Mountain City

Though M.L. Henry found placer gold deposits in 1868, it wasn't until Jesse Cope's discovery in April 1869 that miners flocked to the area. On May 22, 1869, the Cope District was organized and soon a number of mines were in operation. By June, 300 people lived in the camp of Cope, and in July it was officially renamed Mountain City. By the end of summer, the town of 700 had twenty saloons, a dozen hotels, six restaurants, four stores, two breweries, and service provided by two stage lines. A $10,000 ditch was constructed from the Owyhee River, providing water to the placer operations. Nearby, Chinese placer miners began working and established a suburb called Placerville.

By October, the excitement surrounding Mountain City died down and around 200 people moved on. Nevertheless, the new $25,000 Drew & Atcheson Mill with ten stamps and a capacity of eighteen tons per day was placed into operation in November. On January 12, 1870, the Canty & Allen Mill was started, joined by the Reinhart, Wingard, & Drew Mill on April 30. By June, Mountain City's population peaked at 1200. By the end of the year, two more mills - the thirteen-stamp Norton and ten-stamp Vance - began operating. At the close of 1870, 1000 people were in town and over 200 buildings had been constructed. The following spring, the Vance mill was enlarged and the new Robbins smelter was completed. Despite the increase in production, the population decreased to only 450 by summer.

Though the big rush was over, Mountain City was here to stay. A new school opened in July 1871, and in November the twenty-ton Bailey furnace was completed. The next year, ore began to diminish and mines began to close. By 1875, Mountain City's population stood at only sixty-seven. A brief revival occured from 1877-1880, but despite that 1880's population stood at only thirty-five; that number dropped to twenty by 1882.

After the decline of mining, Mountain City developed a large ranching presence. By the turn of the century, most original buildings had been moved or torn down, and the townsite, now with a population of 100, actually moved to a more favorable location. A number of intermittent mining revivals continued for decades. Most notably, a fifty-ton flotation plant and ten-stamp mill were completed in 1921, operated until 1922, and again from 1925 to 1930.

While nearby Rio Tinto boomed from 1932 until 1949, Mountain City's businesses relied on traffic to and from that camp. During this time, the town gained a number of improvements. A water and sewer system, though problematic, was completed in 1937. Two newspapers came and went during this time as well: the Mountain City Messenger from 1933 until 1934 and the Mountain City Mail from 1938 until 1939.

Mountain City's final bout of excitement began in 1956 with the organization of the Mountain City Uranium Company. Despite the hype, more molybdenum was found than uranium, and only about 5 tons of uranium ore was shipped before 1963. Meanwhile, a seventy-five ton mill was completed to process ore from Gold Creek, lasting intermittently until the 1970s (sometime before which it was converted to tungsten). Since then, Mountain City has remained quiet. A handful of people remain, and a few businesses primarily serve visitors to nearby Wild Horse Reservoir.

I Visited Mountain City
5.16.2020

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