Although Rhyolite was relatively short-lived, its history of dramatic rise and swift fall is one of the most fascinating of any ghost town in Nye C ounty. Rhyolite formed soon after Frank "Shorty" Harris and Eddie Cross made rich discoveries in the summer of 1904 in the hills west of the eventual townsite. Soon a small camp sprang up, called Bullfrog. Another camp, Rhyolite, formed a mile to the north. Rhyolite was staked out in November 1904, and officially platted on January 15, 1905. Within a month, an unknown person, rumored to be Bob Montgomery, offered free lots to merchants. A small tent city sprang up, with numerous saloons, restaurants, and boardinghouses. One of the first substantial buildings constructed was the $30,000 two-story Southern Hotel.
An unofficial post office was established in early 1905 in Len McGarry's general store. In February, it was moved to Bill Porter's grocery store on growing Golden Street. He "delivered" the mail by yelling out the names of the addressees, a process that normally took hours and was extremely inefficient. The official United States post office, housed in a 10' x 12' tent, opened May 19, 1905, with Anna Moore as postmaster. With the growing clientele, the post office outgrew a number of new offices before moving into the basement of the John S. Cook Bank building in 1908.
Water, a rare commodity in the Rhyolite area, was carted in at a cost of $2-$5 per barrel. It was not until June 26, 1905, that an efficient water system was brought to Rhyolite. The Indian Springs Water Company formed in 1905 and soon was piping water f rom Indian Springs, 5 miles to the north. Six weeks after the Indian Springs company reached Rhyolite, the Bullfrog Water Company completed a water system pipeline to Rhyolite from Goss Springs, 12 miles away. This pipeline had a daily flow of 200,000 gallons. A short time later, a third water company, the Bullfrog Water, Light and Power Company, also became active in the district. The company controlled thirteen springs, which had a flow of one million gallons. Water pressure was strong enough to support a fire hydrant system with 70 pounds of pressure. Only a year after Rhyolite had been bone-dry, the town had an abundance of the precious liquid. Two 20,000 gallon water reservoirs were built at the top of Golden Street.
During March 1905, a number of small camps in addition to Bullfrog and Rhyolite were developing within a radius of a few miles. Squattersville, a small tent city, was set up between Rhyolite and Bullfrog and eventually merged with the southern part of rapidly expanding Rhyolite. A mile from Bullfrog were Orion and Amargosa, tent camps with 80 tents and a population of 160. Bonanza, another small camp, was at the south end of Ladd Mountain. All of these faded quickly as attention focused on booming Rhyolite.
By the spring of 1905, four stagelines were bringing supplies to Rhyolite. Best known was the Kitchen stage, which brought supplies from Goldfield, 80 miles north, at a cost of $18 a ton. The first auto-stage, run by the Tonopah and Goldfield Auto Company, became active in May 1905. Judge William Stewart, a famous lawyer, moved to the Rhyolite area that spring, bestow ing a sense of prestige on the growing city. Baseball became the sports entertainment in town. The first game was held on June 11, 1905. Rhyolite beat Beatty, 10 to 6. The town supported three teams, the 66 Club Tigers, Rhyolite Stars, and Railroad Bullets . Rhyolite built its first school in early 1906 and the enrollment soon reached 90. The school was blown off its foundation in September 1906, but was soon reset. By May 1907, the number of pupils had swelled to 250. Soon, a $20,000, two-story brick school was built, with three classrooms on the first floor, and one classroom and an auditorium on the second.
Rhyolite reached its peak in 1907 and 1908. Its population then was estimated to be anywhere from 8,000 to 12,000. During this time, two weekly newspapers and one daily competed for favor in Rhyolite. The weekly Rhyolite Herald was the first in town and was also the last to fold. It began publication on May 5, 1905, and continued until June 23, 1912. The Bullfrog Miner, after being published in Bullfrog for a little over a year, moved to Rhyolite on March 30, 1906. The Rhyolite Daily Bulletin began publication on September 23, 1907, but did not last long, folding on May 31, 1909. Two magazines were published in Rhyolite toward the end of the town's zenith. The first was the Death Valley Prospector, first issued in November 1907, then renamed the Death Valley Magazine the next month and published monthly until it folded in October 1908.
Rhyolite was served by three railroads during its peak years, an honor rarely bestowed on any Nevada city. The first to reach Rhyolite was the Las Vegas and Tonopah, which began regular service on December 14, 1906. The railroad was strongly backed by then Senator William Clark and his relative, J. Ross Clark. The Bullfrog-Goldfield Railroad, the second to arrive in Rhyolite, was run by John Brock of Tonopah. He had already made a name for himself with the prominent Tonopah and Goldfield Railroad. The Bullfrog-Goldfield was the weakest of the three, but it was the first to complete a depot in Rhyolite. The depot was 24' x 72' and was completed in April 1908, just before the Las Vegas and Tonopah completed their own fancy depot. The third of the Rhyolite railroads, the Tonopah and Tidewater, never went as far as Rhyolite but had a station at nearby Gold Center. That station opened in October 1907, and the newly formed Tonopah and Tidewater soon became the best established railroad in Nye County, lasting into the 1940s.
In January 1907, a network of 400 electric street light poles were installed, and soon Rhyolite was brightly lit 24 hours a day. By March 1907, Rhyolite's post office had the seventh largest clientele in Nevada. A number of very impressive buildings were built in 1907 and early 1908. These included the $90,000 John S. Cook Bank building and the $50,000 Overbury building. H.D. and L.D. Porter, who operated mercantile stores throughout Nevada, built a new store in Rhyolite in 1907. The fancy stone building featured huge store windows which were the talk of the town. During its peak, Rhyolite had 45 saloons, an opera house, a number of dance halls, two electric light plants, a two-story Miners' Union Hall with a 60' front, a slaughterhouse, two railroad depots, numerous stores and countless other buildings, both wood and brick, and three public swimming pools. The Rhyolite Foundry and Machine Supply was organized in June 1907, to build cars. Parts were brought in, but the company folded before production began. Rhyolite even had its own stock exchange for a while in 1907.
During Rhyolite's brief stardom, more than 85 mining companies were active in the hills around the city. There were seven major mines: Montgomery-Shoshone, Denver, National Bank, Eclipse, Polaris, Gibraltar, and Tramp. Of these, the Montgomery-Shoshone was the most productive. The mine was discovered by a Shoshone Indian Bob Montgomery had sent to stake a claim for him. When Montgomery began to work the claim, he kept running into talc deposits, which frustrated him. But one day, after a heavy rain, he happened to take a look at the dissolving talc pile and found gold. The talc ore assayed from $3,000 to $5,000 a ton. Soon afterward, Montgomery sold the mine to Charles Schwab for a reported $5 million. Schwab then built a large mill, which started in September 1907, and also convinced the Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad to run a rail line by the mine, making it worthwhile for Schwab to mine lower value ore because he incurred no extra cost for transportation. In October 1907, alone, the mill produced $175,000.
The financial panic of 1907 killed Rhyolite. Most of the town's investors were from the east, and when they withdrew their backing, all of the mines were forced to close. The devastating effects of the panic did not reach Rhyolite until the spring of 1908. Then the trains were almost always filled to capacity with people leaving town. The city emptied as fast as it had been populated only a few years earlier. Rhyolite suffered a fire on August 19, 1908, that leveled the red-light district and spread to parts of the eastern business district. By the end of 1909, the population was well below 1,000. Despite this, the residents pushed for the formation of Bullfrog County in the legislature, but the quick decline ended these hopes. The Montgomery-Shoshone mine, the last real hope of survival for Rhyolite, closed after producing close to $2 million. After a short closure, the mine and mill reopened in April 1910, but closed for good in March 1911. During this period, 75 men were employed. However, $246,000 was produced but at a cost of $244,000. The only mine left in operation was the old Tramp mine, just north of Bullfrog. The Sunset Mining and Development Company worked the mine for a while but finally gave up in the early teens. The railroads continued to operate and the clientele continued to decline, until an average of only two or three people took the trains each day.
The population had shrunk to 675 by 1910 and continued to fall rapidly during the next two years. Street lights were shut off on April 30, 1910, although the power company operated until 1916. Earle Clemens, editor of the Rhyolite Herald , wrote a touching editorial in the April 8, 1911, issue, his last before leaving to work in California: "GOODBYE: It is with deep regret that I announce my retirement from the newspaper field in the Bullfrog district. It has been my lot to remain here while all my erstwhile contemporaries have fled, one by one, to more inviting localities, and now it is my time to say goodbye. May prosperity follow you everywhere, and catch up with you, too, and may prosperity again reign in Rhyolite - the prettiest, coziest mining town on the great American desert, a town blessed with ambitious, hopeful, courageous people, and with a climate second to none on earth. Goodbye, dear old Rhyolite." After Clemens left, the paper was continued by the Rhyolite Printing Company, then finally folded on June 22, 1912. All subscriptions were transferred to the Goldfield News.
The Las Vegas and Tonopah Railroad and Bullfrog-Gold field Railroad consolidated in July 1914, in an effort to maintain service to Rhyolite, but it was a losing cause. The railroad struggled on for a few more years but finally ended service in 1918. The last freight train left Rhyolite on August 17, the last work train on October 31. The rails were torn up the next year. The post office continued until the population fell below 25, when the postmaster, H.D. Porter, decided that it was no longer needed. While his store had closed in 1910, he stayed on, hoping for a new boom. The office closed on September 15, 1919. The population of the almost dead town had shrunk to 14 by the beginning of 1920. The last resident, J.D. Lorraine, died in 1924.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Rhyolite remained almost the same. The only semblance of a revival took place in 1928, when the Rhyolite Consolidated Mines Company was formed and began work on a number of mines on Bonanza Mountain. The company was backed by capitalists from Virginia and Georgia, but they withdrew their support in 1930 and the company folded. Other attempts were made during the next 20 years but mainly consisted of the reworking of old tailing piles. Total production for the Rhyolite mines, excluding current operations, was $3 million. The empty buildings in Rhyolite were full of furniture, and the bank floors were covered with official records and worthless stock. The only building occupied during this period was the old Las Vegas and Tonopah depot. Wes Westmoreland had purchased it in 1925 and had opened a casino and bar, called the Rhyolite Ghost Casino, in October 1937. The other buildings in town were left to the mercy of the harsh desert wind.
The railroad station was maintained until recently by Westmoreland's sister, Mrs. H.H. Heisler, who had a small museum and curio shop in the station. The bottle house, constructed of 51,000 beer bottles, is one of the few other buildings still in fairly good condition. However, it has been damaged during the past few years and blame for the damage has been placed on the nearby mining operations or a strong dust devil, depending on which side you talk to. In addition to a few small wood structures, the only other substantial remain is the jail. The more impressive ruins in Rhyolite include the Cook Bank, the $20,000 school and the Porter store. The front of the Cook building was altered by a movie company to a Spanish style. Grills drilled into the window frames seemed to have weakened the front, and a large section collapsed the following year. The Rhyolite-Bullfrog cemetery is half a mile south of the Bullfrog townsite. It contains many interesting gravestone styles, including numerous wooden headboards. In 1986, the Stonewall Park Development Corporation attempted to purchase the ghost town to form the nation's first homosexual community. The attempt was soundly rejected by the county.
Thankfully, for Rhyolite and its visitors, the townsite is now under the care of a new organization, the Friends of Rhyolite, which has done an admirable job in helping to preserve wha t is left of the town and protecting it from further vandalism. An annual celebration of Rhyolite is held in June which helps to raise funds for further work. Recently, mining operations have begun near Rhyolite. Bond International Gold poured the first gold bar from their open pit operation on July 25, 1989. 200,000 ounces of gold were produced during the first year. The operation has continued to grow since then and the huge mine dumps are located below the town. The mine is now being run by Barrick. Production from 1989 through 1994 was 1.44 million ounces of gold and 1.58 million ounces of silver. The company employs 290 workers.
The impressions one gets while visiting Rhyolite are unbelievable. It is almost unimaginable, while standing amid Rhyolite's ruins, that this desolate site was once filled with more than 10,000 people and row upon row of buildings. One feels a deep sense of emptiness and amazement at the total devastation that has almost completely leveled the once bustling city. Shock also see ms to overwhelm a visitor. Rhyolite is clearly one of the best ghost towns in Nye County and in the state, not just because of the buildings but also because of the scope of change. If there is a single town that exemplifies how fast life can change in a mining town, Rhyolite is that town. This was one of the first places this author visited in his initial trip to Nye County in 1979 and Rhyolite gets credit for greatly fostering and building my interest in ghost towns. Don't Miss Rhyolite!