Thursday, April 9, 2015

Silver Reef, Utah: Ghost town museum providces peek at past

Interpretive sign at Silver Reef  Museum
Silver Reef, Utah, is a ghost town now, but once it was a booming mining town with a Main Street that was a mile long.

Silver Reef is unique among mining towns because it was the only place in the United States where silver is found in sandstone, making the mining process easier. Gold and turquoise also were found here.

The town, which once had a population of 2,000 people, sat on a hillside with colorful red rock cliffs to the west. It was a thriving town, with a first class restaurant, the Cosmopolitan; a five-star hotel, the Harrison House, nicknamed Silver Reef’s Waldorf Astoria; a Wells Fargo station and Rice Bank, among other businesses lining Main Street.

Silver was first discovered here in 1866, but wasn’t taken seriously as silver is not often found in sandstone. It wasn’t until 1875 that mining operations started at a place called Bonanza City. Because property values were so high, some miners started a town nearby, calling it Rockpile. The name was later changed to Silver Reef.
Silver Reef Museum
Though surrounded by predominantly Mormon residents, the town never had an LDS church, though it did have a Catholic church. It had two cemeteries, one for Catholics, the other for Protestants.

Most of the mines had closed by 1884 because world silver prices dropped. Most of the buildings were either demolished or moved to nearby Leeds by 1901. A couple of attempts were made to mine silver, and then uranium, in the first half of the 20th century, but neither effort lasted very long.
The museum is now on the National and Utah Register of Historic Places.

The Silver Reef Museum grounds are open daily, though the museum itself is closed three days a week, including Sundays. An interpretive trail guide is available that allows visitors to take a self-guided walking tour of the museum grounds.  The grounds are free, though admission is charged for the museum building; donations are suggested for the trail guide.

Silver Reef is located just off Interstate 15 at Leeds, about 15 miles north of St. George. Northbound traffic must exit at Exit 22, then drive north through Leeds, following the signs. Traffic southbound on I-15 should get off the freeway at Exit 23, and turn right, following the signs up the hill to 1903 Wells Fargo Drive.  There is no return to the freeway southbound at Exit 23, so motorists will need to drive through Leeds to Exit 22.






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