John R. Beyer
I had never heard of the town of Ely at the intersections of Highways 50, 6, and 93 in what could be described as central- eastern Nevada until my buddy, Paul, told me about the annual Silver State Classic Challenge.
I like challenges — only the ones for which I will be the victor.
This challenge is centered around closing State Route 318 south of Ely so people with rather awesome vehicles can drive like bats out of something for ninety miles.
The real challenge is that each driver must keep to a strict speed and time — never increasing or decreasing the speed and adhering to the registered time limit for the entire 90 miles.
Paul’s brother-in-law had a new car capable of about 600 miles per hour. They both had fun but did end up with permanent grimaces due to the ‘G’ forces for 90mmiles at such a high speed.
As life sometimes works, I was there within a year of Paul telling me about Ely. Not for the Silver State Classic Challenge but because Ely was the mid-point between the High Desert and Meridian, Idaho.
It seemed like a logical place to stop for the night while on the way to visit our new grandson in Meridian.
“It is logical to stop here,” I told Laureen.
“You sound like Mr. Spock,” she replied.
“My ears are rounded.”
Ely was founded in 1878 by J.W. Long, who came west from Vermont to find his riches. Long did find gold in the hills and valleys near Ely but what is more interesting is how the town became known as Ely.
There are many versions of this tale.
Long came from Ely, Vermont. Long was sent west by New York Congressman with the surname of Ely as a historian. Smith Ely was also a Vermont resident who helped finance one of the early mining endeavors in the area. And a John Ely from Illinois came to this part of the country to also mine and make a fortune.
Rather confusing, there is no one solid reason for Ely to be known as Ely. Long should have called it Long and let it go.
“We’ll call it Long, after me,” Long should have said to anyone.
Anyone would have only nodded and replied, “Humph, that is a logical name for a town founded by you and less confusing in the future.”
The original route to Ely was the rough trail scouted and utilized by Howard Egan in 1855 to move herds of cattle. Egan would drive the cattle between Salt Lake City and California to market. Though other explorers had not used the high mountains since it was considered too dangerous, Egan had found many passes through those same mountains saving time instead of having to skirt the entire ranges during his cattle movement.
This trail would later become known as the Central Overland Route.
With the construction of the Selby Copper Mining and Smelting Company in the same year the town was founded, Ely began to grow slowly. At the time, there was little interest in copper since most miners were looking for gold or silver.
In 1887, the Nevada State Legislature designated Ely as the White Pine County seat of government. That was a huge feather in the cap for such a small town, and in November of 1887, a post office was opened — another feather in that Ely cap.
Since the Central Overland Route ran right through Ely, the route was used by early travelers going to and from Salt Lake City, Utah, or Carson City, Nevada.
The Pony Express used this same route for its young riders.
Ely served as a stagecoach station for folks traveling through the area. Soon the town began to increase both in population and buildings. With the completion of the Nevada Northern Railway in 1906, Ely became the transportation hub for emigrants, mail, freight, and passengers between California, Nevada, and Utah.
In the same year, more copper was located, and with the railroad, transportation of the mineral was far more accessible than previously over the rutted trail.
A copper boom had begun.
Soon, from a modest population of only 300 people, the town quickly grew to over five thousand.
It should be noted that when the last railroad spike was driven into the last rail in Ely on September 26, 1906, the whole town was there and declared it ‘Railroad Day.’ The celebration lasted three days — they knew how to party at the turn of the twentieth century.
Today, Ely has nearly 4,000 citizens living there.
As we drove north along Highway 93 toward Ely, Laureen and I were amazed at how green the mountains were.
“I love greenery,” I stated.
“That’s because we live in a desert,” she replied.
Soon, we entered the city limits and, before stopping at the hotel, decided to mosey about this mountain burg which sits at nearly six thousand five hundred feet in elevation.
Cruising along the main street, also known as East Aultman or Highway 50, we were impressed at how quiet and quaint the town looked.
Again, it was like stepping back in time — in a good way, not to the time of mullets or beehive hairdos.
Red brick buildings lined the wide main avenue. The residential streets were littered with houses with large front porches where family and friends could gather. Sidewalks where folks could walk and wave at those family and friends who were supposed on the front porches.
I felt as if I were in Mayberry, and Aunt Bee would soon invite us up for a shot of an adult liberation on the front porch.
The whole place had a homey and neighborly feeling — it was comfortable.
Though the population is not huge, the town felt the hustle and bustle without the noise and anxiety found in many other places we have visited.
Ely had a certain ‘chill factor to it.
We drove to the very large Nevada Northern Railway Museum, a National Historic Landmark, and spent quite a bit wandering here and there.
According to the museum: ‘The Nevada Northern has been acclaimed as the best-preserved railroad complex in North America. It is well worth the journey for railfans, history buffs, and those who are generally curious.
The site is enormous with original steam locomotives, passenger cars, transportation cars, and so much more for those interested in the history of the railroad and how the railroad changed the country.
And who would not be interested?
Visitors can arrange to spend the night in the museum, the original depot – I am sure it is haunted and if not, should be. There are train excursions taking folks on a ninety-minute train ride through the mountains with stops at ghost towns — see more haunting places. And something called the Railroad Reality Week, a full immersion experience — no idea what that means but sounds interesting. And so much more at this museum for everyone.
Speaking of ghost towns on the train ride, there are numerous towns within an easy drive from Ely, like Lane City, Hamilton, Treasure City, Taylor, and No Ghosts Here City.
Like many places I visit that are out of the way, many events happen all year-round, drawing locals and visitors from all over the state, country, and world.
There’s the Eli Film Festival for the more artsy folks, the three-day Fire and Ice Winter Festival for those who relish three-day festivals, the Race the Rails bicycle race for those who enjoy seeing if they can beat trains through the railroad crossings, the White Pine County Fair and Horseraces for those who visit fairs and horseraces, and the Search for Sasquatch Outing.
A lot to do in this town which also boasts some fine restaurants, hotels, and other amenities for those just traveling through or planning to stay a few days.
According to the White Pine County website, ‘From the spectacular grandeur of the Great Basin National Park to the quiet serenity of Cave Lake State Park . . . From the historic mining towns of McGill and Ruth to the 24 — hour nightlife of Ely . . . We have a wonderful place to visit and live.’
And I believe they do.
Unfortunately, we did not have the luxury of spending much time in Ely since we were on a mission to Idaho, but it is a town that will beckon us back during various seasons to see what more we can see.
Traveling is like that — sometimes one can spend time, and sometimes one must hit the black ribbon highway and make miles.
It should be noted that Ely is pronounced ‘Elee.’ Still, in deference to our first grandson, Elias — the town hugging so many highways in…