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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter (@Journey_America)
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