After the Lone Pine Earthquake of 1872 left the pier at Swansea unusable, Hawley was founded as the new shipping point for the Cerro Gordo mines on the east shore of Owens Lake and strategically located at the base of the "Yellow Grade". Most business relocated here, and it was from Hawley that the steamship Bessie Brady transported silver-lead ingots to the western landing at Cartago. Mining languished by the end of the decade, but the arrival of Capt. Julius M. Keeler in 1879 brought new life. He made plans for a new mill and townsite, completed in 1881 and renamed in his honor. Fire unfortunately destroyed the Bessie Brady and ended steamship operations on the lake in 1882, but in 1883 Keeler was reached by and became the southern terminus of the Carson & Colorado Railroad. A new soda plant was opened by the Inyo Development Company in 1885, but things remained slow in the town through the end of the century.

By 1906, a revival was underway at Cerro Gordo and the Great Western Ore & Reduction Company built a silver smelter at Keeler. Unfortunately their success was limited, but following a rich zinc discovery at the Union Mine and that company's acquisition by the Four Metals Company, a 200-ton zinc smelter was erected in 1907. In 1908, work was underway on a five mile tramway connecting the smelter to the mine, finished the next year. In 1911, Louis D. Gordon leased the Four Metals operation, taking it over completely in 1914 after that company went under. He organized the Cerro Gordo Mines Company and rebuilt the tramway, extending it to the railroad in Keeler. By the end of the 1930s, mining came to a close.

Meanwhile, soda continued to be an important commodity. The Inyo Development Company produced until the 1920s, and the Natural Soda Products Company operated its own plant south of town from 1916 until about 1954. Ultimately most activity ended around that time, and in 1960 the railroad was abandoned and scrapped. This, coupled with the rapid loss of Owens Lake to the Los Angeles Aqueduct, have turned Keeler into a small dusty hamlet of less than 100. A handful of original buildings remain in various states; most notable is the Carson & Colorado Depot.

Carson & Colorado Railroad