Today, Silver Mountain City is a ghost of a ghost town. An army of pines has invaded the town’s cross streets, and only the traces of hand-dug cellars and rock foundations remain where noisy saloons and thriving businesses once stood. The old stone jail, once a proud centerpiece of town, is a jumble of broken blocks.
But from 1862 to about 1876, this rocky flat beside Silver Creek was home to literally thousands of citizens: miners and merchants, murderers and mothers. For those few, heady years, Silver Mountain was an incarnation of greed and muscle, silver and seduction – in short, a quintessential silver mining town.
No sooner was work commenced in the croppings [in the summer of 1861], than the richest description of Ruby Silver ore revealed itself, and as a matter of course, created one of those “excitements” once so common in this Country. Eager prospectors covered the mountain sides, swarmed in the immediate vicinity of the pioneer discovery, and almost before the year expired, nothing was left in the shape of a ledge or stain or outcrop to locate, the same ledge taken up two or three times over by a rude Notice on some of its spurs or angles, and all found a place in the Records of the then-formed “Silver Mining District.”
A general rush from Virginia [City] and other mining camps was made to the new El Dorado, buildings of all kinds were erected in anxious haste, saloons drove a rushing trade, corner lots ruled high.
— Lewis Chalmers, 1871
But in its own ghostly way, the town of Silver Mountain never really died. Its people and their stories remain etched in microfilm and photographs and hand-scrawled documents. With a bit of puzzling, visitors can still visit the spot where the Fiske Hotel once stood, pay a call to the site of Sauquet’s Store, or stop by Davidson’s Saloon. Close your eyes as you stand beside Main Street, and you can almost hear the clink of glasses in the saloons and feel the earth tremble as Giant Powder explodes deep inside the mines.
Silver Mountain City’s legacy also lives on in Alpine County itself. For without the energy of this amazing town, California’s 46th county might never have been formed.
We hope you’ll share our excitement about this amazing community and will help us preserve its history!
We usually do a Walking Tour of Silver Mountain in September each year. If you’d like to join us for the next Walking Tour, please contact the Alpine County Historical Society at (530) 694-2317 or firstname.lastname@example.org, to find out how to sign up.
— Rick & Karen Dustman
Need directions to Silver Mountain? Here you go!
Coming from Woodfords: From Highway 88, turn south onto Highway 89 towards Markleeville at the flashing light. Continue on Highway 89 approximately 6.3 miles to Markleeville. Then follow directions below.
Coming from Markleeville: Go south through Markleeville on Highway 89, and set your odometer as you cross over the little bridge at the south end of town. About 4.8 miles south of Markleeville, Highway 89 forks to the east (the Monitor Pass turn-off). Do not take this turn; continue straight on what is now Highway 4. At odometer reading 7.2, you will pass Wolf Creek Road, and at 8.7, you’ll see a tall brick chimney on your right (Chalmers’ Mansion).
At 10.3 miles south of Markleeville, you will cross the bridge over Silver Creek. Slow down and watch for a brown Forest Service sign on your left, marking the old jail site at Silver Mountain City (odometer reading 10.5). You’ll also see a tall, blocky concrete historical marker. You’ve arrived!
Coming from the West: The easiest route over the mountains is generally Hwy 88 (not Hwy 4, unless you are already close to Hwy 4 . . . then see below). Take Hwy 88 east to Woodfords, then follow the directions above.
Coming from Murphys: Take Hwy 4 east over the mountain. The road is twisty and eventually comes down the mountain on the other side of the crest. When the road widens again and has a painted centerline, slow down. That straightaway (about a mile long) is the town’s former Main Street, and nearly all that’s left of Old Silver Mountain! Watch on your right (about half-way down the straightaway) for a brown Forest Service sign and blocky, grey concrete marker. Pull in there, and you’ll see a chain link fence enclosing what’s left of the old jail. You’ve arrived! (If you see a tall brick chimney on your left, you’ve gone too far!)
Like to read the book about Silver Mountain City?
To get your copy, just click here!