DEAR MR GOVERNOR OF NEVADA. PLEASE CAN WE HAVE ANOTHER CERTIFICATE AND BADGE EACH FOR ONCE AGAIN, SURVIVING ‘THE LONELIEST ROAD IN AMERICA’?
Except, it really isn’t that lonely anymore.
The LRIA actually starts in Carson City, Nevada but, as usual, we decided to bypass the busy places, in this case, Lake Tahoe and explore the ‘road less traveled’ .
And hello again….
Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road In America
The second town on LRIA is Fallon where we filled up the fuel, knocked back a couple of cold drinks, then continued on to the third town, Austin.
We rode into town at around 5pm. It was a bit of a shabby and tired looking town with more bars than anything else. But there were some interesting old buildings from the gold mining era and, although not quite a ghost town, it had that feel.
The town was actually discovered in 1862 by a horse belonging to a W. H. Talbott. The horse, by accident, kicked up a piece of quartz containing gold and silver. Talbott sent the piece to Virginia City for assay. He staked out a claim and, when word got out, others followed, and a silver rush was on. One year later, 10,000 people occupied the town. A lumber mill had been built and four hundred homes had been constructed. There were schools, churches, hotels, stores and, of course, the required number of saloons and pleasure houses. Many of the structures were of adobe and brick, which minimized the damage from fires. Floods, however, were the culprit, especially those of 1868 and 1874 which ravaged the town. By 1880, the mines began to show signs of exhaustion and its total of $50 million in ore production was history.
Lander County was formed December 19, 1862. At the time, Lander County constituted almost one-third of Nevada. By 1863, almost 10,000 people had flocked to the Austin area. Austin’s boom prompted the territory’s legislature to move the county seat from Jacobsville to the young silver mining camp. Lots on Main Street sold for an average of $8,000 in gold. The first newspaper arrived in 1863 in the form of the Reese River Reveille. It is still being printed today and claims to be the oldest continuously published newspaper in Nevada. The International Hotel, a landmark of Austin, was first built in Virginia City in 1860 and late in the decade was moved 180 miles east and reconstructed on Austin’s main street. By the time of Austin’s incorporation in 1864, the town’s voting population had grown to 6,000. Austin and Clifton became embroiled in intense competition for supremacy. When Austin won the contest for the county seat in 1863, people began moving from Clifton to Austin. Soon, Clifton was left with only a few empty wooden buildings. Clifton was still active in 1865 but when the mill closed in 1867, the town was abandoned. While Austin’s mining activity was at its peak during the late 1860s and early 1870s, production began to slow down rapidly after that. The last robust year for Austin was 1872 with a production of $250,000. Natural disasters made occasional appearances in Austin. Cloud bursts in Pony Canyon would funnel into town, turning the main street into a river. With almost every good rain, Austin became a quagmire of mud.
Cloud bursts, likely to occur anytime in this area, were especially severe in the early days, often carrying huge boulders down Main Street, over turning freight wagons, drowning horses, and creating great damage. Many outside stairways leading to residences above stores were built and swing upward out-of-the-way when cloud burst occurred.
Today, Austin is a quiet town of about 200 people and remains a historical masterpiece. Many of the original buildings have survived and help the town retain an intriguing vintage flavor. A walk along Austin’s streets transports one back to a bygone era and provides the historian and the casual tourist with a rare glimpse of what life was like 135 years ago.
The old courthouse – which is still in use – was open for visitors to look around.
The Lander County Courthouse was built in 1871, at a cost of $26,000. The town’s historic guide admits that it’s a plain structure, saying residents selected sturdy construction over “frills”. Only a decade or so after it was built, a murderer was lynched from the balcony over the front door. The balcony is still there, so I guess it was built sturdy enough to support a hanging.
We looked around town and decided to book into the cleanest-looking of 3 motels. It wasn’t cheap at $60 and it was disappointingly small – not one shelf to put things on, a tray as a table for using the computer; by the time we had the bike gear in the room, we had to step over things all the time. Worse, the ‘Free Wireless Internet’ didn’t work. The walls were so thin, it sounded like traffic passing on the road behind were actually about to appear through the walls.
Next morning, we rode back west out-of-town to visit the cemeteries there – there are 5 and pretty interesting they were too; one cemetery was for the immigrant workers and the graves reflect the diversity of the miners who came to Nevada in search of gold, silver or topaz. There were lots of Irish, Italian, Welsh, Spanish and I found one grave of a Cornish miner.
Then there was a separate cemetery each for the ‘nobs’ the Indians, the Masons and for more recent residents.
Part 2 to follow very shortly – next town Eureka!