Goodsprings still holding on after mining boom past

One of just a handful of pioneer towns surviving in Southern Nevada, old Goodsprings boasts an odd pair of relics from yesteryear among its remaining historic buildings. Just a couple of blocks separate Clark County’s oldest bar and oldest school, both still operational after nearly a century.

The former mining boom town lies less than 40 miles away from Las Vegas, but a world away from the city’s hectic way of life. To reach Goodsprings, drive south from Las Vegas about 30 miles on Interstate 15. At the Jean-Goodsprings exit, turn off the freeway onto Nevada Highway 161. Goodsprings lies seven miles distant in the foothills of the Spring Mountain Range. Highway 161 continues 12 miles through scenic Columbia Pass to drop down into Sandy Valley on the Nevada-California border.

The highway parallels the historic travel route that brought early explorers such as Antonio Armijo in 1830 to springs the native people used for hundreds of years. When discoveries of minerals like gold, lead and zinc brought miners, they followed approximately the same arduous route. Ore went out the same way.

Getting to Goodsprings got easier with the arrival of the railroad in Jean in 1905. By 1911 a narrow-gauge railroad linked Goodsprings’ mines and mill with the main railroad line at Jean. Only portions of the old railway grade remain. The line disposed of equipment and rails in the 1930s.

As you approach Goodsprings, note the concrete foundations of the mill on a hill to the left of the pavement. The mill once processed ore from several mines in the Goodsprings district. On the right lies the town’s cemetery. Take time out to tour this unadorned resting place overlooking desert and distant mountains. The earliest grave dates from 1890. Large monuments mark family plots or single graves of the prominent.

The town that grew up near the natural springs got its name from an early pioneer, Joseph Good. Mining in the vicinity began with the Mormons at nearly Potosi in 1856. Mining interest grew with filing of several claims, the basis for establishing a new mining district in 1882. By 1904, about 200 people lived in Goodsprings. That population swelled to about 800 by 1918. By that time the town contained several stores, a handful of bars, a new school, a newspaper and a handsomely appointed, two-story hotel with 20 rooms.

Drive the quiet streets of Goodsprings to spot some of the buildings left over from yesteryear. The 1913 Pioneer Saloon remains as the lone commercial concern in town. Fire claimed many others over the years, including the hotel in 1966 and a general store and nearby house in 1988.

Pressed metal sheeting covers the saloon’s walls and ceilings. The metal covering the outside walls looks like stone blocks. The sturdy wood back bar originated in Brunswick, Maine, coming to Goodsprings from Rhyolite. The saloon displays early photos, documents and newspapers detailing prominent events. Look for coverage of actor Clark Gable’s long wait in the saloon for word on the fate of his wife, actress Carole Lombard. Lombard and others perished in a 1941 airplane crash in the nearby mountains.

The Goodsprings School started in a tent in 1907. The 1913 building that houses the school today opened as a one-room facility with additions in 1916 and several remodel projects over its many decades of service.

Watch for the walls of the earliest building in Goodsprings, a one-story stone structure dating from 1886. One man who lived there for four years in the late 1880s was the sole resident of Goodsprings at the time. Another early building, a wooden cabin, stands near a large cottonwood tree. The old tree was big enough to provide shade when pioneers built the cabin in 1910.

Houses in the historic area of town reflect the difficulty in obtaining building materials in the early days. Early builders used everything at hand including native stone and sand made into adobe. They recycled wood and metal from older structures and salvaged railroad ties from the defunct railway. The town’s community center arrived in 1940 after service as an army barracks in Tonopah.

Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.

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