This Esmeralda County seat was exuberantly (and briefly) named Grandpah by its enthusiastic founders in 1902. Two years later Goldfield was producing $10,000 a day, and two years after that it was a bigger city than Tonopah.
On Labor Day 1906 saloonkeeper Tex Rickard promoted a prize fight for the Lightweight Championship of the World between Battling Nelson and
Joe Gans. He offered the biggest purses in the history of prize fighting: $20,000 to the champion Nelson and $10,000 to Gans, the black challenger.
It was hailed as “The Fight of the Century” in the national press, and reporters from the east coast papers joined writers from the Pacific coast at ringside. After “as dirty a foul as was ever witnessed by spectators at ringside” in the 42nd round, Gans was awarded the victory and the championship, but the big winner was Tex Rickard. The $72,000 gate was a record, and Rickard went on from Goldfield to Madison Square Garden in New York City. Gans went back to Baltimore where he bought a hotel and renamed it The Goldfield.
By 1910 the Goldfield mines were already in decline, but at its peak of prosperity Goldfield was an eccentric combination of wild western boomtown, and decorous, respectable city. There were miners and prospectors and saloon roughs, plenty of them, but there were also stenographers and telephone operators, shoe-shine boys and stock brokers. Goldfield was the largest city in Nevada and the Goldfield Hotel was the most opulent stopping place between Kansas City and the Pacific Coast.
The decline was accelerated in September, 1913, when a flash flood wrenched houses from their foundations and laid waste whole neighborhoods. Ten years later a fire blazed up to make ashes of 53 square blocks. Abandonment and decay have accounted for much of the rest.
The most wonderful relic of the city’s past is the great Goldfield Hotel, at the corner of Columbia and Crook streets. Built in 1908 at a cost of just under a half million dollars, the hotel contained 154 guest rooms, furnished with Brussels carpets and brass beds. The lobby was appointed in mahogany and furnished with overstuffed leather settees. The lobby ceilings gleamed with 22-karat gilt, and the dining room menu included such delicacies as squab and lobster.
Spared by flood and fire, the hotel could not survive the decline of the mines, and it finally closed in 1949 and has never reopened. A new owner repaired the roof and began a major restoration, but expenses far exceeded the original estimates, and work has been stopped for so long that pigeons have reinhabited the huge old place, leaving mounds of guano beneath favored roosts, and feathered corpses in the upstairs hallways.
The massive old high school now stands forlorn, empty and slowly collapsing, but the castle-crenelated Esmeralda County Court House, an architectural curiosity of the Edwardian variety, is open to visitors. You will notice the original Tiffany lamps still used inside.
The Santa Fe Saloon on 5th Avenue once served the miners more than drinks, as the small cribs out back attest. It’s still a popular oasis today, and the cribs have been replaced by an 8-unit motel.
There’s a surprisingly active business community in Goldfield, and a brand new Visitor Center on the north side of town. There are only a few opportunities like this one in all the world: to explore a living ghost town. You’ll do yourself a favor if you do it.