In May 1877, silver and lead ore were discovered by the Downey brothers: Patrick, Jeremiah, Edman, and James. Word of their discovery reached Ellsworth, and a camp quickly sprang up, reaching a population of 200 the next year. Stage lines ran to Wadsworth and Luning, and ore was shipped to Austin for milling. Around 1880, the Downey Mining Company built a lead smelter, one of the first in the state. The boom didn't last, however, and by 1885 all but the Downey brothers had left.

By 1901, the Downeyville mine (which was the main producer) produced about $600,000. That year, it was purchased by the Nevada Company, run by J. Phelps Stokes. A store and boarding house were built by the Company, and some thirty men came to work at the mine. Profitable ore couldn't be located, and the Company left later in the year. Another brief revival began in 1923 when Downeyville Mines, Inc. rehabilitated the mine. It operated inconsistently until 1927, and aside from some minor leasing, Downeyville has been silent since.