Belmont is the queen of Nye County ghost towns. Its history began in October 1865 when an Indian discovered a rich deposit of silver in the Toquima Mountains. This discovery, the Highbridge mine, was purchased soon after by the newly formed Combination Mining Company. A small camp called Belmont (meaning beautiful mountains) soon formed. By the beginning of 1866, a full-scale rush had begun. During 1866-1867, Belmont was credited with a population as high as 10,000, but better estimates are that about 4,000 people were living in the bustling town and an adjacent but separate camp, East Belmont, which also contained a Chinatown. The Belmont boom drained the population from many nearby towns, including the Nye County seat, Ione. As Belmont continued to grow, the residents began to call for a county seat change. In February 1867, Belmont was selected as the new county seat. The town was appropriated $3,400 to construct a courthouse. A huge, two-story brick building was started but wasn't totally completed until 1874. A post office opened in Belmont on April 10, 1867, with Lucius Moore as postmaster, and the town seemed destined for permanence. By 1868, businesses in Belmont and East Belmont included the Highbridge Hotel (B. McCann), U.S. Coffee and Oyster Saloon (C.R. Lamont), San Francisco Restaurant (Michael Leach), Cosmopolitan Saloon (Mart Carlbol and George Fridham), National Bank, and Combination Hotel (McCornell and Quilles). In addition, there were close to a hundred other stores and saloons. McClutheon and Addington were running the Pahranagat Stage, which ran from Belmont to Hiko. The Belmont Hook and Ladder Company was organized but had little to do with fire fighting and really was a social and status club.
Mining in Belmont's early years was very good. Ten major mines were being worked within a year after the first discoveries. The deepest of these was the 500' deep Belmont mine, which also had 2,000' of lateral workings. The full potential of the mine could never be realized because of the exceptionally heavy flow of water that continuously hampered mining operations. Other important mines were the Monitor-Belmont, Arizona, Combination, Highbridge, and Green and Oder.
Six mills were built in and around Belmont during its peak years. The first was a 10-stamp mill built in 1866 which continued to operated until 1869. In 1867, a larger 20-stamp mill, the Highbridge, was built. This operated only a short while and was eventually moved to Gold Mountain in Esmeralda County during 1880. The largest mill, the Combination, was completed in February 1868. It had 40 stamps and cost more than $225,000 to build. There were also three quartz stamp mills, of five, 20, and 30 stamps. The 20-stamp mill was the Monitor-Belmont, built by the Belmont Silver Mining Company in 1867. The 30-stamp El Dorado, also known as Coover's mill, treated ore from the El Dorado South mine. Colonel David Buel, prominent in the development of mines at Austin and Eureka, was the head of the Belmont Mining Company, which owned the Buel, Gilleland, Transylvania, and El Dorado mines. He had sold the properties in April 1867, to J.W. Gashwiler, M.J. McDonald, and S.M. Buck, who formed the company and retained Buel as superintendent and president. There were also five sawmills in the area, all extremely busy turning out board lumber for buildings at Belmont. The largest of these, owned by men named Crowell and Myers, produced more than 4,000 board feet of lumber daily.
Newspapers formed an integral part of Belmont. There were three during Belmont's early years: Silver Bend Reporter, Mountain Champion and Belmont Courier. The Silver Bend Reporter was the first Belmont newspaper and its initial issue was published on March 30, 1867. The paper was run by Oscar Fairchild and his brother, Mahlon, was editor. The paper started out as a weekly but eventually became a semi-weekly, published on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Things just did not work out for the paper, however. It folded on July 29, 1868, and was moved to Austin. The editor was disgusted with Belmont and let it be known in the final issue: "The local support received by the Reporter has amounted to but a moiety of what it should have been and with business as it now is at Belmont, even the local columns of a weekly newspaper can contain but meager scraps of information swelled to importance only by an imaginative brain and painted by some valuable pen." He added, angrily, that Austin had always been the true center of attention and he would move the paper there. His attitude is strange since the paper was crammed full of advertisements from local businesses.
The second paper in Belmont was organized completely as a political weapon. The Mountain Champion was owned by Thomas Fitch, known far and wide as the "silver-tongued orator of the West." Fitch was running for a congressional seat and felt that by having his own newspaper, he would have an advantage in the election. The first issue of the weekly tabloid came out on June 3, 1868. The paper only lasted until shortly after Fitch was successfully elected to office. The editor of the paper, Edward McElwain, suspended the paper on April 24, 1869, and he moved to Shermantown (White Pine County) where he started the White Pine Telegram.
The Belmont Courier was first published on February 14, 1874, with John Booth as owner. Booth, along with Andrew Casamayou, put together one of the best-liked and most successful newspapers ever published in Nye County. The paper went smoothly until 1875 when Casamayou died. After his death on November 30, Booth lost most of his enthusiasm for the paper and finally decided to leave it on December 16, 1876. Andrew Maute took over, joined by Sam Donald in 1880. By then, Belmont was well on its way to being a ghost town and the paper had a rough time. Donald left in 1889, leaving Maute to keep the struggling paper afloat. Maute leased the paper in 1898 to F.G. Humphrey after he was elected Nevada State Printer. The Courier finally folded on March 2, 1901, with this closing statement: "Our last issue - every branch of business in Nye County is dull."
Belmont was not always dull. The town had a number of murders and even a couple of lynchings. The first major conflict occurred as a result of dissension between Irish and Cornish miners. It was April 17, 1867, when the Irish miners marched on the Silver Bend Mining Company's offices. They took the president, R.B. Canfield, placed him on a "rail" and paraded him around town, while stopping at most of the saloons. The group became increasingly mean as they drank. One man, Louis Bodrow, a former Austin marshal, dared to confront the mob. John Dignon, one of the parading group, hit Bodrow, and all hell broke loose. In the ensuing gun battle, Bodrow and Dignon were killed, a number of men were injured, and Canfield escaped.
The second incident involved the lynching of two men and it remains a black mark in Belmont's history. The two, Charlie McIntyre and Jack Walker, had been involved in a shooting in May 1874 and both were arrested. They escaped but were soon found hiding in an old mine shaft. That night, vigilantes lynched the pair. The man that the pair had killed was known to be no good and the circumstances of the death are unclear. Memories of that night still linger at the town.
Belmont, after a slowdown from 1868 to 1873, received a big boost when a number of new rich deposits were discovered in the Belmont, Highbridge, Monitor-Belmont and the Quintero mines in 1874. Most of these mines were located about a mile east of Belmont, near the Combination mill, where a small settlement known as East Belmont had formed a few years earlier. Belmont soon had 2,000 people once again and the outlook seemed good. Businesses in Belmont and East Belmont in 1874 included: Vollmer Brothers General Merchandise, Belmont Drugstore (R.M. King, Silver Bend Livery Stable (W.L. Plumb), News Depot (Granger and Black), East Belmont Market (E.C. Leadbeater), Ephrain and Scalig Store, D.A. Hopkins Store, Esser and Stimler Variety Store, Cosmopolitan Saloon (J.R. Seymour), Post Office Saloon (Carpenter and Seymour), Belmont Brewery, S. Tallman General Merchandise, East Belmont Saloon (Cravens and Mitchell), Canfield Boardinghouse (W.V. Price), Belmont Lodging House (Thomas Warburton), Huey and Mead Lumber Yard, Pioneer Market (C.H. Hatch), Washington Brewery (George Curschman), Franco-American Restaurant (Rigant, Mettetal, and Cartier), Lafayette Restaurant (Dugnat and Jacquier), and Star Restaurant (Louis Fidanza). Fraternal organizations were also prominent including the I.O.O.F., which had a meeting hall, and the Knights of the Ancient Universal Brotherhood. S. Grant Moore and W.N. Tourdrow were the local doctors, and J.A. Ball, the undertaker. Even religion came to Belmont with the completion of St. Stephens Episcopal Church.
Cluggage set up a stageline to Austin and in September 1876, a telegraph line to Eureka was completed. Western Union hosted a big celebration which culminated in a 100-gun salute. However, all of the excitement in town was tempered by the fact that all of the mills in town were idle. In July 1878, the newly formed Highbridge Consolidated Silver Mining Company took over the Combination mine and mill from Abel Bennett and Joseph Brown. The mill was renamed the Highbridge. This transfer and renaming is seldom noticed and has led to the current misconceptions as to which mill was called the Highbridge. The old Highbridge mill, dating from 1867, was not owned by this company and was a separate mill. By the same token, the mill ruins currently labelled on maps as the Highbridge, is actually the Cameron, built with bricks from the dismantled Combination, then Highbridge, mill in 1915.
In September 1878, the El Dorado South Mining Company, a strong producer during the 1870s, was hit with a fatal blow. The mill and hoisting works were set on fire and destroyed. Both were uninsured and the loss of $66,900 forced the company into bankruptcy. A boost occurred in December when the Highbridge company completed repairs on the old Combination mill and restarted 25 stamps. But unfortunately, by October of 1879, the mill was idle again. In January 1880, the Belmont Mining Company started a 10-stamp concentrating mill and by summer, the company was the only active entity in the district.
The big boom at Gold Mountain, near Bonnie Clare, drained many resources of Belmont beginning in 1880. The milling equipment of the old Highbridge and Combination mills was removed to the boom and many vacant buildings were also hauled to Gold Mountain. Despite these blows, the Monitor-Belmont mill was restarted in June 1881 but the lack of consistent ore shipments led to the closing of the Wells-Fargo office in 1884. By 1885, only limited activity was taking place. Only the Highbridge mine (John Griffin and Casper Piel) and the Arizona mine (John Delanber) were being worked. When the property of the Belmont Mining Company was sold in 1887, Belmont's mining was dead. The Monitor-Belmont mill was still running but it was on ore from Barcelona, not Belmont. By the end of the year, the mill even closed. During the revival from 1874 to 1887, an additional $2 million was produced.
By 1889, many of the businesses and most of the people had left. The few businesses left included the Ball and Deady Drugstore, Belmont Brewery and Saloon, Warburton's General Merchandise, and Ernst and Esser General Merchandise. The Tate and Wallace Belmont to Sodaville stage, and Tate's Austin-Belmont stage, were still running but folded the next year. From 1865 to 1887, the Belmont mines recorded production in excess of $15 million. For the most part, the mines remained quiet until about 10 years after the turn of the century. After a six-year hiatus, Thomas Warburton and W.A. Atwell restarted the Monitor-Belmont mill in 1893 and worked old tailings from dumps in East Belmont, but this only lasted for a couple of years. Instead, for the most part, the old mills of Belmont were torn apart and moved to other locations during the 1890s. John Mayette took the old 10-stamp battery of the Belmont Mining Company to Union and sections of other mills were used to construct a mill at New Pass in Lander County.
The final concession of defeat came from the Belmont Courier in its last issue on March 2, 1901: "With this issue, the Belmont Courier suspends publication. For 28 years, we championed every cause that tended to help Nye County in particular and the State of Nevada in general and it is with keen regret that its proprietor calls it from the field of battle. But every branch of business in Nye County is dull and for several years, the Courier has brought in very little money and at the present time it is not a paying institution. From present appearances, it will be a hard matter to make a newspaper pay in Nye County for a long time and as the lessee of the Courier has a chance to enter into a more remunerative business enterprise, he has decided to do so. The patrons of the Courier have our sincere thanks for what they have done toward making it possible for the paper to live for so long a period. We wish our readers goodbye and hope that one and all will be happy and prosperous." The paper's owner left and ran a stageline from Tonopah to Sodaville. This was the end of the most important early newspaper in Nye County. At the end, not one business in Belmont was advertising in the paper.
When Jim Butler left his Monitor Valley ranch in May 1900 to head for the strikes in Klondike (Esmeralda County), no one knew his trip would change the state's history. After Butler discovered the rich silver deposits at Tonopah Springs, a huge rush began to that area, emptying many small towns near the site. Almost immediately, a strong call went up to transfer the county seat from Belmont to the new town of Tonopah. By 1903, Belmont only had 36 qualified voters and could manage but feeble resistance, and in May 1905, the transfer was made. By 1911, Belmont's population had shrunk to less than 50 and on May 31, 1911, the town lost its post office. In October 1908, the Belmont Security and Development Company bought the old Combination mill and by the end of the year, also purchased all of the old mines. Unfortunately, the company went bankrupt before starting any production.
Belmont had a fairly active revival beginning in 1914. The Monitor-Belmont Mining Company (George Nelson, president) had acquired almost all of the old mines near Belmont and in August 1915, started a huge mill, built in East Belmont, to process the ore. The mill, the Cameron, had 10 1,600-pound stamps and a 150-ton oil flotation system to process ore from the Monitor-Belmont's 21 claims. The bricks used to construct this mill were taken from the Combination mill, torn down the year before. The Cameron mill, named for the company's superintendent, was also used to rework some tailings from earlier activity. A $15,000 powerline was built to Manhattan to power the mill and provide electricity to the town. The company, which employed 30, had three major mines, which kept the mill running until 1917. In February, the Highbridge mine was connected to the mill by an 18" gauge railroad and the company opened a clubhouse and recreation hall in Belmont. With all of this activity, the population of Belmont began to rise slightly. The post office reopened on September 27, 1915, and it looked like Belmont was going to get a second chance for survival.
The Monitor-Belmont company left the district after closing the Cameron mill in 1917. The property was leased to the Nevada Wonder Mining Company in early 1918 which reopened the Monitor-Belmont mine. Nevada Wonder spent huge amounts of money for exploration that turned out to be fruitless and the company relinquished its lease in 1919. But Belmont was not ready to die yet. A 30-ton cyanide plant opened in 1921 to treat the old tailings. When this was given up, Belmont drifted back to ghostdom. The post office closed on August 31, 1922, and there have been no revivals since. The activity from 1914 to 1922 yielded a reported $1 million. The town still had 28 residents in 1945 but soon, that figure was down to 10. During 1954 and 1955, there was a flurry of interest in the area over uranium. The Gold Metals Consolidated Mines Company, Red Hill Florence Mining Company, and West Uranium Mines Corporation, and others filed 108 claims, but while some uranium was produced, the quality was poor grade and activity soon ended.
In this author's opinion, Belmont is the queen of Nye County ghost towns - in fact, one of the very top ghost towns in the state. The remains at and around Belmont are amazing. There are the picturesque ruins of the three mills. Only a stack and some rubble mark the site of the Monitor-Belmont mill, located just below the town. The Combination mill is marked by a huge, pockmarked stack and extensive ruins, including a small brick room that housed explosives. The best of the mills is the Cameron, whose skeletal brick walls of enormous size are awesome to behold. Both the Combination and Cameron mills are in East Belmont, a mile east of Belmont. Recent maps and a Forest Service sign near the Cameron mill have mistakenly labeled the mill as the Highbridge. This mistaken identity has also appeared in a few of the more recent books on Nevada and the error is a result of the situations mentioned earlier.
The remains at East Belmont are scattered over a wide area. Behind the Cameron mill ruins are about 30 stone cabins in various stages of decay. This section appears to be part of the old Chinatown. Many other stone ruins are scattered along the main road running from East Belmont to Belmont. The old horse racetrack is still faintly visible near the Combination mill ruins. The track was known as Monitor Park and operated for a number of years in the 1860s and 1870s.
Belmont itself remains an amazing site. Although a number of newer homes have been built in the town, mainly by residents of Tonopah and Las Vegas, the grand beauty of "old" Belmont shines through. First, there is the beautiful and imposing courthouse, which is undergoing a slow, pain-staking restoration. The building has been protected against deterioration and vandalism by putting plastic over the windows and installing locks on the doors. Portions of the first floor have been partially restored and small displays have been put together. During the summer months, the courthouse is opened for public viewing. After the building was abandoned, it was used for many years as a hay storage building for one of the nearby ranches. The cells of the jail, built on the back section of the courthouse, were torn out and used in the Gabbs jail. Thanks to the efforts of the Metscher brothers of Tonopah, the cells were returned to Belmont recently when Gabbs constructed a new jail. The old cells remain behind the courthouse, awaiting eventual placement back in their original home.
The main street of Belmont contains some of the best remains this author has ever seen. In addition to the ruins of a few dozen buildings, there are quite a number of buildings still standing, some of which have been recently restored. One of the most impressive is the old stone offices of the Combination Mining Company, located at the north edge of town. The building, now used as a residence, was restored in the 1970s. However, a tragic event has deprived visitors of one of the most remembered and photographed buildings in any Nevada ghost town. The Cosmopolitan Dance Hall and Saloon had been a landmark in Belmont for a hundred years. It was at the Cosmopolitan that the famous actress Lotta Crabtree performed in "Uncle Tom's Cabin." Unfortunately, a group of partying four-wheel enthusiasts decided it would be fun to see if they could pull down the building. After attaching chains and ropes to the main supports of the building, it only took a couple of pulls and the building came crashing down. A senseless and stupid act has now deprived historians and tourists of a valuable part of central Nevada's heritage. What makes it even more devastating is that plans had been made for a partial restoration of the building. Now, only a pile of wood rubble is left of the Cosmopolitan.
Besides the multitude of ruins, buildings, and mills, Belmont has one of the most extensive and fascinating cemeteries in the state. The large cemetery, located just south of the Monitor-Belmont mill ruins on the east side of the road, includes many wooden headboards, fancy wrought iron fences, and elaborate gravestones. Jack Longstreet and his Indian bride are both buried in the cemetery.
Belmont should not be missed! This author has found himself constantly going back to Belmont for "just one more look" for 17 years. Plan on a day or two to completely tour Belmont and East Belmont. However, before traveling to Belmont, stock up on necessary supplies such as food and gas because they aren't available at the site. However, Dick's Belmont Bar is normally open on the weekends to quench any thirst.