Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Ghost Town that Lives On, by Marilyn Turk

Silver City, Idaho, during its boom in the late 1800s.
Seeing a ghost town was on my bucket list, but I didn’t realize I’d be checking that off on our visit to my brother and sister-in-law in Nampa, Idaho. I’m from the southern United States, and my knowledge of the West is woefully limited, so I thought all ghost towns were in California, New Mexico or Arizona. But I was in for a great surprise.

The drive from Nampa to Silver City, Idaho, was an hour and a half, but the longest, most arduous part was going up the mountain to get to the old mining town hidden 6,000 feet above sea level. As the paved road gave way to a rocky dirt one, we climbed higher and higher, rimming the edge of the Owyhee Mountains. My first thought was why would anyone build a town in such a remote area?  No doubt the name of the town was a hint.

The mountain road to Silver City
What interesting history I discovered! First of all, the name “Owyhee” is pronounced like Hawaii (silent H). Thinking the name was of Native American origin, I was amazed to find out that the name came from 1819, when three natives from Hawaii were part of a fur-trapping expedition sent to trap a stream that emptied into the Snake River. When they did not return, the expedition’s leader went back to check on them, found one man murdered and the other two missing.  He named the stream in their honor, using the word “Owyhee,” which was an early spelling for the word Hawaii.

Stagecoach arrives at the hotel, 1890
As our road got bumpier, we bounced around the single lane while I feared meeting a car coming the other direction, seeing no room for passing unless one of us was precariously close to the edge that dropped off the side. Later, when I discovered that Silver City was a stop on the stage coach line in the late 1800’s, I sympathized with those who had to travel the same roads in such an uncomfortable vehicle.

Finally we arrived at Silver City and the sign at the entrance telling visitors to respect the historic, privately-owned property. There was also a sign noting the population: in the summer, between 50-100, in the harsh winter, 2 (who are caretakers of the town).
Opening to mine

Silver City was founded in 1864 soon after silver was discovered at nearby War Eagle Mountain. The settlement grew quickly and was soon considered one of the major cities in Idaho Territory. The first daily newspaper and telegraph office in Idaho Territory were established in Silver City. The town was also among the first places in Idaho to receive electricity and telephone service.
Masonic Lodge

School, Silver City

In its heyday, from about 1860 to the late 1880s, as many as 2500 people called the settlement home. The town contained 300 homes and 75 businesses. At its mining peak, the Silver City Range boasted more than sixty mills processing ore, with an estimated production of at least sixty million dollars, in gold and silver, retrieved from over 100 area mines.

Outhouse in Silver City
Today, Silver City has about 70 standing buildings, all of which are privately owned. Many of the owners are third or fourth generation descendants of the original miners. There is no longer any electricity, but the owners use generators or solar power to supply their needs during their return in the summer months.

One of the best ghost towns in the country, Silver City has kept its character thanks to property owners committed to its preservation. Due to its historic designation, no new buildings are allowed, but maintenance such as painting and repairing continues to preserve the original buildings. With a little imagination, a visitor can visualize how the town looked at the turn of the 19th century when it was a bustling county seat full of people, horses and stagecoaches.

Idaho Hotel today

Freight wagon in front of Idaho Hotel, 1800s.

The 1866 Idaho Hotel closed in 1942, but was reopened in 1972 and still provides guest rooms and the only restaurant in town.

Pat's What Not Shop

Across the street at Pat's What Not Shop, one of the two other businesses open in Silver City, I found the most interesting book. Tales of Silver City was written by a Alta Grete Chadwick, a woman who was born in the town in 1895 and lived until 1972. For a history lover like myself, this collection of stories about life during the early 1900s in a western mining town is fascinating.

church, Silver City

Other public buildings still standing are the school which now houses a museum on its second floor, and the 1869 Masonic Lodge, which is still used for town meetings, and the 1898 church.

The bar in the Idaho Hotel

Wells Fargo office inside Idaho Hotel
Front desk of Idaho Hotel

A walk down the road leads you to a couple of cemeteries where tombstones disclose more about the resilient people who lived in the town.

Have you ever been to a ghost town? I highly recommend a visit to Silver City if you have a ghost town on your bucket list.

Marilyn Turk loves to study history, especially that of lighthouses and the coast of the United States. Her newest book, Rebel Light, is set in Florida during the Civil War. She is the author of A Gilded Curse, a historical suspense novel set om Jekyll Island, Georgia, in 1942, and Lighthouse Devotions - 52 Inspiring Lighthouse Stories, based on her popular lighthouse blog. (@ http://pathwayheart.comTo find out more about Marilyn’s new releases, sign up for her newsletter at You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.


  1. You brought Silver City to life for me! Thanks for this fascinating post. I've never visited a ghost town ... and while Silver City intrigues, the description of the drive lets me know that this scaredy-cat-driving-in-mountains probably couldn't do that drive. That makes me appreciated the "you are there" feel of your post even more. What an amazing labor of love to keep a place like that "alive."

  2. Hi Stephanie. Thanks for your response. Yes, I was not doing the driving. However, my brother-in-law who did was wishing he had a four wheel drive at the time. It's a cool place. I wish I'd read the book before I went there.

  3. Thanks for sharing Silver City. Enjoyed reading about all the interesting facts (esp Owyhee in Idaho).

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Polly. I was surprised by the Owyhee Mtns. too!

  4. Thanks for the virtual tour, Marilyn. Now I can check Silver City off my list... without ever going there! It always feels sad to me when a town is abandoned like that. I suppose the mines stopped producing?

    1. Hi Linore, I think the mines were finally abandoned in the 40's, but I think big companies bought out all the miners first, and the economy had something to do with it too. At one time, I think everyone in town had a claim on some property to mine.

  5. Wow, the winters must have been really harsh for the town to evacuate....I wonder where they went. Love the pictures. Thanks for sharing this great post.

    1. Hey Debbie, When the town was still lived in, no one left during the winter. The book I read talked about cutting tunnels in the snow to get to school, the store, and so on. Six to nine foot depths of snow were common, as were avalanches in the surrounding mtns. It's only today's owners that live elsewhere during the winter, while a husband and wife who are caretakers stay during the winter to make sure no trespassers take advantage of the empty buildings or vandalize them. Since they're often shut in for a few weeks at a time, they have to make sure they stock up on supplies ahead of time.