A GHOST TOWN FOR A STEAL
This old silver mine is a golden chance to own a piece of US history, writes Elizabeth Sleith
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.”
MINE ALL MINE The American Hotel, established in 1871, is part of the sale.