This week our Sunday Drive features a trip to the ghost town of Silver Reef.
In the late 1800s Silver Reef was a booming mining town where silver deposits had been discovered in sandstone - a geological rarity.
John Kemple first discovered silver in the area surrounding Silver Reef in 1866. Unable to find the source of the silver, Kemple moved on to Nevada but returned in 1874. He located many other claims in the area but never developed any of them.
Word of Kemple’s discovery soon reached the Walker brothers, a pair or prominent Salt Lake City Bankers. In 1875 they hired a well-know prospector, William T. Barbee to head south and stake claims in their names. Barbee staked 21 claims and established the town of Bonanza City that year.
At the same time, mines in Pioche, just over the state-line in Nevada, shut down and an influx of miners looking for work arrived in Bonaza City. They promptly renamed the settlement Silver Reef.
Shortly after the mines opened, Chinese workers fresh from working on the transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869, also arrived in town in search of work. Not long after the arrival of these miners, the town boasted nine grocery stores, six saloons, five restaurants, a newspaper, and its own version of Chinatown. And Silver Reef’s main street was over a mile long.
In the peak years of silver mining between 1878 and 1882, the town’s population was about 2,500.
In the mid 1880s a decline in the price of silver, coupled with labor unrest, and difficulties with flooding mineshafts lead to the closing of most of the mines and the last mine shut down in 1891.
Attempts were made between 1891 and 1950 to revive the mines but failed.
After the silver mines played out, the townsite was abandoned. Numerous abandoned mines and ruins remain and a museum dedicated to preserving the history of the area still stands at what was the center of town.
There are guided trails and numerous information plaques and it makes for a short but interesting drive.
The town site and museum are about 18 miles northeast of downtown St. George, near the small town of Leeds.
The museum is located in what was once called the finest stone building in southern Utah, the former Wells Fargo Express office - now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can also learn more about the arrows that still exist across the United States and their history at https://www.silverreefutah.org/