The Living Ghost Town—Austin, NV

The Living Ghost Town—Austin, NV

US 50, cutting through the desert of Nevada, is often called the loneliest road in America. The title is well-deserved, with the road stretching on for long miles with no sight of civilization.

Yet, you will encounter small but welcoming hamlets along this lonesome ride. One of them is Austin, NV.

Austin has been dubbed a living ghost town, and not without reason. Although the town still houses 167 residents, it’s a far cry from its heyday in the late 19th century.

According to local legends, silver was discovered in the area after a passing Pony Express horse kicked stones around, revealing the precious metal beneath. The town of Austin was subsequently founded in 1862 as miners from the Union rushed in to help support the then-ongoing Civil War effort.

Soon, there were more than 10,000 people living in Austin and the surrounding area. But—in the typical boom-and-bust cycle—the silver veins ran dry and major mining operations ended in 1887.

Despite short-lived silver mining revivals and the discovery of uranium ore (which turned out to be very poor quality), Austin was not able to stop its slow decline. Not all mining in the area is over, however—the region still produces some top-notch turquoise.

Steeped in History

Austin’s glory days may be gone, but that’s precisely what makes the town such a fascinating place toward which to point your front tire. You’ll find plenty of historical buildings that take you back to Nevada’s silver mining past.

The most famous building in the area is arguably Stokes Castle. This (admittedly completely out-of-place) three-story structure was built in 1986 as the summer home for mine owner Anson Phelps Stokes, more or less successfully imitating similar buildings he had seen in Italy.

Stokes spent only one month at his “castle” before abandoning it for good. Today, the bizarre tower stands as a testament to Austin’s prestigious past.

Other historical buildings in Austin include its Catholic and Methodist churches, both built in 1866. Meanwhile, the International Hotel (which no longer houses guests but serves as a cafe) was constructed in Virginia City in 1859 and moved to Austin four years later.

The Austin Cemetery is also a worthwhile place to visit. Split into five different sections, the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003.