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Silver Reef Posts:

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Silver Reef is a “ghost town” in Washington County, near Leeds. Silver Reef was established after John Kemple, a prospector from Nevada, discovered a vein of silver in a sandstone formation in 1866. At first, geologists were uncertain about Kemple’s find because silver is not usually found in sandstone. In 1875, two bankers from Salt Lake City sent William Barbee to the site to stake mining claims. He staked 21 claims, and an influx of miners came to work Barbee’s claims and to stake their own. To accommodate the miners, Barbee established a town called Bonanza City. Property values there were high, so several miners settled on a ridge to the north of it and named their settlement “Rockpile”. The town was renamed Silver Reef after silver mines in nearby Pioche closed and businessmen arrived.

By 1879, about 2,000 people were living in Silver Reef. The town had a mile-long Main Street with many businesses, among them a Wells Fargo office, the Rice Building, and the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. Although adjacent to many settlements with a majority of Mormon residents, the town never had a meeting house for Latter-day Saints, only a Catholic church. In 1879, a fire destroyed several businesses, but the residents rebuilt them. Mines were gradually closed, most of them by 1884, as the worldwide price of silver dropped. By 1901, most of the buildings in town had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.

In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of Alex Colbath, who organized the area’s mines into the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company. These mines were purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, but the company did minimal work as a result of the Great Depression. The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation purchased Silver Reef’s mines in 1948, and in 1951, they began mining uranium in the area. These operations did not last long either, and the Western Gold & Uranium Corporation sold their mines to the 5M Corporation in 1979. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, the Rice Building, and numerous foundations and walls remain in the town site, and a few dozen homes have been constructed in the area.(*)

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Between 1875 and the end of 1876, Silver Reef boomed with development, going from a boulder-strewn flat to a town of 1,500 people, one of the largest in Washington county.
Silver Reef soon became the center of permanent development, and many stone and wooden buildings were erected along a mile-long Main Street. Among the many businesses and buildings were six saloons, nine grocery stores, two dance halls, a brewery, billiard hall, the Wells Fargo Express Office, post office undertaker, citizens hall, jail, Masonic and Oddfellows halls, telegraph office, barber shop, physicians office, Chinese laundries (the walls are standing today), and a Catholic church with a hospital included. The Wells Fargo building, which you stand before, has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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