Silver Mountain City, circa 1865. Photo courtesy of Alpine County Museum.
About SILVER MOUNTAIN CITY, California
Today, Silver Mountain City is a ghost of a ghost town. An army of pines has invaded the town's cross streets, and only the traces of hand-dug cellars and rock foundations remain where noisy saloons and thriving businesses once stood. The old stone jail, once a proud centerpiece of town, is a jumble of broken blocks.
But from 1862 to about 1876, this rocky flat beside Silver Creek was home to literally thousands of citizens: miners and merchants, murderers and mothers. For those few, heady years, Silver Mountain was an incarnation of greed and muscle, silver and seduction – in short, a quintessential silver mining town.
No sooner was work commenced in the croppings [in the summer of 1861], than the richest description of Ruby Silver ore revealed itself, and as a matter of course, created one of those "excitements" once so common in this Country. Eager prospectors covered the mountain sides, swarmed in the immediate vicinity of the pioneer discovery, and almost before the year expired, nothing was left in the shape of a ledge or stain or outcrop to locate, the same ledge taken up two or three times over by a rude Notice on some of its spurs or angles, and all found a place in the Records of the then-formed "Silver Mining District."
A general rush from Virginia [City] and other mining camps was made to the new El Dorado, buildings of all kinds were erected in anxious haste, saloons drove a rushing trade, corner lots ruled high.
-- Lewis Chalmers, 1871
But in its own ghostly way, the town of Silver Mountain never really died. Its people and their stories remain etched in microfilm and photographs and hand-scrawled documents. With a bit of puzzling, visitors can still visit the spot where the Fiske Hotel once stood, pay a call to the site of Sauquet's Store, or stop by Davidson's Saloon. Close your eyes as you stand beside Main Street, and you can almost hear the clink of glasses in the saloons and feel the earth tremble as Giant Powder explodes deep inside the mines.
Silver Mountain City's legacy also lives on in Alpine County itself. For without the energy of this amazing town, California's 46th county might never have been formed.
We hope you'll share our excitement about this amazing community and will help us preserve its history!
We offer a Walking Tour of Silver Mountain each Fall (the tour is free, although we hope you'll make a donation to the Alpine Historical Society). If you'd like to join us for the next Walking Tour, just drop us a line via the "Contact Us" page and we'll be glad to let you know when the next Tour is scheduled.
-- Rick & Karen Dustman