation and installation of a major sculpture by Belgian artist Albert Szukalski titled “The Last Supper” — a ghostly interpretation of Christ and his disciples sitting against a backdrop of the expansive Amargosa Valley. Over the years, other artists have created various sculptures and displays at the 15-acre outdoor sculpture park.
Rhyolite is located four miles west of the town of Beatty, Nevada on Highway 374 in Nye County. The East entrance to Death Valley, Rhyolite offers photographers, explorers and ghost town enthusiasts a great historic experience.