Tonopah sprang to life in 1900, just as the mining excitement at Nome, Alaska, was tailing off. The Tonopah silver boom also coincided with the last waning of the Comstock, and Tonopah men managed much of the state’s affairs for more than a generation afterward. By 1905 it had captured the county seat from failing Belmont and by 1907 Tonopah was thriving with railroads, banks, theaters, hotels, many of the most impressive residences in Nevada, and the Big Casino, a dance-hall-and-brothel occupying a square city block near the center of town.
Tonopah peaked in the years leading up to World War I, when the mines averaged $38.5 million a year in production. From there it was a long, slow downhill slide. As the ’20s gave way to the ’30s, and the ’30s to the ’40s, mining slowed and finally stopped. Ranching and the highway trade became the main economic resources. The Army Air Base east of town kept the city solvent during World War II but for more than 50 years of hard times the increasingly shabby city clung to the barren swale between Mounts Oddie and Brougher.
The most prominent symbol of this boom-and-bust history is the Mizpah Hotel at the heart of the city. Built in 1907 and ’08 on the site of one of Jim Butler’s old camp sites, the five-story hotel has gone through ups and downs along with the rest of Tonopah. Owners Fred and Nancy Cline have now refurbished and restored it to grandeur, not just as an icon of old Tonopah, but as an active part of community life. The Mizpah Club next door and the Tonopah Brewery up the street are allied enterprises that add more cosmopolitan elements to the old city. So does Whitney’s Bookshelf in the next block, perhaps the best independent book store in the state.
You’ll also notice numerous sculptures and murals here and there around the old city. They’ve been placed there in the hope they will lure you to park and get out of your car for a little while. Do it, you’ll enjoy it.
As the halfway point between Reno and Las Vegas on US 95, Tonopah is a natural break in the journey and provide all services to travelers. Good food options and lodgings opportunities abound, and the night life is pleasantly inviting.
North of Tonopah and easily visible from the highway is the 600-foot tower of the Crescent Dunes Solar project, in which 10,000 mirrors focus sunlight to generate electricity. Nevada’s first city of the 20th century is taking big strides into the 21st.