2011: Ely, Nevada. An Interesting Town

Part 1: The Murals

From the 31st July 2011

Ely is such an interesting place to visit.

Like many Western towns, Ely, Nev., has experienced major highs and lows thanks to the mining industry. Mining, primarily for copper, founded the town in the late 1800s and has long been its largest employer. But the whims of geology and commodities markets have also been its undoing on several occasions.  But rather than pack up and drift away, Ely citizens instead chose to express pride in the town in an unusual way: They painted the town with colorful murals.  

The project began in 1999 during yet another mining downturn. The town’s leading copper mine shut down — again — putting hundreds of employees out of work. Downtown shops closed and went dark, creating a depressing visage along Aultman Street, the main drag.  “When this happened, a thousand people left the community, and we were all devastated, just devastated,” said Virginia Terry, a lifelong Ely resident.

At the time it was unusual for a tiny, remote town to dive deep into public art, said Terry, president of the Ely Renaissance Society, a nonprofit founded around the mural project. But it proved vital to unite the town around its rich, shared history. And it helped citizens see the value in preserving what they had and hoping for a better future.  “Every year, we would do two or three murals, and we’d have to have fundraisers to do that,” Terry said. “At first, visitors were really more excited about it than the people living here. But after a couple summers, then the business people saw the advantage, and either did their own murals or gave money to get theirs done.” Today the society is raising money to refresh many of the murals with new paint after decades in the high-desert weather. It also plans at least one new mural downtown.   

A catalyst for the project 20 years ago was Margaret Bath, Terry’s sister-in-law and then owner of Economy Drug, the downtown pharmacy. She had recently traveled in British Columbia and saw a mural project in the town of Chemainus, launched by Karl Schutz, a German immigrant who launched a mural project in his adopted hometown, which was struggling as the logging industry declined.  When the idea of murals for Ely began to flower, Bath put up $5,000 to launch the effort and bring Schutz to Ely as an advisor on the local project. 

The Ely Renaissance Society has financed more than twenty outdoor murals and sculptures in the downtown area. Artists from all over the world have been commissioned to create images of area history, using different art styles. They also maintain a historical village consisting of a general store and several shotgun houses which display the history of the ethnic groups that came to the area to work for the railroad and the mine. A little bit of history will help explain the wonderful  murals to be found all over town – they each represent a part of the town´s history.

Ely is relatively young as Nevada cities go, established in the 1870s as a stagecoach station and post office. Only after it was designated the White Pine County seat in 1887 did the population climb to 200. Most of the activity in the region was at the surrounding mining camps of Ward, Cherry Creek, Osceola and Taylor.

Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely’s mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906. This made Ely a mining town, suffering through the boom-and-bust cycles so common in the West. Originally, Ely was home to a number of copper mining companies, Kennecott being the most famous. With a crash in the copper market in the mid 1970s, Kennecott shut down and copper mining disappeared (temporarily).

With the advent of cyanide heap leaching—a method of extracting gold from what was previously considered very low-grade ore—the next boom was on. Many companies processed the massive piles of “overburden” that had been removed from copper mines, or expanded the existing open-pit mines to extract the gold ore. Gold mines as widespread as the Robinson project near Ruth, and AmSelco’s Alligator Ridge mine 65 miles (104 km) from Ely, kept the town alive during the 1980s and 1990s, until the recent revival of copper mining.

As Kennecott’s smelter was demolished, copper concentrate from the mine is now shipped by rail to Seattle, where it is transported to Japan for smelting. The dramatic increase in demand for copper in 2005 has once again made Ely a copper boom town.

So, here´s some of the wall art

501 Aultman Street
There’s so much to discover at the Hotel Nevada!  Murals and artwork can be found both inside and out of this historic hotel. The outside murals in front and back of the hotel celebrate the spirit of the west and were painted by Larry Bute. In 2019, colorful ceramic tiles were installed by the front door.


1001 Aultman Street

“Artist Don Gray illustrates the story of the Pony Express and the telegraph lines crossing Nevada’s landscape. The trail of the Pony Express comes right through White Pine County just north of Ely. In the 1800s, mail delivery between the east and west had to either be taken overland by a 25-day stagecoach or spend months inside a ship during a long sea voyage. The Pony Express, meanwhile, had an average delivery time of just 10 days.”

Ely was a staging post for the original fast mail ‘Pony Express’ service, Messages were carried by horseback riders in relays to stations across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of the Western United States. For its 18 months of operation, it briefly reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days, with telegraphic communication covering about half the distance across the continent and mounted couriers the rest.


NE corner of 4th & Aultman Street

In the summer of 1999, the Jailhouse Casino commissioned artist Larry Bute to paint this mural that captures the flavor of the real West. It is reminiscent of the days when cattle were shipped out to market by rail after the cowboys had driven them to the holding pens near the rail spur in East Ely. Cattle drives are the process of moving a herd of cattle from one place to another by cowboys on horses. This was a major economic activity for 20 years through the late 1880s.”

Miners and prospectors on the California Gold Rush of 1849 found themselves in a legal vacuum.

Miners organized their own governments in each new mining camp (for example the Great Republic of Rough and Ready), and adopted the Mexican mining laws then existing in California that gave the discoverer right to explore and mine gold and silver on public land. Miners moved from one camp to the next, and made the rules of all camps more or less the same, usually differing only in specifics such as in the maximum size of claims, and the frequency with which a claim had to be worked to avoid being forfeited and subject to being claimed by someone else. California miners spread the concept all over the west with each new mining rush, and the practices spread to all the states and territories west of the Great Plains.

WARD CHARCOAL OVENS 6th & Aultman Street “Artist Chris Krieder created this interpretation of the first group of Italians that came to this area to build ovens to produce the charcoal for smelting the ore in the late 1880s. Located 18 miles south of Ely, these six beehive shaped charcoal ovens were used from 1876 through 1879 to help process rich silver ore that was discovered in the area.”

The Ward Charcoal ovens were operational from 1875 until 1879 – the silver boom years of the Ward Mines. Silver ore was discovered in 1872 when freighters were looking for oxen that were grazing in the Willow Creek Basin area near Ely Nevada. The beehive shaped ovens replaced the old pit system of producing charcoal because the ovens were more efficient way to reduce Pinyon Pine and Juniper in charcoal. The charcoal ovens were used to heat up the silver ore.

 Blacksmith, Mural, Ely, Nevada

The mural faces a parking lot where longtime resident, Frank Evans had his blacksmith shop on Aultman St.

 Cigarets N´Whisky An Wild, Wild Women

Of course, where there were men and mines – there had to be a little recreation!

One of the oldest brothels in Nevada, it was built in the late 1880s and opened as Rainey’s dance hall. In 1939 it became a brothel, named the “Big 4” after the four men who co-owned it. 
The mural depicting the ‘working girls’ encouraging business
701 Aultman Street
“Located next to the Basque Restaurant is the Plaza Hotel. Designed by Anthony Ithurralde, this is a typical scene that would have been viewed in the lobby of this hotel during the thirties. Local residents, Glenn and Virginia Terry, were asked to pose for this mural!”

The 1850s gold rush in the American West and the harsh political and economic climate in their homeland brought many Basque people to the United States.

“The majority of the Basques ended up in Nevada because of the gold rush. They came for the mining but realised they could make more money-raising animals for the camps.


1603 Aultman Street

“Commissioned by the Ely Renaissance Society in 2000, this mural depicts the role the Basque people played in developing this area. This split mural was done by artist Don Gray and son Jared.  Early in the 20th century, there was an influx of Basques into the White Pine County area. They came from their homeland in the Pyrenees Mountains on the border between Spain and France to work as sheepherders.”


800 Clark Street / White Pine County Library

“Located outside the White Pine County Library, this mural was painted by Wei Luan in 2002. It pays tributes to notable residents who were instrumental in the development of White Pine County and Nevada, including four governors and former First Lady Pat Nixon as well as ranchers, legislators, land surveyors, engineers and journalists. “

 The Gas Meters Artwork, Ely, Nevada
Amazing artwork to disguise ugly meters outside the Tattoo Parlour
“Big “Bill Murphy: Mining Hero

Part 2: Vehicles Of A Bygone Era

1st & Aultman Street
“The Richfield gas station was built in 1938 and serviced thousands of residents and visitors in its heyday. Today it is an architectural mural that envelops the entire building. Take time to read the advertisements and posters that offer a blast from the past.”

The 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air

What a beautiful car

Next post we will be on the road again. Thank you for reading

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