Historic Pioche, Nevada

Pioche and Lincoln County, Nevada, share a rich and colorful heritage. There are many shops in the town of Pioche where visitors can purchase books on the history of the area. When you hear the many fascinating Old West stories, you’ll soon realize that Pioche’s past is anything but boring! Below are just a few of the many historic and cultural sites around town.

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1. The Million Dollar Courthouse was designed by Edward Donahue and was built in 1871. It is constructed of brick and stone and borders on the “Classic Revival” style of architecture with its detailing and proportion. The Courthouse originally cost $16,400, and the jail an additional $10,000, for a total of $26,400. Due to “cost over-runs” at the beginning of the project by politicians, and delayed payments with mounting interest, the price soon ballooned to nearly 1 million dollars ($800,000) by 1936 when it was finally paid off. 

2. McCannon/Cedar Streets are where the first prominent families built prestigious homes, some of which are still in use today. Several of the homes were built by mining bosses, while others were occupied by doctors and lawyers. These streets were considered to be the fashionable place to live in early day Pioche. 

3. The Miner’s Union Hall is presently the Episcopal Church. It is a 3-story wood framed structure with a gable roof. This building was built to fit into the landscape and is a typical example of “Plain Early” 20th Century style. The Miners Union was a center of social activities in this community for nearly 50 years.

4. Meadow Valley Street was the original entry street from Meadow Valley to the south of Pioche’s business district. Many of the miner’s cabins were located on the southeast end, and on the northwest end business flourished. It was one of the main business streets with the Catholic Church, Hanley’s Opera House, 2 livery stables, blacksmith’s shop, bakery, and dentist office being some of the first businesses located here. A few of these buildings were moved to Delamar in 1894 when that town started booming.

5. Main Street runs from the famous Treasure Hill to the current Lincoln County Courthouse. From the days of mud and ruts to its present day concrete walks and asphalt paving, there have been thousands of exciting, tragic, happy, and wonderful events that have occurred along this Main Street. People from all over the world have traversed this small area and been charmed by the charisma of it. Some have stayed. Many have returned again and again. With its gun fights and killings, Pioche became known as the roughest, toughest mining camp in the West. Most of this happened on Main Street.

6. The Lincoln County Museum is housed in the building built by A. S. Thompson around 1900. A victim of a fire, it was rebuilt once, then later remodeled in 1929 to make it more modern. On the death of Charles Thompson, Sr., the building was sold to James Gottfredson, Sr. and he operated a mercantile and clothing store for a time. Later, the store was closed and the Gottfredson family donated the building to Lincoln County in 1962, to become a museum. Over the years, it has evolved into one of the best museums of its kind in the state of Nevada.

7. The Pioche Oddfellows Lodge was built in 1872 and was originally J. J. Halpin’s Hardware Store before he moved his business to Silver Reef, Utah. It has been used for many lodge functions, community dances, parties and social gatherings.

8. The Nevada Club generally dates back to the early 1900’s. It is on the site of the original Pioche assay office that had been destroyed by a fire. The present structure is constructed of brick, concrete and stone to reduce the fire hazard potential.

9. The Pioche Hotel dates from the turn of the century. The hotel was operated by Virginia Cottino and family until the mid- 1950’s. It is now a private residence.

10. The Commerce Cottage was one of several lending libraries in Pioche that was operated by commercial establishments in the late 1800’s. In 1940, the Lincoln County Library system was started with the purchase of this building which had been a jewelry store. It served as a library for 10 years. After a number of years of neglect, this building was refurbished in 1984 to become the Pioche Chamber of Commerce Commerce Cottage.

11. The Pioche Record is the second oldest continuously printed weekly newspaper in the state, which was started in May 1870. Through the years it has changed owners and editors many times. The newspaper office was located for many years in the current “Grandpa’s” on Main Street, a building that appears to date from the early 1900’s. The Pioche Record is now known as The Lincoln County Record and is headquartered at the 1001 Ranch along U.S. 93 between Caliente and Panaca. 2 of its most notable editors have been E. L. Nores, who bought the paper about 1920 and ran it for many years; and Thos. L. Clay, a retired attorney, who bought it about 1970 and ran it until his death in 1979. Connie Simkins was the editor of the newspaper from 1979, then retired in 2008. In 2010, Stephens Media (Las Vegas Review-Journal) purchased the newspaper and continues to publish it on a weekly basis.

12. The Stockum House is one of the rare survivors of age and fire in this part of Main Street. It was built in 1866 and has been used as a residence, boarding house, hotel, church and once housed the Francois L.A. Pioche Art Gallery. It is presently a photography portrait studio.

13. Pioche’s First U.S. Post Office and Western Union Office was built in 1864 of stone to resist fire. The post office was established on August 17, 1870. Western Union service commenced in 1873. The front was later remodeled and modernized several times, but in 1985 the owners, the John Christian family, had the front rebuilt to its original design. Over the years, it has served as a cafe and has housed many other businesses. It is presently used by Rainbow Cable and Cell Phone Sales, a division of the Lincoln County Telephone System network of services.

14. The Alamo Club was originally built in the mid 1800’s and was The Pioche Bank. It is noted for the large bank vault in the rear of the building. Throughout the years this business has hosted many notables and derelicts alike. Ernie Ferri operated the Alamo Club bar and gambling business for about 30 years, and upon his death, his wife Lena continued to run the business. The Ferris’ owned the oldest continuous gaming and liquor license in the state of Nevada for many years until the 1988 sale. The current owner, Jim Marsh, renamed the bar to “The Banc Club.”

15. Stever’s Store and Beauty Shop, originally built in the late 1860’s, was partially burned and then rebuilt several times. It served as Stever’s Apparel Store and The Garden Bar from the 1940’s until 1997, when the Stever family sold the business.

16. The Pioche News Stand was originally built in the 1860’s, and was partially burned then rebuilt in the early 1870’s and in 1919. The false front “Pioneer” style and treatment of the fake brick tin appears to date from the early 1900’s. The first telephone system was operated from this building and was owned by J.W. Christian. For many years, part of this building was used as Pioche Post Office. The Rag Doll gift shop now occupies this area. The News Stand and Phone Company area is now used as storage by the owners, the Christian Family.

17. The Pioche Mercantile was originally known as Hodges & Cook Mercantile. For about 40 years, the Christian Brothers, Edwin and Lloyd, operated the store following the death of their father in about 1925. For years they handled groceries and would order any amount of needed mail order supplies that you would want. The business was acquired from Edwin Christian by Jerome and Tom Sears, descendants of J. L. Sears, a telegrapher that came to Pioche around 1873 from New York. Tom sold the business in 2001. Ted Daskas is the present owner and it is now a second-hand store.

18. The Bank Club Building, Lincoln County Market, and Treasure Chest have all weathered the storms of Main Street including fires and the mining boom and bust cycles. Many businesses have come and gone in these buildings. John Valenti operated the Bank Club bar and cafe for many years and in 1996 was remodeled into the Grubsteak dinner house which closed in 2001. The Lincoln County Market housed the Navajo Bar before being converted into the Stop and Shop grocery market, which closed in 2002. The Treasure Chest was first Welland’s Mercantile, then Gottfredson’s Dry Goods, then Cowley’s Drug Store and later the Baptist Church-Treasure Chest. Since 1993 it has been the Antiques Store.

19. The Commercial Club/Amsden Buildings were built about 1865 and are located at the junction of Main and LaCour streets and were once the hub of community activity. Pioche’s old Fire House is adjacent to the Amsden building and it served for nearly 40 years as the fire house and apartment for the fire chief. Attorney A. L. Scott owned the Commercial Club Building for about 50 years beginning around 1916. He conducted his law practice on the first floor and lived in the basement area.

20. The Leader Store Building is the impressive building on the west corner of Meadow Valley and Main Street. It was owned for many years by the Ben Cohen family and operated as a dry goods store. It now houses several business offices including Angel’s Touch Flowers. Next door is a massive stone building once used as a bar, the Allen’s Cash Store, and a warehouse for the Leader Store business. The space is now shared by Floors and More and IMS Medical Supplies.

21. The Overland Bar and Hotel Building was built in 1940 by Bob Free. It has been burned and rebuilt several times over its colorful past. It originally had a bowling alley in the basement, and the west half was rented to the Allen’s Cash Store for more than 30 years. This part is now a dance hall, with a gift shop up front. Candace and Ron Mortenson have owned the Overland since 1995.

22. Brown/Thompson Opera House has survived from its 1873 construction date, but is presently being renovated. It is entirely constructed of wood and has a classic revival style combined with an early pioneer board construction. It was built by Aleck Brown in March of 1873 and renamed the Thompson’s Opera House in April of 1892. It was later used as a movie theatre. After the new movie house, The Gem Theater, was built, the Opera House was used for weekly dances for many years. The Gem Theater showed movies until 2003, when high winds blew the roof off and the owners could not afford to repair it and also continue to show movies (the demise was hastened by videotape and DVD rental and sales).The Thompson’s Opera House in now fully restored and serves as the Pioche Tourist Information Center. It’s also available to rent for special occasions (weddings, reunions, etc.)

23. The Orr Garage was built in the early 1870’s and was constructed of stone. Its original use may have been as a blacksmith shop or harness shop. In later years, from about 1915, it was used as an auto repair garage.

24. Pioche School was built in 1909 in a “Mission” style of architecture. At one time, this was the oldest continuously used school building in the state of Nevada. A new school was built in 1999 by the Nevada Division of Forestry Honor Camp, and held classes for kindergarten through sixth grades. The old building has recently been sold and the new school is now located in the new part of town.

25. The Pioche Town Hall was built in 1936-37 by the Mormons with donated labor, material and money as the first LDS meeting house in Pioche. It was dedicated in 1950 when it was completely finished and paid for. In 1986 when the new LDS chapel was built, the old building was sold to the Town of Pioche for a public meeting place. Now known as the Pioche Town Hall, it serves many organizations for weekly or monthly meetings and social events.

26. Boot Hill crime was rampant in Pioche in the early 1870’s. During the first settling of Pioche, it was said that 72 men “were killed with their boots on” before anyone died a natural death. Many of these men are buried in the “Old Boot Hill” Cemetery.

27. The Lincoln County Court House was constructed in 1938 to replace the historic courthouse on the hill. It is a simplified version of the modern Art-Deco style, and it continues to house most all of Lincoln County’s government functions. The Sheriff’s Office and Jail have been moved north of town off S.R. 322. Excellent park facilities are located adjoining the courthouse with a swimming pool, ball fields, horseshoe pits, playground and picnic areas.

28. The Masonic St. John Lodge, constructed of stone and brick, started out as a restaurant/bar built by David Robert Wilkin in 1869. It then sold to the Masons when Wilkin moved to Carson City in 1873, and is one of Nevada’s oldest lodges in continuous operation. The lodge features a typical “False Front Pioneer” architectural style.

29. The Mountain View Hotel was built in 1895 by the Ely Valley Mines to house their guests. It is a combination of styles including “Shingle” style and early 1900’s “Classic Box.” The building is presently in need of restoration.

30. Treasure Hill (Nevada Centennial Marker No. 5.) Silver ore was discovered in this range of mountains in 1864, but no important developments took place until 1869 when mines were opened and the Town of Pioche appeared. Pioche soon became the scene of a wild rush of prospectors and fortune seekers and gained a reputation in the 1870’s for tough gunmen and bitter lawsuits. Over 5 million dollars in ore was taken out by 1872, and by 1900 Pioche was nearly a ghost town. Designated the seat of Lincoln County in 1871, Pioche survived hard times as a supply and government center for a vast area. In later years, notably during World War II, profitable lead and zinc deposits were developed.

31. Pioche Aerial Tramway This aerial tramway operated in the 1920’s and 1930’s carrying ore from the mines on Treasure Hill to Godbe’s Mill in the valley. Built by Pioche Mines Company, the tramway was mainly gravity powered with the aid of a 5 horsepower motor. The ore in the full buckets rolled toward the mill and provided the momentum to return the empty buckets to the bin. In 1928 the cost of delivering ore to the mill via this tramway was six cents per ton.

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AREA HISTORY

The history of Lincoln County is well known through the history of its mines. It all began with all the who-ha down in Eldorado Canyon, Potosi mine was the first lode mine in Nevada. Discoveries in Pahranagat Valley followed then the discoveries near Pioche, located on a spur of the Ely Mountains facing north. Pioche was first settled by Jos. Grange and E. M. Chubard, who in 1868 erected a small furnace. This turned out to be a failure and they abandoned the location. The following year, Meadow Valley district was reorganized and given the name of Ely District in honor of John H. Ely. Ely and W. H. Raymond, who placed a five-stamp quartz mill rented from a New York Company, in Meadow Valley, at the site of Bullionville, because of the abundance of water at that location. Later that same year the Company of P. McCannon, L. Lacour and A. M. Bush plotted out the townsite. The surveyor for the job was E. L. Mason, and the town was properly named by one Mrs. Carmichael Williamson. Her letter reads,

Meadow Valley, 1869
Messrs, Smith, Townsend, McNeill and other- locating the ‘City of the future’;

Gentlemen-
With many thanks for the compliment allowing me to suggest a name for your City, I offer for your consideration “Pioche.”

Most Respectfully,
S. E. C. Williamson.

The first county seat was established was at Crystal Springs, but was short lived, it was moved to Hiko in 1867. Mining booms draw respect and the desire to be the center of county government. Pioche wrested the title from Hiko on February 24th, 1871.

Lincoln county has significant historic interest. Between 1540 and 1775, the Spaniards explored through the southwest region. Then in 1863 a local Indian revealed a good specimen of silver ore to, “Famous Scout, Prospector, Expert Rifleman, and Missionary to the Indians,” William Hamblin. Now Hamblin was one of those, ‘Mormons’, who founded Gunlock, Utah, in 1857 and came to Clover Valley in the early 60’s, and was said to be the first white man to settle in Meadow Valley. Later in 1872, Hamblin would be an essential witness in the court battles between Raymond & Ely and the Hermes Mining Company over control of the mineral wealth in the camp. However, before he could testify, he was administered a lethal drink. Realizing he had been poisoned he started for home in Gunlock, Utah. After reaching Barclay in Clover Valley he could travel no farther, and he died there. Hamblin was buried in the Barclay cemetery.

On Hamblin’s first visit to the deposits in 1863, he managed to take samples and make several locations. He then transferred his samples to Salt Lake City; the result of this would be several expeditions to the region, which established the Meadow Valley Mining District.

The first expedition was in April 1864 by J. M. Vandermark and Stephen Sherwood who organized the Meadow Valley Mining District. Not to be dispossessed by Gentiles, Brigham Young ordered Erastus Snow from St. George to Meadow Valley with a company of men, who in lacking a mining recorder organized a new district with new rules. A third company, chiefly of men from the California Volunteers, followed, and the former rules of the Vandermark and Sherwood party were restored. The presence of so many Mormons made the place distasteful. The district was abandoned by Gentiles after some work had already been done on the Panaca, the original discovery ledge. The first recorded claim was the ‘Panacker’, and the surrounding area was called the Panaca Flats.

There were several delays due to the Civil War. Indians became annoyed with all the white men invading their land. More delays were caused by the length of time it took to get mining equipment shipped from San Francisco by way of Cape Horn. There was very little work done between ’64 to the early part of ’68. Very little development had been started by the time the news of the strike at Panaca Flats reached Europe.

In the spring of ’68, Francois L. A. Pioche, San Francisco financier, sent Chas. E. Hoffman out to purchase the property, which was incorporated as the Meadow Valley Mining Company. This is one of the two great mining companies that in the late 70’s, became rivals and came to be more famous in the world than the big Bonanza itself.

In 1869 newcomers John H. Ely and William H. Raymond arrived in camp. They were operating down in Pahranagat Valley and had spent what little they had just to reach Pioche’s camp. After entering camp they met up with two brothers by the name of Edward and Pat Burke, who just happened to have a very rich claim. This led to some serious dickering, and Ely and Raymond ended up owning the claim. Before this, Ely and Raymond were running a little five-stamp mill down at Hiko, but because of the low-grade ore in the area, the mill was a failure. They went down the hill about twelve miles or so to the Mormon camp of Panaca, where they talked a few Mormons into going to Hiko and hauling the mill up. The Mormons would be paid after the first sale of bullion. The mill was to be set up on a sloping hillside where they had an abundance of water, between Pioche and Panaca. This site would later come to be known as Bullionville.

This worked out great. Not only did they get all of their ore milled but the Mormons delivered ore from their mine as well. The rapidly growing funds from this enterprise led Ely and Raymond to not only pay off the Mormons but liquidate all of their debts as well. In the following months they organized a company which became known as the famous Raymond & Ely. These two great rival properties continued producing ore abundantly until 1876. 1872 was their banner year for production. It is not possible to ascertain how much was realized from the mines in that or any other year. Nevada mining law states that you had to file a return with the County Assessor’s office for bullion produced in the county. In ’72 the returns for Lincoln County, of which Pioche is now county Seat, aggregated about $6,000,000. Since these returns were for the purpose of assessment and taxation, it would be unreasonable to believe that full returns were made. Given the facts that all bullion was shipped to the outside world before it was converted into cash, and that all of the cash was to be kept at the Company’s headquarters in San Francisco. In those days it was not necessary to keep any records at the local office in Pioche. What do you think?

Bullionville became a major point for all of the Raymond & Ely ore and from many other claims in the district. The Meadow Valley ore was treated in a splendid mill which the company built some ten miles northeast of Pioche in Dry Valley where they sunk a well to obtain water.

’72 was the height of the boom for Pioche, which had about 6,000 residents. Pioche had a daily line of six-horse Concord coaches carrying U. S. Mail and Wells Fargo express to the Central City R. R. at Palisade, going through Hamilton in White Pine County. A similar line ran to Salt Lake, both of them owned Gilmer & Salisbury. Three daily lines, with two of them running six-horse Concord coaches to Bullionville. Three railroads were organized to build lines into Pioche- The Salt Lake, Sevier Valley &Pioche Railroad (which was a Mormon line) and the Palisade, Eureka & Pioche, controlled by D. O. Mills from the north, and another from the south. In addition, there were two telegraph offices- the Western Union to San Francisco by way of Palisade and the Desert Telegraph (Brigham’s) through Salt Lake City. The town had 32 steam hoists with a chorus of whistles, a fast freight line running day and night giving delivery in five days, their own narrow gauge railroad from Pioche to Bullionville running on past the mills at Dry Valley and through Condor Canyon. Take all of this and throw in two daily newspapers with associated press services. This all was the means for getting in and out in a growing town.

The town itself already had 78 graves in the cemetery of men it was said died a violent death. Along with the population it maintained, 72 saloons, 3 hurdy-gurdy houses, 32 maisons de joie, two theaters, two breweries, two gravity fed water systems with street mains and fire plugs, two fire companies and a livery stable maintaining 300 horses.

The Million-Dollar courthouse was designed by Edward Danahue and was built in 1871. It was constructed of brick, stone, and borders on the ‘Classic Revival’ style of architecture. Originally contracted and budgeted to cost $16,000, the courthouse politicians produced ‘cost over runs’ from the git-go and soon delayed payments with mounting interest, it didn’t take long to balloon into a Million Dollar price. Known there after as the Million-Dollar courthouse, it was finally paid off in 1936.

When we were in Pioche, taking our photos, I had a chance to talk to the curator of the courthouse Louis Benezet. Louis was very knowledgeable of the history, helped us out on a little problem we had finding out any thing about the Finlay pump station going to Delamar. He took us on a tour of the courthouse, which was very impressive with the jailhouse in the rear. The jail had steel floors with 16 inch walls and windows so small it was hard just to see out. Louis told me that no one ever got out of this one. When you think of all the towns in the west, full of outlaws with shootouts and murders alike, you have to think of Pioche. At one time Pioche was rated one of the badest towns in the west. They have a list hanging in the courthouse showing who all died here , not counting Hank Parrish.

Parrish was arrested in 1890 for killing P. G. Thompson at Royal City, but he was convicted and hanged in Ely on the 12th day of December. Most of the big name outlaws of that time had come through Pioche one time or another. However, when they started building the old courthouse, the big boom was over.

Although Pioche never died, it burnt up and flooded several times. One of the major fires, 15th of September 1871, was just after a day of glorifying the occasion of the Mexican Independence. Shortly after midnight flames were seen to issue from the rear of a restaurant on Main Street. However, the fire was not the worst of it. Stored in the cellar of a leading mercantile store were 300 pounds of powder. When the powder went off it gave a shock that shook the surrounding mountains to the core. Some historians say there were thirteen killed and forty-seven injured, but the older writings lead me to believe that may be exaggerated. Any way the reports were that some 200 to 300 people remembered what it was like to sleep out under the stars again- at a cost of $500,000 . As if this was not bad enough, again 5th of May 1872, the town lost twelve buildings at a cost of $50,000. This was followed by the twenty-second of August 1873, when a flood occurred after receiving 3.4 inches of rain within two hour, with damage at $10,000. On the morning of May 3rd, 1876 a destructive fire ripped through the town, causing the loss of twenty-one buildings and an estimated $40,000 in damages.

Another one of the interesting points I liked was the old tram. The tram operated during the 20’s and 30’s, carrying ore from Treasure Hill down to the Godbe’s mill in the Valley. It was built by the Pioche Mines Company and used mainly gravity, powered with the aid of a five horse motor. The ore in the full buckets rolled down hill to the mill with enough momentum to return the empty bucket back to the bin. This led to a cheap cost of six cents a ton delivery, much to their liking.

During World War II profitable lead-zinc deposits were developed. The town never said quit, and still to this day there are about 750 people living there, give or take a few.

 

Bibliography;
Bancroft, Vol. 25 & 26
Davis, History of Nevada, Vol. 2
Ralph Andrews, Historic Hires of the West
Elbert Edwards, 200 Years in Nevada