A GHOST TOWN FOR A STEAL

This old sil­ver mine is a golden chance to own a piece of US his­tory, writes El­iz­a­beth Sleith

Sunday Times - - Travel -

If you’ve ever fan­cied own­ing your own ghost town — and you have R13-mil­lion ly­ing around — then how about his­toric Cerro Gordo in Cal­i­for­nia’s Inyo Moun­tains? This aban­doned 19th-cen­tury min­ing com­plex has been listed by a Cal­i­for­nia es­tate agency for $925 000. The prop­erty, cov­er­ing 121ha, is strewn with rem­nants of its past as a thriv­ing min­ing com­mu­nity and houses 22 structures, in­clud­ing an empty ho­tel, saloon and chapel. The agent’s list­ing says, “For those look­ing to ac­quire a piece of the Amer­i­can West, Cerro Gordo is for you.”

“Held by the same fam­ily for decades and only avail­able for pur­chase now, the site has been ex­tremely well pro­tected from dig­gers, ar­ti­fact loot­ers and Mother Na­ture her­self.”

The list­ing adds that restora­tion has been un­der­taken on most of the build­ings and that the rest are “in a state of pro­tected ar­rested de­cay”.

Cerro Gordo, in the Owens Val­ley near Lone Pine, Cal­i­for­nia, was the first ma­jor min­ing camp south of the Sierra Ne­vada moun­tain range. Its name means “Fat Hill” in Span­ish.

The town’s site at cer­ro­gor­domines.com says that “long be­fore the area was de­vel­oped, Mex­i­cans had been crawl­ing the moun­tain … look­ing for sil­ver”.

But it wasn’t un­til 1868 that busi­ness­man Mor­timer Belshaw started a proper min­ing op­er­a­tion and took the first wag­onload of sil­ver from Cerro Gordo to Los Angeles. Within a year, it was Cal­i­for­nia’s largest pro­ducer of lead and sil­ver.

Its heydey was in the 1870s, op­er­at­ing as a “sil­ver thread” to LA, and is con­sid­ered par­tially re­spon­si­ble for that city’s growth and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment.

But fall­ing sil­ver prices, com­bined with a ma­jor fire, hit hard dur­ing the 1880s.

Op­er­a­tions picked up again in 1905 when it was bought by the Great West­ern Ore Pur­chas­ing and Re­duc­tion Com­pany, which planned to process the low-grade ore that ear­lier min­ers had dumped, us­ing new tech­nol­ogy to make it prof­itable.

By 1920, only 10 men were still em­ployed by the Cerro Gordo mines com­pany and it closed shortly there­after.

These days, its pri­vate own­ers run tours of the grounds, charg­ing $10 for en­trance. The pro­ceeds go to the Cerro Gordo His­tor­i­cal Foun­da­tion for its up­keep, and these will con­tinue un­til the sale goes through.

Af­ter that, Cerro Gordo’s fate will de­pend on the buyer, as there are no con­di­tions to the sale. The agent, how­ever, says, “We would re­ally like to find buy­ers com­mit­ted to pre­serv­ing the in­tegrity of Cerro Gordo.”

Pic­ture: cer­ro_­gor­do_mines/instagram

MINE ALL MINE The Amer­i­can Ho­tel, es­tab­lished in 1871, is part of the sale.

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