Investigating the lonely places of Nevada and Northern California...I seek out ghost towns, collect ghost stories and investigate the paranormal. History, particularly the Old West, facinates me. This is a chronicle of the experiences I've had, the places I've been and the interesting characters I've met along the way.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
Just west of Goldhill Nevada on State Route 341, lies American Flats; and the remains of the Comstock Merger Mines cyanide mill. Time and wind have reduced the mill to strangely beautiful skeletal remains. The crumbling reinforced concrete monoliths (there are eight of them), rise out of the desert like post-apocalyptic temples, whose clandestine devotees leave cryptic messages and painted images as offerings to the silent, long dead gods. Some regard the ruins, complete with falling concrete, unprotected drop-offs, flooded tunnels and subterranean vaults a public hazard; others see it as an important piece of Comstock history.
Circa 1925, courtesy of BLM
Gold and silver mining began in American Flat after 1860 when the Comstock discoveries extended beyond the Gold Canyon ravine. By 1864 American City had become a town and its citizens tried to secure the territorial capital from Carson City. Promoters at American City offered $50,000 to the Nevada territorial government if it would relocate there. The Storey County papers backed the removal attempt, but the legislators rejected the offer. During 1864-66 American City was a thriving town with two large hotels amid other businesses, a post office and its own township officers. But the community never took root and by late 1867 American City was all but gone. In 1920, the United Comstock Mining Co. constructed a $1.5 million four-story cyanide mill of reinforced concrete on the site to process low-grade ores coming out of the Comstock Lode. Three years later the Comstock Merger Mines Inc. was formed to operate a group of Comstock mines in the middle of the lode and in 1923 acquired the mill when the United Comstock Mining Co. went out of business. A small company camp just below the mill included a store, houses, a post office and other buildings until December 1926, when the Merger Mines Company closed the mill because of the falling price of silver.
The building at American Flats has been the subject of much debate this past year. In December 2010, the Nevada Appeal reported that the BLM was moving forward with plans to demolish and reclaim the site; causing an outcry among those that would see the old buildings preserved. At present, the demolition is on hold until further studies to determine the sites’ historic value can be conducted.
The remains at American Flats have been a gathering hole for dirt bikers, graffiti artists, paint ballers and partyers for decades. Although one of the arguments for its destruction is the danger, few injuries or fatalities have been reported in its 89 year history. According to an article in the Reno News and Review, soon after the 1922 operation began, at least one worker, Rodie Sheeke, was killed after an ore train failed to stop when it was supposed to and crushed him against an ore dump. In 1935, firefighter George Harris died while working a fire at American Flat. A quick internet search only produced only one mention of a more recent death; it seems someone tried to drive somewhere not meant for vehicles back in the 1990s.
Back in April of this year, G and I went along with members of the Reno Paranormal Group and the Metaphysical Learning Center (formerly the Sierra Psychic Academy) on a daylight investigation of the building out at American Flats. G and I spent most of our time in the underground tunnels, heard some sounds of footsteps crunching gravel, had the distinct impression of a presence near us and caught an EVP near one of the flooded areas. That said; we had to throw out all our data. The wind whistling through the tunnels, along with the sounds of distant motorcycles contaminated pretty much most of my recordings. As for the “presence”, it’s creepy in those underground tunnels, and I have an active imagination. I caught nothing on film, although another investigator had some interesting light anomalies show up on her pictures.
Is American Flats haunted? Who knows, I certainly don’t. One thing I do know, I fell in love with the place. Whether one sees the mill remains as an eye-sore or a thing of beauty, there is no denying that these relics of the past will not go quietly into the night. American Flats maintains a stark and dramatic beauty and continues to attract much attention from seekers of the curious.