Silver Reef

While there is no 'definitive' story as to how Silver Reef got its start, the generally accepted is that in 1866, prospector John Kemple located silver in the sandstone 'reef' near Harrisburg. Kemple took his sample to Nevada, where prospected for a time before returning to Utah in the 1870s and setting up the Harrisburg Mining District. The belief that silver did not occur in sandstone kept the district from taking off initially, but in 1874 word of the discoveries reached the Walker brothers, prominent Salt Lake City bankers. The Walkers sent William Tecumseh Barbee to investigate the district, and upon his own location of ore Barbee staked twenty-two claims and set up the camp of Bonanza City in late 1875. The new camp was advertised in Salt Lake City and Pioche, and within three weeks Bonanza City had numerous shacks, a haphazard boarding house, store, blacksmith shop, and assay office.

Early in 1876, Barbee's steep land prices led to the formation of a new camp. Hyrum Jacobs set up shop amongst the tent camp just north of Bonanza City, and soon other businesses followed suit until the new camp was dubbed Silver Reef City in April. Silver Reef boomed, enveloping Bonanza City, and eventually 100 businesses lined a Main Street one mile long. The Silver Reef Echo began publication, and the population peaked at nearly two thousand. Outlying areas also gave way to a Native American encampment and Chinatown, and five mills processed ore from the district's three dozen mines. By 1878, a petition was even filed to formally incorporate Silver Reef, which though passed by both the House and Senate was vetoed by the governor. Nevertheless, progress continued and Silver Reef thrived.

As with most mining towns, Silver Reef was not without difficulties. A visit by fire in 1879 destroyed half of the business district and caused $250,000 in damage, but the town recovered and moved on. The decline of Silver Reef began in 1881, however, when the Barbee & Walker and Stormont companies agreed to lower the daily wage from $4 to $3.50. A strike supported by the Silver Reef Miner's Union led to the closure of mines and mills, and many workers simply moved on (which in turn led businesses to close and move on as well). A simultaneous decrease in ore values led to the failure of many companies, and Silver Reef slowly died through the 1880s. The final operation closed in 1891, and many buildings were sold and dismantled for materials. One buyer supposedly found a cache of $10,000 in gold coins, which quickly led others to tear down the town in search of their own riches.

In the years that followed, other mining ventures were attempted at Silver Reef with little success, notably from 1916-1929. A final attempt was made by Western Gold & Uranium, Inc. in the 1950s, who built a flotation mill and managed to produce 5,000 pounds of uranium oxide. Since then, Silver Reef has remained a ghost town. It's most remarkable remnant, the Wells Fargo & Co. Express Office, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971 and has since been restored for use as a museum. New homes now dot the landscape immediately surrounding the town's ruins, creating an interesting juxtaposition while also discouraging vandalism and destruction. Interestingly, to date Silver Reef is the only place where both silver and uranium were produced, and the only place where silver has been commercially extracted from sandstone.

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