Empire Mining Co. plans to pump new life into Nevada ghost town

RENO — For the first time in five years, there is change in the town of Empire.

Grass is being cut, machinery is being moved and people are coming and going through the front gate.

“Everyone is asking if we’re going to open the pool back up and the golf course — everyone,” said David Hornsby, president and chief operating officer of Empire Mining Co. “The answer is maybe. We don’t know.”

While nearby residents were giddy after the announcement that Las Vegas-based Empire Mining Co. purchased the modern ghost town for $11.38 million in late May, Hornsby cautioned that — despite the good news — Empire may never be quite what it once was.

“For sure, we have to make some (improvements), but not a lot,” said Hornsby, who has temporarily relocated part-time to Empire, 100 miles north of Sparks near Gerlach, just south of the Black Rock Desert.

The company’s operations will not exceed those of U.S. Gypsum Corp., which owned the town, plant and mine from 1948 until the recent purchase. USG shut down all operations, both mining and Sheetrock production, in early 2011 after the economic downturn tanked the construction industry, reported the Reno Gazette-Journal.

At the time, USG employed about 100 people and ran the town of Empire, which had about 300 residents when it closed. In years past, the town’s population was as many as 800. Two llamas, Tony Llama and Llama Bahama, have been the town’s only residents since the town’s closure. They were placed within the town’s perimeter to keep coyotes away from the livestock that graze there.

GOOD TIMES IN 1960s

Steven Lambert, who grew up in Empire, remembers the town in its heyday in the 1960s. Lambert’s father owned the town store and gas station and his mother was the librarian at Empire elementary school and the secondary school in Gerlach; in summers she worked as the lifeguard at the Empire pool.

“I couldn’t get away with anything because anything I did would get to my mom in five seconds flat. Same went for my dad because the store was where everyone in town would gather,” said Lambert, now of Spanish Springs.

The entire community would gather for basketball tournaments, and the children would go rabbit hunting after school since the desert was only “five feet from our backyards,” Lambert said.

“I was kind of surprised that it lasted as long as it did,” Lambert said of the town’s closure a half-decade ago. “Just knowing that I couldn’t go to Empire anymore — I’d go out with my wife and son and I’d want to show them where I grew up, but I can’t. There was a chain link fence around my entire town.”

Lambert was thrilled when he found out the town finally sold.

“I was pretty glad at it. I knew that some of my friends would have a little more economic opportunity even though the operations are going to be a small fraction of what it was in its glory days,” Lambert said.

PLANNING FOR THE FUTURE

For the time being, Empire Mining Co. plans to hire 12 to 15 employees before the end of the year. Already, it has nine on-site. Long term, it may hire 30 to 40 at the most, Hornsby said.

Unlike USG, Empire Mining Co. will not have manufacturing on-site; its gypsum will be shipped to companies that make fertilizer and cement.

Following the town’s closure, rumors around Empire swirled for years: The town had sold (which now is true); the town would house Syrian refugees; Burning Man — the arts nonprofit that hosts the annual arts festival in the Black Rock Desert — was looking at using the property.

Then, a year and a half ago, the Las Vegas-based executives behind Empire Mining Co., which they officially founded in February, started looking at Empire seriously.

Already, they have been in talks with locals, primarily those in Gerlach, a 100-person town just a few miles north of Empire. The company has even spoken with representatives from Burning Man, which may want to use the Empire airport in the future, Hornsby said. Gerlach, which has formed a seasonally fluctuating economy around the annual Burning Man arts festival, was devastated when USG shuttered Empire.

While employment will not add up to the 100 or so workers before Empire’s sudden closure a half-decade ago, Hornsby said that the company is actively looking for a partner or another company that may want to lease out the rest of the facilities that Empire Mining Co. will not be using, which is a lot.

The bulk of the mill, in fact, could be leased out to a manufacturer interested in converting the gypsum into a product. The manufacturer could house its employees in the available homes as well, Hornsby said.

“I think everyone is cautiously optimistic right now because they’ve been through a lot the last few years,” said Hornsby, who met with Gerlach residents in June.

Until then, the town will likely have several dozen residents, including about 10 children that Hornsby knows of, based on the staff that the company already has offered jobs to. In years past, children went to school in Empire, though the school will not be reopened for the time being, Hornsby said.

“Anything that (the company) can do to help. Our economic situation is pretty rough right now,” said Washoe County Commissioner Jeanne Herman, whose district includes Empire.

TOWN STILL STRUGGLING

The town is not rebounding yet. The community pool has been covered and left dry, its fencing weaved with thorny branches. The golf course has become nothing more than a field of dried weeds. Just outside the former post office, helmets tied together still hang from the branches like shoes on a power line.

Yards have grown around basketball hoops, swing sets and laundry lines left behind by the former residents. Inside the homes, all of which are unlocked, some of the walls have the faint outline of frames that once hung. Bedrooms still have glow-in-the-dark stars, murals and kitten-shaped light switch covers.

“Some of the old mill offices, if you go over there, the calendar is still on that date, the day that it shut down in 2011,” said Hornsby. “Still half-full coffee cups, all their files still on their desk. It’s kind of like a bomb just went off and they all evacuated. It’s pretty weird.”

In the offices, name tags, sets of keys and safety handbooks have gathered dust. Some of the refrigerators still have food items, years past their expiration dates.

”There’s sets of golf clubs randomly. You’ll find them all over the place,” said Hornsby, picking up a dusty Polaroid camera he found in one of the offices.

The eeriness is slowly fading, though, as Empire is beginning to look a little less forlorn. Sprinklers are on in some of the yards, and the sound of boombox music and work saws can be heard during the day.

“Starting small is good. It may develop into more in the future. Every little step along the way is good,” said Herman.

Already, nine employees, including Hornsby, have relocated part time to Empire. None of them has yet moved into the homes because most of them are overrun by rodents. Many of the bathrooms are covered in droppings and urine, which makes most of the homes unlivable.

Each home will likely take an average of $15,000 to restore, Hornsby said. None of them, surprisingly, suffered vandalism or pillaging since USG kept two to four employees around for light maintenance of facilities.

As for the golf course, pool and other amenities, such as the country club, post office and school, the town’s population would have to be heftier to justify their reopening.

Lambert would like to return to the town to show his son and wife where he lived for nearly 20 years, although his home on Fourth Street no longer is there. The volunteer fire department years ago burned it down for a training exercise.

“I’ll go look at where my house used to be,” Lambert said.

ad-high_impact_4
News
Man killed during road-rage incident
Las Vegas police are looking for two men involved in the shooting death of a man outside a 7-Eleven story at Bonanza Road and Maryland Parkway on Nov. 12, 2018. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department)
VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System hosts Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ
The 4th Annual Veterans Day Car Show and BBQ is held in celebration of Veterans Day at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System Medical Center in North Las Vegas, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Wildfires in Southern California
Wildfires hit Ventura County, Calif., on Nov. 9, 2018. (Richard Brian/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dedication of Nevada's Battle Born memorial
The state of Nevada on Friday dedicated its Battle Born memorial honoring 895 state residents who have died in America’s wars.
Las Vegas police and Sunrise Children's Hospital hope to prevent infant deaths
The Metropolitan Police Department and Sunrise Children's Hospital held a press conference to get the message out on preventable infant deaths attributed to "co-sleeping" and other unsafe sleeping habits. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
No serious injuries after car hits tree in south Las Vegas
One person reported minor injuries but wasn’t hospitalized after a Wednesday morning crash in the south valley.
Nellis Air Force Base keeps airmen fed
Nellis Air Force Bass airmen have delicious and healthy food items, and a variety of dining facilities to choose from. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Las Vegas police determined that a suspicious package found Monday morning at a central valley post office was not a threat.
Suspicious package found at central Las Vegas post office
Police evacuated the area around the Garside Station post office early Monday morning near Oakey and Decatur boulevards.
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
With husband's passing, family in limbo for workers' comp claim
Meredith Tracy's husand, Russell Tracy, died more than a year ago on his first day working for a new company when he fell 22 feet into a manhole that was not properly safeguarded. His employer was fined $82,000 in penalties for unsafe practices, but the company has denied her workers' compensation claim, leaving her with no compensation since the death. Rachel Aston Las Vegas Review-Journal @rookie__rae
Las Vegas family shares flu warning
Carlo and Brenda Occhipinti lost their son, Carlo Jr., or “Junior,” to the flu last year.
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Stadust Raceway
Author Randall Cannon shares an anecdote about Dan Blocker, who played Hoss Cartwright on the TV show "Bonanza," and the actor's passion for auto racing at Stardust International Raceway in Las Vegas during the 1960s. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal.)
Project Neon 85 percent complete
On Wednesday morning Oct. 31, Interstate 15 northbound lane restrictions were removed opening up Exit 41 to Charleston Blvd. On Thursday Nov. 1, Interstate 15 southbound lane restrictions were removed. The new southbound off-ramp to Sahara Ave. and Highland Dr. also opened Thursday, November 1. With Project Neon 85% finished the flow of traffic on Interstate 15 has substantially diminished. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Girl killed after jumping from bridge onto 215 Beltway in Henderson
Eastbound lanes of the 215 Beltway are shut down by the Nevada Highway Patrol after a female juvenile jumped from the 215 overpass at Stephanie and was struck by a FedEx tractor trailer. Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal @Vegas88s
Kristallnacht story
An interview with 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Alexander Kuechel who survived seven concentration camps and didn’t leave Germany until after World War II was over. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
1 dead in central Las Vegas crash
An early Wednesday morning crash left at least one person dead and another injured. The crash was reported just around 3 a.m. at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street. At least two vehicles were involved in the crash, one of which caught fire. Debris was scattered across the intersection as police combed the area as they investigated the scene. Flamingo is blocked in both directions between Swenson and Cambridge Street. Northbound Swenson is blocked at the intersection.
Richard Knoeppel named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year
Richard Knoeppel, an architecture design instructor at the Advanced technologies Academy, named the 2018 Nevada Teacher of the Year on Monday, Oct. 29, 2018. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mojave Poppy Bees
(Zach Portman/University of Minnesota Department of Entomology) Male Mojave poppy bees exhibit territorial fighting behavior. The Center for Biological Diversity wants the bee, found only in Clark County, to be added to the endangered species list.
Clark County Schools announce random searches
Clark County School District middle and high school students will be subject to random searches for weapons under a new initiative to combat the wave of guns found on campus. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss React to Dennis Hof's Death
Ron Jeremy and Heidi Fleiss speak about their friend and prominent brothel owner Dennis Hof's death at Dennis Hof's Love Ranch. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada brothel owner Dennis Hof has died
Nevada brothel owner and Republican candidate for Nevada State Assembly District 36, Dennis Hof has died. He was 72. Nye County Sherriff's office confirmed. Hof owned Love Ranch brothel, located in Crystal, Nevada.
Las Vegas police investigate suspicious package at shopping center
Las Vegas police evacuated a southeast valley shopping center at Flamingo and Sandhill roads early Tuesday morning while they investigated reports of a suspicious package. (Max Michor/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Las Vegas Metro hosts the K-9 Trials
The Las Vegas Metro K-9 Trials returns to the Orleans Arena to benefit the Friends For Las Vegas Police K-9 group.
Kingman residents love their little town
Residents of Kingman, Ariz. talk about how they ended up living in the Route 66 town, and what they love about their quiet community. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Service at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Twelve unclaimed veterans are honored at Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City in Oct. 9, 2018. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas house prices reach highest level in 11 years
Las Vegas house prices are rising But so is the amount of available homes on the market Still, properties priced below $300,000 are selling fast And September was the first time since June 2007 that the median house price reached the $300,000 mark Las Vegas home prices have been rising at one of the fastest rates in the country over the past year Recent data show the market is now less affordable than the national average
National Night Out
About 100 Summerlin residents gathered at Park Centre Dr. in Summerlin on Tuesday for National Night Out. Lt. Joshua Bitsko with Las Vegas Metro, played with 3-year-old David who was dressed as a police officer. Face painting, fire truck tours and more kept kids busy as parents roamed behind them. (Mia Sims/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rural homeless issue comes to a head in Pahrump
On Sept. 12, Pahrump sheriff deputies told residents of a homeless encampment on private property that they had 15 minutes to vacate and grab their belongings. That decision might face some legal consequences. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Remembrance blood drive on October 1
A blood drive was held at the Las Vegas Convention Center on the one year anniversary of the Oct. 1 shooting. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local
North Las Vegas Water Meters
Randy DeVaul shows off the new water meters that the city is installing.
Project 150 Thanksgiving 2018
About 100 volunteers for Project 150 box Thanksgiving meals for high school students and their families in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Nov. 14.
Three Square’s Maurice Johnson Talks About Food Waste
Three Square’s director of operations Maurice Johnson talks about food waste.
Parade preparation nears completion
Downtown Summerlin prepares for its annual holiday parade.
Clark County Wetlands promotes 2019 Wetland Walker Program
This year the park will be celebrating the Northern Flicker. The program is designed to teach about that bird, and encourage people to visit the Wetlands and walk the same distance the bird migrates each year.
Poet’s Walk Henderson introduces storytelling
Residents enjoy a storytelling activity.
Downtown Summerlin hosts its annual Festival of Arts
People crowd to Downtown Summerlin for the 23rd annual Summerlin Festival of Arts in Las Vegas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Clark County educators debate alternative grading systems
Spring Valley High School principal Tam Larnerd, Spring Valley High School IB coordinator Tony Gebbia and retired high school teacher Joyce O'Day discuss alternative grading systems. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Grandparents on the fire that killed three family members
Charles and Doris Smith talk about the night an apartment fire took the lives of three of their family members. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
New York artist Bobby Jacobs donated a sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden
Bobby Jacobs, an artist from upstate New York, has spent much of the past year creating a sculpture of two separate angel wings. He donated the sculpture to the Las Vegas Healing Garden. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Weather will cool slightly through the end of the week
The weather will cool slightly through the end of the week., but highs are still expected to be slightly above normal for this year. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Mayor announces new public-private partnership
Mayor Carolyn Goodman announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fund for Las Vegas LIFE, a public-private partnership that will allocate money to the city’s neediest.
Fremont9 opens downtown
Fremont9 apartment complex has opened in downtown Las Vegas. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Fall fairytale gets cozy at Bellagio Conservatory
Bellagio Conservatory introduces its fall-themed garden titled "Falling Asleep." (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
What the house that Ted Binion died in looks like today
Casino heir Ted Binion died in this Las Vegas home in 1998. Current home owner Jane Popple spent over $600,000 to restore and modernize the home. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
Rescue Mission employees terminated
Don James, a former employee for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission, talks about the day his team was terminated. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Raiders Cupcakes at Freed's Bakery
Freed's Bakery will have Raiders-themed cupcakes available in store and for order during football season. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s fans say goodbye to Cashman Field
Las Vegas 51s fans said goodbye to Cashman Field in Las Vegas, Monday September, 3, 2018. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
51s owner Don Logan's last weekend at Cashman Field
Don Logan, owner of the Las Vegas 51s, gives a tour of Cashman Field before the team's final weekend using the field. (Marcus Villagran/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @marcusvillagran
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Add Event
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like