Ghost Town: Silver City, Idaho

Ghost Town: Silver City, Idaho

This is a guest post from international photojournalist Jerry Nelson of JourneyAmerica.org.

The sun doesn’t set in Silver City. It pulls a curtain across the mountains as it moves.

At 6,000 feet, the ghost town sits in a bowl surrounded by 8,000 ft. mountains. The darkness settles on the western face first, then drifts across the valley floor, as though it didn’t want the day to end. Moving like a miner at the end of his shift underground, the shadow makes its way up the eastern face before merging in secrecy with the night.

Silver City, Idaho

The stars announce their presence in bursts of constellations and galaxies that can’t be seen by city dwellers. The town that thrived before Idaho became a state doesn’t have light pollution.

Silver City is one of the few mining towns that didn’t explode in flames or evaporate into 21st-century consumerism. Visiting Silver City is going back into history only to find history isn’t decades old, but rather still around us every moment.

Silver City, Idaho

I was in western Idaho shooting a couple gigs for some clients when one asked me if I wanted to see a real, genuine, old-fashioned ghost town. I couldn’t help but think, what other kind of ghost town is there if it’s not “…genuine” and “old-fashioned.”

Jumping into their beat-up jeep with the olive paint held together by brown rust spots, we moved along the road watching the animals fight for space with passing tumbleweeds. Leaving the modern world behind us, we turned left and didn’t stop until we landed in the past, 25 miles later and a 125 years ago.

Silver City once had over 20,000 people living inside its sprawling lots and acreage. Over 1000 mines honeycombed the peaks while eight saloons kept the miners thirst away and three brothels kept them happy. A general store was the entry for nourishment and provisions. Even a hospital existed.

Silver City, Idaho

Today, there are still 75 structures left. Built between the 1860s and early 1900s, today they stand vacant and solitary as though waiting for flickers of former residents to come back home.

When Silver City was relishing its zenith, the metropolis had a baker ‘s dozen of streets, seventy-five businesses, three-hundred homes and a population of about 2,500.

Some of the country’s major stage lines operated in the area and in 1874, Silver City had the first telegraph and daily newspaper in the territory. Telephones were in use by 1880 and the town was “electrified” in the 1890s.

Silver City, Idaho

If you look carefully, you can discover four distinct burial areas despite nature’s voracious struggle to reclaim them.

Being a child of the 50s and 60s, I felt as I might see Gene Autry tie up his horse at the old hotel that hasn’t changed in 100 years and maybe Tom Mix coming out of the tavern after killing his thirst — with a sarsaparilla of course. No beer or whiskey for my childhood champions.

The streets were sandy. Just as they should be in the shades of recall. The saloon doors rocked solemnly in the stiff evening gust and the church on the hilltop, Boothill, was the only building that made the evolution from cowboy movie into the 21st century.

Silver City lies 70 miles southwest of Boise in the Owyhee Mountains. Take Highway 78 out of Murphy and turn on Highway 95 near Sheaville, at the Silver City turnoff. The town is only accessible by car from about Memorial Day until the end of October. The rest of the year, a snowmobile is needed.


Author Bio:

Jerry Nelson is an American freelance-photojournalist. He turns his pen and camera on social justice issues globally. When he’s not traveling, he lives in Buenos Aires with his Argentina wife, Ale, and their cat Tommy. Contact Jerry today at jandrewnelson2@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter (@Journey_America)

All content copyright Jerry Nelson, Journey America, and Sonic Tremor Media.

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6 thoughts on “Ghost Town: Silver City, Idaho

  1. This is so awesome!! Even though I’ve chosen to settle in Carson City, NV, I’m an Idaho native. I have actually visited Silver City, Idaho but it has been many years. You can imagine my elation when I found this article!! The pictures are beautiful and the information was spot on! You guys really rock!!!

  2. It looks awsome, It also looks like some one is taking care of the buildings which is only right, They need to be preserved for the historical purposes. I wish i could go and see it some day,

  3. Silver City is nowhere near a ghost town these days, however poetic this post waxes. The hotel was resurrected in the seventies, and drew a number of folks back to the town. You can rent a room and buy a meal there. The saloon next door is still falling down however. Many residents occupy the town in the summer months. Water is supplied by a cistern up the hill, and power via generators and batteries. The hotel has the only flush toilet in town.

    I visited the Masonic Temple with its owner a couple of years ago. While in need of some renovation, she was using part of it as a guest room, and told us ghost stories while made pictures in the ceremonial hall. Kim told me that she and her husband couldn’t afford to renovate the building, and we’re thinking of putting it on the market. They lived up the hill in a renovated saloon, with chipmunks running across the porch in search of handouts.

    Many of the residents go back generations to the original mining families and resent the gentrification by newcomers from Boise and beyond who have renovated the school and the church. There is a souvenir shop in town, the only other business aside from the hotel. Last time time I was there, the pie was delicious at the hotel. I only wish I had had more time to spend talking to the inhabitants.

    This is a shot from the interior of the Masonic Temple.

    http://photo.parkerparker.info/dakota_montana/e569a99f4

  4. This place looks awesome. I’m a paranormal investigator and have just been given the opportunity to have my own network series. I would love to visit this town and do some research. Does anyone know of a contact that I may contact to see if this is possible? Please email me if so. Thanks

  5. The Idaho Hotel would be the place to start: http://www.historicsilvercityidaho.com/idahohotel.html

    You might also try Pat, at her shop: http://www.historicsilvercityidaho.com/patswhatnotshop.html

    Besides the hotel, there are three other businesses in town, which is double what there was in 2012.

    The town is not deserted by any means. I don’t know if Kim and her husband Vern were able to sell the Masonic Temple. Last time I was there was in 2012, so it’s likely changed hands by now.

  6. Any information on Weasel aka Jerome Esget would be greatly appreciated…. I know some stories will be wild will love to hear any bits… Thanks

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