Thursday, May 12, 2011

Mined out of Existence: A Ghost Town Twice

     Today is a treat for all of you ghost town lovers: today is a double ghost town.  This place has been abandoned as a ghost town not once, but twice.  One day while in Eureka, I read about a little town called Mercur.  I had never heard of it, but I was interested in finding out a little more.  The town is located in Tooele County off of Highway 73.  When driving north on the highway from Lehi, there is a sign marking the road to get to the town (I don't know if there is a similar sign on the southbound side). Here is what I found out about it from Wikipedia:
     "The town first came into being in 1870 as Lewiston, when gold was discovered at the head of the Lewiston Canyon.  A small gold rush began, peaking about 1873; the population reached as high as 2000.  In 1874 the ore started to give out, and Lewiston became a ghost town by 1880.
     "In 1879, a Bavarian miner named Arie Pinedo had discovered a deposit of cinnabar in the area.  The ore contained gold as well as mercury, but contemporary processes were unable to extract it.  Similar discoveries were made throughout the 1880s.  In 1890 the advent of the cyanide process started the gold rush all over again.  Gold was extracted not only from the newly mined ore, but from old tailings as well.  Soon there were enough people to build a new town on the old site, but the name of Lewiston was already taken by then.  The citizens settled on the name Mercur, from Pinedo's claim.
     "In 1902 a fire that started in the business district of the town burned almost the entire city to the ground.  The town was rebuilt and mining again resumed.  In its heyday there were about 5,000 residents of Mercur.
     "Mercur supported a large Italian immigrant community; young men were attracted by the opportunity of high wages and the romance of the American 'wild west'.  With this Italian influence, Columbus Day became an important city event including parades, games and performances by the Mercur City Band."
     By 1913 the mines had shut down, by 1916 there was only one building left in Mercur, and by 1930 everything was gone.  Here are three photos of the town, the first from 1885 and the second two from 1903:

 Photo courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Brigham Young University

 Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society, all rights reserved.

    When I drove up the road towards the old city, there is a huge fence blocking the road.  Here is what it currently looks like:

     My friend that came with me (thanks Mikael) debated about whether we should sneak around.  There were several openings in the fence and it ended almost as soon as it crossed the road.  We talked with a man who happened to drive up at the same time and who used to work around the area.  He told us that the company Barrick bought the mine around the 80s (an interesting tid bit is that this company has some relation to the Getty Museum in Los Angeles.  It is a really cool museum and free so if you are ever in LA, go check it out).  They started to mine the area, however they have recently been focused around the Elko area where a huge mine was found.  He said that no one has been here for several years.
     With that bit of confidence, we decided to climb under the fence.  I slipped climbing up a bank onto the road and smashed my knuckles (it has made a really good story for the kids that I work with at Provo High.  All of them keep asking me if I got in a fight.  I always tell them that some freshman was pissing me off so I hit him).  As soon as we started walking up the road a truck came down.  The guy in the truck told us that the property owner would shoot us if he found us on the land (I doubt it...).  The property owner is the current mayor of Ophir (stay tuned for that one!) and operates the Ophir Gophir.  He also said that there was no point heading up the road since the town was mined out of existence.
      Everyone that I talked to said that the town was mined out of existence.  Mining towns are difficult to rephotograph because the landscape is constantly changing and being mined.  Furthermore, since the land is getting mined, you often can't find the original spot that the photo was taken from, because it doesn't exist.  Due to our lack of time and the fact that we were just going to find a big hole, we turned back.  However, I did find a couple of pictures of the current mine.  The first is from and the second is from wikipedia:

     The only remains that can be found of the town of Mercur is the graveyard which is located as soon as you turn onto the road towards Mercur.  At least there is a marker for the graveyard.  I didn't have time to explore the area and I actually didn't see any graves.  Here is the marker:

1 comment:

  1. the graves are on the other side of the road from this marker up a little path...not much to look at but still pretty cool.