This month we will travel to Silver City, Utah, located just a few miles down the road from last month’s featured ghost town of Eureka, Utah.
I chose Silver City for this month’s entry not because of extensive remains or a historical event that occurred. I chose it because November is the month we celebrate Thanksgiving. Also, I chose to share my visit to Silver City to remind myself, and hopefully others, of all the things we have to be thankful for.
As an RVer you might be finding it difficult to count your blessings this November. Fuel prices are soaring, keeping many from hitting the road, especially long cross-country trips. Interest rates are the highest they have been in years, preventing many from being able to afford the payments on their dream RV. Supply chain issues continue to slow RV repairs, at even the most reputable RV repair facilities. Throw in some campground crowding, possible difficulties in making reservations, along with rising campground rates and a host of other discouragement and you might even be tempted to skip Thanksgiving this year.
When life gets me down, I just think back to my visit to Silver City and it puts everything back into perspective. I will get to why Silver City reminds me to be thankful in a minute, but first a quick bit of history.
Silver City history
Just like Eureka, which we visited last month, Silver City was once a thriving mining town, part of the rich Tintic Mining District. The first silver mine (an old Native American mine) was discovered in 1869 with other mines following shortly after. Silver City slowly grew from a small collection of tents to a comprehensive city containing a saloon, blacksmith shop, claims recorder and assay office, a telegraph office, stagecoach line, post office, and eventually various hotels, stores, and restaurants. Both the Salt Lake & Western Railroad as well as the Tintic Range Railroad ran lines into town establishing depots as things boomed.
At the peak of mining, approximately 800 people called Silver City home. The boom lasted until 1890 when most of the mines encountered water as they bored deeper into the earth and began to flood. Even the richest mines were unable to afford the cost of keeping the mines pumped out and were forced to close. When the mines closed the population began to go elsewhere. A devastating fire in 1902 destroyed much of Silver City, driving more of the remaining citizens away.
Just as Silver City was about to become another deserted mining town, Jesse Knight of nearby Knightsville, Utah, established the Utah Ore Sampling Company and the Tintic smelter, building a large mill. To operate the mill, Knight built a power plant, 100 new houses for workers and brought another railroad into town. By 1908 the population reached a record of 1,500 hardy souls. In 1915 the mill became unprofitable and closed, spelling the final chapter for Silver City. A few folks hung around through the 1930s, until becoming a ghost town in the ’40s.
Our visit – Heartbreak and thanksgiving
Prior to our visit, I knew little remained of Silver City other than the foundations of Knight’s mill and the cemetery. What brought me to the site was the extensive number of old mines in the area. My goal was to do a little mine exploring and maybe find some nice ore samples in the process. Unfortunately, the mines offered little to explore and not much in the way of ore samples either. Hoping to salvage our visit and find something of interest, I stopped by the cemetery.
Even when there are few ruins of a once bustling town to tell of the past, I find the residents of the cemetery often have a story worth sharing. In this case it, was the mother of the Steele family and her story of heartbreak. As I walked among the gravestones, I came across a series of four stones with the last name of Steele.
Studying the stones revealed each was the grave of a baby, the oldest (Albert) surviving just 14 days, his sister Lily buried next to him lived a scant 8 days. The other two Steele graves just listed “Baby Girl”. The years of the four graves were as follows: Baby Girl Steele 1916, Baby Girl Steele 1917, Lily Steele 1919 and Albert Steele 1920. Their mother suffered all of this while living in a town that had just lost its last paying employer and was on its way to becoming a ghost town.
Here I was standing at the foot of these baby’s graves, disappointed at not finding the mine ruins and ore samples I had hoped for. These things were insignificant compared to what this woman went through. As I pondered the moment, my heart broke for the poor mother, and I was reminded of everything I have to be thankful for. I have two healthy adult children with good jobs, homes, spouses, and healthy children of their own. There are seven young children in our clan that call me “Papa” (Grandpa). I have a loving wife that keeps me organized and willingly accompanies me to forlorn, forgotten and out of the way places. I can visit unique places like Silver City while enjoying the comforts of home in my RV … and the list goes on.
While writing this article and examining the hardships of the Steele family, I performed an online search and discovered the following. The mother’s name was Vilate Alvira Martyn and lived to be 90 years old, passing away in 1970. Sadly, she lost at least one other baby, maybe two, in the same succession of the other four. Losing a son in 1915 (see death certificate below) and possibly another in 1917, all told she lost 5, possibly 6 children from 1915 to 1920. Her husband, Marcus Freeman Steele, Sr., died in 1945 of “Athero – Sclerosis” – as listed on his death certificate. His occupation was listed as “miner”, which was no surprise. Thankfully, Mrs. Steele had surviving children prior to the string of 1915 – 1920 deaths, and bore two children that survived into adulthood.
I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving. If you don’t feel very thankful this year, just think about what it must have been like to be Vilate in the years 1915 – 1920 and count your blessings.
Silver City – Getting there:
The townsite, mill ruins and cemetery are all located just off the east side of the highway southwest of Eureka, Utah.
- Downtown Silver City: N39° 54.585 W112° 07.781 – many foundations still exist
- Mill Ruins: N39° 55.026 W112° 08.436
- Cemetery: N39° 54.129 W112° 08.032
See last month’s entry for Eureka.