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Ophir – Another Anniversary!

Ophir City, another Washoe Valley ghost town, celebrated it’s 150 year anniversary this year. Along with the other local ghost towns, Mill City, Franktown, and Washoe City, Ophir played an important part in the exciting history of the Comstock Lode. In 1961, local dignitaries gathered to place a bronze plaque to honor the town on the west side of the valley. Established in 1861, Ophir combined ample water and wood fuel resources with ore hauled down from Virginia City to provide the first large scale milling of the Comstock Lode’s fabulous ores.
There were no water and power resources available in Virginia City to accommodate a large scale ore processing plant in 1861. Previously, ore had to be sacked and hauled to California by mule for processing. Rapidly expanding operations in the Comstock required a closer answer, one with abundant water and wood for fuel.
A road, the Ophir Grade, was carved into the hillsides east of the valley whose roadbed was soon pounded into a fine dust by hundreds of trips of mules and oxen pulling ore laden wagons and swearing teamsters to the lush valley. To shorten the trip, a causeway, or wood piling bridge, was built across the marshlands to the north of Washoe Lake.
At the terminus, on an acre of land, was built an impressive granite block building made of native stone. Milling machinery was hauled in by wagon, probably from foundries in California, and a steam powered 72 stamp mill installed (The photo on the left shows a stamp battery of approximately 30 stamps. Mind your fingers and no loose shirttails, please!). Around the plant, various support buildings, residences and buildings sprang up representing a village of 1200 residents. A fine mansion for the superintendent was built with the latest trimmings. The then astonishing amount of $500,000 was spent and another $75,000 on the causeway. The owners, who also owned the Ophir mine in Virginia City, probably realized the Comstock Lode was the largest bonanza since the California Gold Rush and built the mill to last for many years. In 1865 serious talk ws even made of running a railroad from Virginia City directly to Ophir. (Photo of causeway remains thanks to Heidi Englund of the Nevada Historical Society).
Alas, as with most western boom towns, conditions changed quickly. In 1870, just nine years later, the Virginia and Truckee Railroad was completed and ore could be more economically hauled to the Carson River where several large mills were built to take advantage of the water power there. The railroad also hauled wood and supplies to the mills and up to Virginia City, making the Washoe Valley mills and their roads obsolete overnight. The valley towns quickly declined and, being at the crossroads of the V&T and transcontinental railroad, Reno became the center of civilization for Washoe County. Since that time, the impressive granite mill and the town has deteriorated down to the small pile of stones still visible on the east side of Highway 395. All that remains of the causeway across the valley are the stubs of the pilings protruding through the marsh. The men and machinery moved on to other opportunities and the valley returned to its agricultural roots.

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