Wells Fargo and Company Express Building
Not alone because Wells Fargo and Company Express buildings were very much a part of the mining west, nor simply because the Silver Reef building matches the style common in others, but because this building remains, one of only two structures, as the best reminder of the glory that was once Silver Reef, Utah. Though of short duration, 1877-1888 being the main boom period, and in almost total decline by 1909, Silver Reef brought temporary prosperity to an area chronically depressed. The agrarian Mormons mingled quietly with the Gentile miners to their mutual benefit.
The Wells Fargo and Company Express Building is located at 1903 Wells Fargo Road in Silver Reef, Utah and was added to the National Historic Register (#71000861) on March 11, 1971. (text on this page is from the National Register nomination form)
Silver Reef has a singular distinction, being one of the rare spots in the world where silver-bearing ore has been discovered in sandstone formations in commercial quantities. Altogether about $12,000,000 were taken from its mines. Disparity in production figures are due to poor record keeping.
As early as 1868 Mormon settler John Kemple, at Harrisburg, below the reef, floated silver. Yet he never hit pay dirt. In 1871, he organized the Union Mining District, and three years later the Harris Mining District The first real strike came in 1875 when Elijah Thomas and John Ferris found silver in a ledge northwest of Silver Reef. However, to Judge William Tecumseh Barbee goes credit for the Silver Reef rush. With a grub stake from the Walker Brothers in Salt Lake City, Barbee, with Thomas McNalley and Edward Maynard, began to mine the ore and ship it, first to Salt Lake City and later to Pioche, Nevada. When the boom began in 1878 Silver Reef developed several mills of its own. The major mines were the Leeds, the Barbee and Walker Company, the Christy Company, and the Stormont Company.
Silver Reef’s population exploded to about 1500 to be not only the largest town in southern Utah, but to out-vote the whole Mormon population of Washington County. When a forthcoming election threatened to vote to change the courthouse from St. George to Silver Reef, Apostle Erastus Snow promptly had the Washington County line moved a few miles east to include several Mormon villages and preserve the status quo.
Silver Reef was very cosmopolitan, having a sizable negro population and some 250 Chinese. Their practice of providing food for their deceased was seized upon by the Paiute Indians as a real deal. They removed the foo from the grave tops at night. At one time, a special Chinese cemetery was maintained, After the town died, Sam Gee returned, disinterred the bodies and shipped them back to the land of their ancestors.
Later, when someone began to tear down one of Silver Reef’s shacks, he found a cache of several thousand dollars in gold floors. A second rush was on, resulting in and silver beneath its the destruction of nearly all of Silver Reef’s old frame buildings. Today only the Wells Fargo building and the Rice Bank (now a home) remain.
The area reeks of history. Plans are being considered to create a historic district, but in the meantime the fine old express building needs protection.