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Tahoe Nugget #185:

Ghosts of Gold Hill (Part 2)
May 23, 2010

For most of the Comstock era (1859-1880s), the towns of Gold Hill and Virginia City were friendly rivals as they competed in their prodigious ore production. Both cities were built on top of the great silver lode in western Nevada that created all the excitement. But once the mines went into decline in the latter part of the 19th century and most people left, only the name Virginia City survived as the legendary epicenter of the famed silver bonanza.

Much of Virginia City's infrastructure survived the ghost town days until it rose again as a popular tourist destination. Gold Hill, however, lost most of its buildings to fire or they were torn down for salvage. Gold Hill was established in January 1859, two months before Virginia City, when prospectors discovered a rich placer gold deposit in a flat-topped hill 60-feet high and 500-feet long. While the Comstock is known primarily for its silver production, miners at Gold Hill were digging out gold until their excavation went deeper and hit the great silver lodes.

Nugget #185 Silver City Cemetery
Entrance to Silver City Cemetery.

Gold Hill has struggled over the past century, but the recent reconstruction and activation of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad that runs through the town, and innovative lecture and performance programs organized by Bill and Carol Fain, owners of the historic Gold Hill Hotel, has inspired history buffs like me to visit this resurrected ghost town for exploration and mental satiation.

Nugget #185 Grosch Gravesite
Gravesite of Hosea Grosch at Silver City.

During my visit to the Gold Hill and nearby Silver City cemeteries a few days ago, I came across two tombstones that deserve special mention. First was the Silver City gravesite of Hosea B. Grosh (sic. It's actually Grosch.). Hosea and his brother Ethan were sons of a Pennsylvania minister who had studied chemistry and mineralogy. In 1853, they traveled from the California gold diggings to join other prospectors searching for precious metal in western Nevada (Utah Territory).

Nugget #185 Grosch Bros Plaque
Historical monument to Grosch brothers along road in Silver City.

Three years later, they sent a letter to their father indicating that they recognized that the "damn sticky clay" prospectors were complaining about was actually a rich silver lead. They wrote: "We have found two veins of silver. One is a perfect monster." They valued their secret discovery at $3500 per ton.

Nugget #185 Grosch Brothers Portrait NHS
 The Grosch brothers from Pennsylvania were the first to discover silver. "The vein was a perfect monster."

Unfortunately, in August 1857, Hosea struck his foot with a rusty pick and tetanus set in. He died 13 days later. Ethan was determined to continue their research but he needed more money. He and a friend set out for California for the winter months , but the two men were trapped at Squaw Valley by an early November blizzard. After several days they were rescued, but Ethan died from severe frostbite and the brothers' secret fortune was lost.

Nugget #185 Wooden Marker 1864
This wooden marker from the nineteenth century survives in the arid air of western Nevada. In other climates it would have deteriorated decades ago.

The following June, two Irish miners discovered a rich outcropping of gold and silver quartz and the rest is history. The Comstock mining district was named after Henry Paige Comstock, a shiftless character who claimed the strike was made on his land.

Nugget #185 Jones Gravesite Closeup
Close-up of the newly dedicated tombstone for the Jones brothers.

At the Gold Hill cemetery, I came upon the headstone of the Jones brothers, two young boys who died on Christmas Eve, 1871. Henry and John, ages 14 and 10, froze to death in the midst of a snowstorm while attempting to return a calf to their father's dairy ranch. Adults had warned the boys not to venture into the storm, but their father was known as a brutal man and their fear of punishment forced them to ignore the advice.

Nugget #185 Jones Site Vertical
Cemetery visitors add children's toys in memory of the young boys.

Although the original headstone was stolen, a new monument was created from an old photograph and dedicated in May 2001. Children's toys are scattered around the base of the stone in their memory.

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