Pioche pulls out all the stops for Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2 to 5. The historic mining boomtown puts on parades, fireworks, a street dance, sports tournaments, community feeds, mining contests, games, special activities for youngsters and unusual events, such as chicken chucking and lawn mower races. The annual event draws crowds to the little town perched at nearly 6,100 feet on steep hillsides, a site well-suited for a mining town.
The county seat of neighboring Lincoln County, Pioche is 174 miles north of Las Vegas. Follow Interstate 15 north to the U.S. Highway 93 exit near Apex. Designated a scenic route nearly its whole length through Nevada, U.S. 93 links Southern Nevada to Lincoln County’s many outdoor attractions, including five state parks, off-highway trails and opportunities for fishing, hunting, camping and picnicking.
Pioche (pronounced pee-oach) lies along a short loop road off U.S. 93 just north of Cathedral Gorge State Park. The little spur road skirts the Treasure Hill mines that gave Pioche life in the 1860s. As you approach the town, note the stark outlines of header frames, mine tailings and an overhead tramline.
Soon you’ll be on Main Street, which runs through a district of venerable commercial buildings that give Pioche old-time charm. Turn left at Lacour Street to pass the infamous Million Dollar Courthouse from the 1870s, or continue on Main Street past the present Lincoln County Courthouse, built in 1938. Either route returns to U.S. 93.
Once a lawless boomtown, historic Pioche invites visitors to explore its past on a self-guided walking or driving tour. Download a guide to the 31-site tour from the official Lincoln County website (www.lincolncountynv.org) or pick up a printed guide at the Pioche Historical Museum uptown or the old courthouse on Lacour Street.
Mining activity in the Pioche area began in 1864, when a Paiute showed a ledge of rock that he called “panacker” to William “Gunlock” Hamblin, a pioneer rancher and noted marksman from Mormon settlements developing not far to the east.
Hamblin and others brought pioneer families into the Meadow Valley to establish the town of Panaca, which took its name from the interesting rock ledge. The formation turned out to be silver ore, and Hamblin was one of the first to file mineral claims in the area and begin mining.
Several years later, Hamblin was murdered just before he was to testify against holders of illegal claims.
The town of Pioche began as a camp around mining ventures consolidated by San Francisco financier Francois L.A. Pioche in 1868. By 1871, the town became the seat of Lincoln County government and claimed a population of 10,000. It rapidly gained an evil reputation for violence, corruption and lawlessness.
The two-story 1872 courthouse and adjacent jail stand as monuments to the bad old days. The courthouse construction, originally expected to cost about $26,000, ran up a price tag of more than $88,000 because of overruns and corruption. After several refinancings, the cost had ballooned to nearly $1 million before the debt was finally retired in 1937, four years after the courthouse had been condemned. The building was restored in the 1970s and serves as a local history museum.
Many attending the Labor Day festivities stay in Panaca, Caliente or even Alamo because Pioche’s historic Overland Hotel, motels and cabin rentals fill up fast. Campers find a few RV parks in Pioche, cabins and RV spaces at nearby Eagle Valley Resort and RV and tent sites in campgrounds in area state parks.
Highlights of the weekend include community breakfasts and Dutch oven dinners in the park, where simultaneous activities use the whole recreation complex for softball tournaments, games, horseshoe contests, a farmers market, craft show, mining events, pet show and Sunday event fireworks. Uptown, attend a Saturday evening street dance and night parade, as well as the parade on Labor Day at 10 a.m. Events for children include free swimming daily, fun games and a trail ride and overnight at Amazon Ranch, an equestrian facility (cost is $75 per child ages 8 to 16; call (775) 962-5676 for more details).
Margo Bartlett Pesek’s column appears on Sundays.