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.

News Videos
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
Local Videos
Property Brothers visit Michael’s in Las Vegas Valley
Twin brothers Jonathan and Drew Scott are the hosts of Property Brothers, the hit HGTV show where they help couples find fixer-uppers and transform them into dream homes. In 2018, the brothers collaborated with Michael's on their first custom framing program. Today they're releasing new frames into that collection that range from natural to bright looking. Jonathan and Drew discuss their brand and why frames was something they wanted to pursue. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 traffic jam
A semitrailer stopped in the middle of Interstate 15 near Charleston Boulevard has slowed traffic in central Las Vegas Wednesday morning, April 17, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rainy Tuesday
The Las Vegas Valley saw cooler temperatures and rain Tuesday afternoon. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Tiger Woods Bettor Collects
James Adducci bet $85k on Tiger Woods to win the Masters. He collected his $1.19M from William Hill sports bet in the SLS today. (Mat Luschek /Review-Journal)
Endangered frogs released at Springs Preserve
Dozens of endangered Relic Leopard Frogs were released at the Cotton Grove inside Springs Preserve in Las Vegas, Thursday, April 11, 2019
Vintage World War II aircraft arrive at Henderson Executive Airport
The Collings Foundation Wings of Freedom tour comes to Henderson Executive Airport with a B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator, B-25 Mitchell, P-51 Mustang and a P-40 Warhawk. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring Pearl Harbor veteran
Ed Hall, a Pearl Harbor veteran in Las Vegas, is honored with Quilt of Valor during an event in a Las Vegas. (Erik Verduzo/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
UNLV Anthropology professors excavate Maya ruin site of Caracol, Belize for 36 years
The husband-and-wife team of UNLV anthropologists has spent several months a year at the remote site of Caracol in the jungles of Belize, excavating ruins and uncovering secrets from the region’s once-dominant civilization. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Things to remember when adopting a rabbit this Easter season
As Easter and spring time approach, some people may be tempted to adopt a rabbit for the holiday. But like adopting any animal, it is important to be responsible and know what a rabbit requires to be a happy, healthy pet. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bike Giveaway in Las Vegas - Piero’s Italian Cuisine
Evan Glusman of Piero’s Italian Cuisine hosted a party in the restaurant’s parking lot to distribute over 150 bikes to local kids. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Charleston/I-15 ramp configuration
The new Interstate 15/ Charleston Boulevard ramp configuration was unveiled Tuesday morning. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Northwest Vegas farm's abandoned pig problem
Someone abandoned a several hundred pound pig at Sharon Linsenbardt's farm. Her farm is a rescue for animals, but she doesn't have room or resources to take on another such creature, so she's asking the community for help. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Chalk Talk: Black Student Union
Students talk about the Black Student Union in the latest episode of Chalk Talk. (Angus Kelly and Amelia Pak-Harvey/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Individuals with Parkinson's participate in dance class
Pamela Lappen leads a dance class for individuals with Parkinson's Disease at the Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, Thursday, March 28, 2019. Caroline Brehman/Review-Journal
Animal Foundation Preps Pups For Best In Show
The Las Vegas Animal Foundation is preparing its prime pups for their 16th annual Best in Show event, which takes place at the end of April. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Dog Yoga At Hydrant Club
The Hydrant Club in downtown Las Vegas, is a social club for dogs and their people. Recently the club started hosting dog yoga. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Butterflies At The Springs Preserve
The butterfly habitat is now open at the Springs Preserve. Learn about butterflies and take in the peaceful surroundings. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
The Bellagio Conservatory's spring display has a Japanese theme
The Bellagio's conservatory is hosting around 65,000 flowers, to form a Japanese theme this spring. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bonnie Springs closes (Caroline Brehman/Kimber Laux)
Bonnie Springs Ranch near Las Vegas officially closed its gates Sunday, March 17, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Honoring a fallen North Las Vegas Police officer at his namesake school
The 20th Annual Raul P. Elizondo Honor Day celebrates the fallen North Las Vegas Police officer's legacy at his namesake school. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Windy day in Las Vegas Valley
The Review-Journal's camera on the under-construction Las Vegas Stadium the was buffered by high winds on Wednesday, March 14, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
March gloom falls on Las Vegas
After a rainy overnight, gloomy skies hover over Las Vegas Tuesday morning. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
John Katsilometes gets his head shaved at St. Baldrick's
Las Vegas Review-Journal man-about-town columnist John Katsilometes gets his head shaved by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman during St. Baldrick's Foundation shave-a-thon on the Brooklyn Bridge at New York-New York in Las Vegas Friday, March 8, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Blue Angels take flight over Las Vegas Strip
The Blue Angels’ U.S. Navy Flight Demonstration Squadron flew their signature Delta formation over a part of the Las Vegas Strip, McCarran International Airport and east Las Vegas and were scheduled to fly over Hoover Dam. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Gross World Records
A group of about 20 children gathered around a TV at Sahara West Library on Feb. 27 for a history lesson on the most disgusting world records.
Graduation for Renewing HOPE program
The Renewing HOPE program graduation for homeless who spend nine months in Catholic Charities program. Graduates are preparing to enter the workforce. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Car crashes into Starbucks near Las Vegas Strip
Lt. William Matchko of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police gives details about a car crashing into a Starbucks at Sahara Avenue and Paradise Road, near the Las Vegas Strip, on Friday, March 1, 2019. (Jessica Terrones/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Car crashed into PT’s Gold
A 60-year-old man who police believe was impaired drove into a PT’s Gold at Silverado Ranch and Decatur boulevards Thursday night, Metropolitan Police Department Lt. William Matchko said. The driver was hospitalized and is expected to survive. A man inside the bar was hit by debris but drove himself to the hospital, Matchko said. (Katelyn Newberg/ Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (part 1)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Driver crashes vehicle into PT’s tavern in south Las Vegas (pullout)
A driver suspected of impairment crashed a vehicle into the wall of a PT’s Gold tavern, at 4880 W. Silverado Ranch Blvd., in Las Vegas on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019. (Katelyn Newberg/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
It is a rainy Valentine's Day in Las Vegas - Video
These scenes come from the Las Vegas Stadium LiveCam (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing