After silver lodes were discovered high on Treasure Hill in 1867, miners flocked to the area below hoping to profit off Earth’s shining minerals. The settlement was called “Cave City” since many miners lived in surrounding caves as materials for buildings were scarce. Ignorant of the brutality of winter in high altitudes, the workers held fast to the hope of riches, and many were successful.
As more bodies came to the area to test their good fortune, the need for an established settlement grew. The town was born after three promoters visited to map out the area, including the W.H. Hamilton, the town’s namesake. As the population swelled, banks set up branches, saloons were built up on street corners, and a schoolhouse was established.
In 1869, the population was 20,000. By then, the booming town had a skate rink, dance halls, banks, two competing newspapers, breweries, an opera house, a soda factory, churches, and a fraternal order. However, nothing lasts forever.
Progress halted when the mines failed. Residents emigrated to the nearby town of Ely. More bad luck arrived when the U.S. Congress demonetized silver in 1873. The population shrunk to just under 4,000 souls. Later that year, a fire destroyed half the town when a cigar shop worker attempted to burn down his shop for insurance money. The town population dwindled to a mere 500. The poor husk of a town was finally wiped out when another fire swept through 10 years later and burned whatever was left wooden and standing.
Today, visitors can return to Hamilton, strewn with the ruins of long-abandoned buildings, to walk back into the memories of the Old West. Driving the scenic route into Hamilton you’ll see ragged mountains in the background, and sprawling fields where old stagecoaches used to be robbed twice a week. You can retrace the steps of the intrepid miners who sought the silver in the distance, or imagine sipping a drink in one of the more than 100 saloons that filled a town once full of life.
Know Before You Go
The best time to visit is summer or fall. Be warned that the town may resembled a muddy mess during wet seasons.