Washington Co., UTAH
Silver Reef is located in Washington County, 1.5 miles west of Leeds, which is along I-15 at EXIT 22, 15 miles north of St. George. This fascinating old silver mining town today is an anachronism. A true ghost town mixed with modern, upscale housing. The story of this fascinating little ghost begins in 1866 when silver-bearing sandstone was discovered on the east slope of the Pine Valley Mountains by John Kemple. However, the first claims weren't actually worked until 1874. Word got out and a rush ensued. According to popular mining knowledge, silver isn't supposed to occur in sandstone, but somebody forgot to tell the outcroppings that. Between 1875 and 1888, some $10 million in silver was produced from the sandstone reefs, which gave the town its name.
By 1877, the town had over 100 businesses stretched out along a mile long main street. A racetrack, brewery and brass band were added attributes that many mining towns didn't have. In 1879, 2000 citizens were counted, but that year a major fire swept through town, silver prices dropped, labor disputes cropped up and water flooded the lower working levels in the mines. The mines continued producing, but in 1888 the boom was over. By 1890, only 177 people remained, and in the early 1900s many of the remaining buildings were demolished. In 1908, fire destroyed almost all that remained, and the remaining mines closed down by 1909. A few people remained behind, one of whom lived in the old dressed stone Wells Fargo & Co Express building until the late 1940s.
Today, two of the buildings have been restored, and one, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant has been completely rebuilt on the original spot, and looking the same. When I stopped by in July 2008, the restaurant was operating, and a couple of HIGH DOLLAR cars were parked out front. When we visited in April 2012, the restaurant had been closed and the interior was empty. The homes mentioned above lie just to the north of and immediately adjacent to the northern end of the townsite. Silver Reef still has a handful of ruins, as well as the restored Wells Fargo Building and the 1876 John Rice Bank building. A museum is housed in the Wells Fargo & Company Express building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is one of the most recognizable and most-photographed ghost town buildings in the country.
The formerly mile-long main street has been reduced to several hundred yards, and quiet now reigns where all once bustled. The town is decorated with a few signs identifying where buildings once stood, as well as cottonwoods and desert scrub, all backed by the green-dappled, beige and red mountains to the west.
The two-story Rice Building was made of mortared adobe brick/cut rock, with a full basement and wooden floors. It had burned sometime before 1990. In 1990 it was “scheduled for restoration at a future date.” At the time of my visits in 2008 and 2012 it was fully restored, but not open (probably due to the time we arrived).
About 150 feet north of the Wells Fargo building are the roofless, rock-walled ruins of what was once the Chinese Saloon and Drug, as well as the Leopold Goldberg Store. They face onto Main Street, and were located between the cross streets of Barbee and Center Streets. As these structures are unstable, please use caution and abide by any signage.
Between these ruins and the Wells Fargo building, the gully holds the ruins of several other structures, such as the Clancy Market, McCormick Store, and the two-story Harrison House (hotel), which fronted onto Center Street, which has long since disappeared. Up the hill towards the mines is the rock-walled remains of the Peter Harrison residence and a large ore bin, both of which are interesting to explore. Spend time, gaze inside the ore bin and imagine it filled with silver-bearing ore awaiting processing.
Silver Reef is a worthwhile stop if you are in the St. George area. Be sure to visit the Wells Fargo Silver Reef Museum and Gallery and tell Eric that Gary sent you!
This was our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for February 2000.
It has been modified and numerous photos from our journeys there in July 2008 and April 2012 have been added.
It was reposted as our GHOST TOWN OF THE MONTH for May/June 2012.
· N½, E Sec line 1, T41S, R14W, Salt Lake Baseline & Meridian
· N½ W Sec line 5, T41S, R13W, SLM
· Latitude: 37.252759 / 37° 15’ 10” N
· Longitude: -113.3677281 / 113° 22’ 04” W
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FIRST POSTED: February 01, 2000
LAST UPDATED: July 16 2012
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