Pair of museums explore Tonopah’s rich history

For many travelers following busy U.S. Highway 95 through Nevada, Tonopah is just a place to pause for a bite to eat and to gas up before pushing on to other destinations. But the former mining boomtown 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas deserves a closer look to experience its charm and explore its fascinating history.

If you spend a little time cruising the grid of steep streets in Tonopah’s historic core, you’ll discover fine old buildings and elegant residences from yesteryear, many of them listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Visit the town’s award-winning museums: the Central Nevada Museum and the Tonopah Historic Mining Park.

Tonopah’s handsome, five-story Mizpah Hotel first opened in 1907 and welcomed guests for most of the next century. After a decade of being closed and shuttered, the hotel was restored by new owners Fred and Nancy Cline and reopened in 2011.

The Mizpah offers 48 rooms and suites decorated in Victorian or Old West styles, a cafe, a restaurant for fine dining and a bar. Its casino reopened in February. An adjacent Fun Palace with more gaming and a theater opens this summer. The Mizpah’s new owners also plan to open a brewery downtown, the first in Tonopah in more than half a century.

Rancher Jim Butler discovered silver in 1900, and Tonopah soon boomed. It rapidly grew from a tent city to a community with substantial brick and stone commercial buildings, an imposing courthouse with a silver dome, elegant homes, railroad connections and many municipal services. The mines and ore mills were the heartbeat of the community. Prospectors fanned out from Tonopah, leading to more discoveries of mineral deposits, the growth of new mining camps and development of mining districts throughout Central Nevada.

Learn more about the region’s past at the Central Nevada Museum on the left side of U.S. 95 as you approach downtown. Turn on Logan Field Road to reach the central exhibit space, research library and bookstore. Indoor displays cover native people of the area, mining, ranching, railroading, the military’s influence and more. Outdoor exhibits include a reconstructed Western village, a railroad yard and vintage mining equipment such as header frames, ore carts and a 10-stamp mill. Volunteers from the Central Nevada Historical Society and staff have welcomed visitors since the museum’s doors opened in 1981. The facility is open free of charge Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call the museum at 775-462-9676.

The Tonopah Historic Mining Park occupies 100 acres on a hill overlooking the venerable buildings of the old downtown. It preserves vintage structures and equipment from four major mines developed near the original claim. Visitors explore old buildings, walk a length of mine tunnel and gaze hundreds of feet down into an open mine shaft. The mining park remains open daily, except holidays, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free to the visitor center with its exhibits, videos and gift shop. Those who want to take the self-guided walking tour of the park’s trails pay $5 for adults and $4 for youth ages 8 to 17. Admission is free for younger children, veterans and active-duty military members. Mountain bikers also use the park’s trail system.

The park is often used for special events. Blacksmithing classes will be held May 24 and 25 and June 21 and 22. During the celebration of Jim Butler Days over Memorial Day weekend, the Nevada State Mining Championships will be held with cash prizes in several events. During Labor Day weekend, the park will host a Civil War re-enactment with staged battles, period costumes and an encampment. Call the park at 775-482-9274 for details.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s Trip of the Week column appears on Sundays.