Rhyolite Nevada A Ghost Town ~ Or Ninety Nine Bottles Of Beer In The Wall
Memories of a ghost town...
Or Rather, Make That 50,000 Beer And Liquor Bottles In The Wall!
The ghost town of Rhyolite, Nevada is a short two hour drive, about 120 miles North of Las Vegas. Visiting Rhyolite is like going back in time to those fabled and glorious days of the Gold Rush and the Wild Wild West. It's a fun day trip and gives you the chance to escape the neon and craziness of "Glitter Gulch," also known as Las Vegas.
Rhyolite is in Nye County, in the Bullfrog Hills, just 3 miles West of Beatty, Nevada. It is also near the east edge of Death Valley. The town of Rhyolite came into existence because of the discovery of GOLD. "There's gold in them thar hills" was the battle cry of the early 1900's, and people flocked from all over to the American West hoping to strike it rich. Or at the very least, they hoped to get a job in one of the newly prosperous gold mines. The two men who discovered all that gold were Frank "Shorty" Harris and Ernest "Ed" Cross.
Rhyolite began as a two man town in January of 1905 and it grew into a town of 1,200 in just two short weeks. That is one reason this was known as the "gold rush." Within six months, by June of 1905, the population had increased to 2,500! It was such amazing growth in a very short time.
Construction in this town began in 1905 when the gold was discovered, and Rhyolite began as just a small mining camp. Quickly growing in popularity, the town grew to about 2,500 residents by 1906. The most promising mine at that time was the Montgomery Shoshone mine. In its heyday the town was said to have a population reaching about 5,000. Numbers were not exact back then. It was always hard to keep track of a largely transient population.
There was a man named Charles Schwab, and he was an industrialist who traveled to Rhyolite and bought the Montgomery Shoshone mine back in 1906. Now this Charles Schwab was NOT related in any way to the man who started the investment firm known as Charles Schwab. The two men just happen to have the same name. The man who started the Charles Schwab investment firm was Charles Robert Schwab, and all of this occurred before he was even born.
The earlier Charles Schwab had the means, so he used some of his money and he invested heavily in the development of Rhyolite, hoping to provide the area with an infrastructure and to make it into a viable town. He was responsible for bringing in piped water, railroad lines, and the electricity required to run the town.
Soon after, this town had newspapers, a fancy bank with a marble staircase and stained glass windows, a hospital, a school, a stock exchange, two churches, some houses of ill repute (the worlds oldest profession)...ehem... and even an opera house which also featured performances on Saturday nights... ehem. All of this along with electric lights, telephones and water mains, made Rhyolite a desirable place to settle down. Or so people thought.
No one could have predicted the dire events that were about to occur that would greatly affect this town. The town went on a fast decline almost as quickly as it rose in popularity. Who could have predicted that there would be the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, and then the financial panic that arose in 1907?
But both of these events contributed greatly to the fast decline of this once booming town. In the year 1908, there was a fear that the value of the stock of these mines was overvalued. When that was confirmed, the values of these mining companies stocks quickly dropped, causing funding to be nearly stopped and the mines to begin to operate at losses. Once that happened the mine closed for good in 1911. By the time all of this had occurred, many of the miners had already moved on to other locations and the population of the town of Rhyolite had dropped below 1,000. The population was later estimated at 675 in the year 1910. By the year 1920, the population was recorded at 14 people.
It is said that the very last resident of Rhyolite stayed in the town until his death in 1924, when the town officially had no more population. Many of the buildings became used as sources of building materials for towns in other places, accounting for the looks of the remaining buildings left standing there today.
The Bottle House
At the time, there was a rather creative miner living in the town of Rhyolite who went by the name of Tom T. Kelly. He started to collect old empty beer and alcohol bottles, which were not even washed out due to the shortage of water. Who would use valuable water to rinse out beer bottles? So, they were embedded as they were into the adobe structure of Tom's house. Yes, you read that right... in February of 1906, Tom Kelly built a "bottle house" constructed of adobe and empty unwashed beer and alcohol bottles. This guy has something over Jeff Foxworthy I'd say!
I could hear it now "If you've ever built a house made of empty beer bottles... you might just be a redneck." Yep, it seems they even existed back in the early 1900's in the gold rush days. And the bottles he used the most? Adulphus Busch bottles (today known as Budweiser.) Now, Tom was smart, he never actually lived in the house, he sold it in a raffle in 1906, and the family that bought it was the Bennett family. They lived there until 1914.
Now, since there were 53 saloons in the town at the time, there was no shortage of empty beer bottles. You read that right... 53 saloons! And the bottles were not only old beer and alcohol bottles, old medicine bottles were also used. In those days, the early 1900's, medicine contained opium. It wasn't known if the medicine actually worked to cure something, but folks sure did feel better taking it and they did become addicted to it even back then! It is said that the "medicine" accounted for some of the strangeness of some of the town folk.
The bottle house has a double bottle foundation, and consists of three rooms. When one is inside the house, it is said they wouldn't even know they are inside of a bottle house. It looks just like a traditional house from the inside. The bottle house was lovingly rehabilitated in 2005. The foundation needed to be stabilized, which they did, and bottles needed replacing. There was a board that went over the attic opening that needed to be removed, and wherever new bottles were needed, they were placed. Now they are saying that this house could very well last for another 100 years!
A Movie Set
The town of Rhyolite has been used since 1924 as a place to film movies. Filming started with a silent film in 1924 known as "The Air Mail"... I know, I never heard of it either! I never heard of most of the movies filmed there, especially the ones filmed in the early 1900's.
The most recent movies filmed there occurred when the ruins of the old Cook Bank building were used in a 1964 film called "The Reward," and another film in 2004 called "The Island." The town itself was featured in such movies as "Delusion" in 1991, "Ramona!" in 1992, and "Six String Samurai" in 1998. One of the more recent films was called "Twice As Dead," filmed in 2001. And if you've never heard of any of these, you are not alone!
Today, there is an open air "sculpture park" known as the Goldwell Open Air Museum at the Southern end of the town of Rhyolite, featuring art sculptures.... but writing about that would have to be for another day.
If you're ever on your way out to Death Valley, stop in and check out the ghost town of Rhyolite. History speaks volumes through the remains left of this once booming gold rush town. It surely was a different era and a different world back then.
Where Is Rhyolite, Nevada?
An interesting ghost town located in Nevada near the entrance to Death Valley. Check it out if you are ever on your way to Death Valley.
For An Article On The Other Ghost Town Near Las Vegas, Nelson Nevada...
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