Goldfield Days salute town’s rich history

Goldfield celebrates its history each August with a lively three-day festival. The celebration, scheduled to get under way Friday, draws hundreds of visitors to the early 1900s mining boomtown known as the “Last of the Great Gold Camps.”

Some years ago, the little seat of Esmeralda County added a land action to the festivities. A practical solution to the county’s inventory of properties acquired over many decades because of nonpayment of taxes, the auction stands out as a popular event during Goldfield Days.

Goldfield is 183 miles northwest of Las Vegas, reached in about a three-hour drive on U.S. Highway 95. Since the highway is the main drag through town and many events take place on or near it, expect some traffic slowdowns. Visitors arriving for the celebration and auction will be routed to parking areas on side streets within easy walking distance of Goldfield’s historic core with its cluster of venerable buildings and a few vintage residences.

Once a city of 20,000, Goldfield in her heyday was one of Nevada’s largest towns. Gold discoveries in 1902 soon drew thousands of prospectors, miners and workers, as well as the usual boomtown speculators, promoters, hopefuls, hangers-on and assorted rough types. The tent camp grew to a bustling city with many modern amenities and cultural attributes. It reached its peak population in 1907. The mine properties that powered the growth promised a bright future for Goldfield. Of course, it couldn’t last. By 1910, production slowed and the population began to dwindle. Between 1903 and 1940, Goldfield yielded $86 million in gold and silver.

Goldfield was hit hard by periodic flash floods and fires, including a 1923 blaze that destroyed much of the city. Reminders of the glory days include the 1907 courthouse, the Goldfield Hotel, the high school, the Santa Fe saloon and cafe, a commercial building, the firehouse that houses a museum, a bottle house and a couple of private residences with turn-of-the-century charm. Visitors can tour some of these landmarks during Goldfield Days.

Many people attending the celebration plan to stay in the area. Since there are few accommodations in Goldfield, many stay in self-contained recreational vehicles parked on the streets or vacant areas around town. Rooms are more readily available in Beatty, about an hour south, or Tonopah, about half an hour north. Make reservations soon.

Vendors’ booths set up downtown stay open Friday through Sunday inviting visitors to browse, play games, find snacks or enjoy a beverage. Street music by live bands and other performers entertains passers-by. Evenings bring street dancing under the stars. Be prepared with light jackets, for the nights in the high desert cool off dramatically.

Many old-time events re-create the early decades during Goldfield Days, such as the Old West gunfights, bed races, vintage car shows, liars’ contest, chili cook-off, poker walk, pet parade, horseshoes and special events planned for youngsters. Western barbecue fare and a beer garden are crowd favorites. Inquire locally about tours of historic buildings, including some that are reputed to be haunted.

The land auction follows the Goldfield Days parade on Saturday morning and takes place near the rear entrance of the Esmeralda County Courthouse on U.S. 95 at Crook Street. Properties to be auctioned include a ranch in Fish Lake Valley, two mining parcels and 10 parcels in Goldfield. Property bids start from as little as $800 for one town lot to $6,025 for the Upper Mountain Water Ranch.

Bidders must purchase a land sale packet from the county for $10 that includes maps, parcel numbers and a bidder’s card. Interested bidders should call (775) 485-6309, pay by credit card and pick up the packet at the courthouse before the auction. For more information, visit the county’s website at Successful bidders must have payment ready at the end of the auction, payable to the Esmeralda County Treasurer’s Office.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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