Austin

In the early 1860s, Central Nevada was largely unknown and unexplored. This changed in May 1862, when silver was accidentally discovered by William Talcott. Talcott was a stage employee at Jacobs' Spring, and stumbled upon a rich quartz-bearing vein while searching for horses that had gotten away. In July the Reese River district was organized, and by the end of 1862 news of the rich strike was spreading quickly throughout the West.

In early 1863, the real rush began. Thousands of claims were staken on the sides of Pony Canyon and the camps of Austin and Clifton were formed - the former was founded by David Buel and named for his partner, Alvah Austin. By Spring, the two camps rivaled one another. While Clifton was located in a more level location with easy access to the Overland Stage route, Austin began offering free lots to any merchants that helped constuct a road to the valley below - the canyon was too steep and narrow for freight wagons, being only accessible on foot or horseback.

In June, two mills were running in Austin and the town prospered. The population of over 2000 was served by a variety of stores, saloons, and a fine hotel. A weekly newspaper, the Reese River Reveille, was also in publication. Prospectors drawn to the area began forming suburb camps, and Austin quickly developed as a commercial center for not only those, but also camps as distant as Nye County. In September, Austin won the vote to become Lander County seat and the population soon spiked to around 7000.

In January 1864, Austin was incorporated and by the end of April had a mayor, board of aldermen, police force, and hook-and-ladder company. Before long, churches, banks, schools, and other modern features were added to the city. The Reese River Reveille began issuing daily, and other competing newspapers were published. Over the next year, the Manhattan Silver Mining Company began acquiring and consolidating several important claims and a new mill was built. By 1871, the Company controlled almost all of Austin's mines, and in 1874 lobbied for a railroad connection (the Company's secretary, M.J. Farrell was also the State Senator for Lander County). In 1875, funds were granted to construct a railroad from Battle Mountain to Austin, but the terms included that it must be completed within five years. Construction on the narrow gauge Nevada Central Railroad didn't even begin until September 1879, but with less than a day remaining before the deadline the rail line reached within two miles of Austin. An emergency meeting of the Austin Town Board extended the city limits, and the final rails were laid within minutes of the deadline. The terminus of the railroad was in the canyon below Austin at Clifton, and from there freight and stage lines ran up and down the steep hill into town. A heavy fee was charged, and soon shrewd businessman Allen A. Curtin took advantage of this by constructing the Austin City Railway to chug up the hill from Clifton to Austin. Construction began May 31, 1880 and the "Mules Relief" locomotive made its first trip up the hill one year later. Daily operation began on June 17.

In 1887, operations at Austin mostly ceased after producing $19.2 million in silver. The Austin City Railway stopped running in 1889, but the Nevada Central held on longer. A revival was made by A. Phelps Stokes in 1894, who worked the mines for nearly a decade, including the construction of the 6000-foot Clifton Tunnel at the lower end of Pony Canyon. Mining was effectively discontinued by 1911, and Austin and the Nevada Central railroad largely existed as a supply point for other mines in Nye County. Plans were floated for a southern railroad extension to Tonopah, but these never materialized and the line went into receivership in 1938.

Today Austin remains a small sleepy community, and though it is often regarded as a ghost, it provides a comfortable home for nearly 200 residents. Several historic buildings from the boom days remain. The city has been disincorporated since 1881, and in 1979 the County Seat was lost to Battle Mountain.

I visited Austin on 6.29.2006, 4.5.2008, 5.15.2013, & 1.28.2014
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