Eureka County history: The little railroads

Historians note that except for a few Spanish explorers in the 1540s into parts of Southern Nevada, and some sporadic visits by trappers of the Hudson Bay Company between 1800-1820, it may be said that white men never saw most of what today comprises the state of Nevada until 1826.

Then, for the next two decades, men like Jedediah Smith, Joe Walker, Col. John C. Fremont, and Kit Carson traversed the territory.

So did some of the wagon trains bound for California. The first recorded group was the Bartelson-Bidwell party of 1841.

The Pacific coast was the goal of many in the western migration. It took many months from St. Louis to the western territories. Railroad owners had an idea of how to make it easier, and a way to make a profit, too.

The idea of a transcontinental railroad was suggested in Congress in 1845, just before the Mexican-American War diverted attention more toward Mexico. And even that was not a new idea. Talks of such a venture had been voiced as early as the 1830s.

In 1853, a Pacific Railroad Survey was authorized and routes even designated. But the Civil War brought the need to bind California to the Union cause became even more apparent. On July 1,1862, President Lincoln signed the Pacific Railroad Act and the first transcontinental railroad was born.

Everyone the story of the competition between the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific to lay the most track, and of the completion of the railroad at Promontory Point, Utah May 10, 1869 with the driving of the Golden Spike.

Move ahead now to the mining towns of Nevada years later, towns like Virginia City, Eureka, Hamilton and numerous other places with the growth of their operations, they needed a railhead to get their process ore to various markets.

Author James Hulse noted that “railroads like the Central Pacific and Northern Pacific, even the small ones like the Eureka-Palisade line and others changed the character of western and northern Nevada. This mechanized form of transportation made it much easier to reach those regions, and it became less difficult to supply the miners, cattlemen, and ranchers with the necessities and comforts of life.”

In Eureka County, the mining industry was booming, but transportation of the processed ore out of the area was a problem, being so far from a rail head.

Stepping forward were two stage/freight owners, Gilmer and Salisbury, J.P. Washington from Hamilton, along with a few others banded together to form the Eureka and Palisade Railroad Organization in 1873.

In his book Railroads of Nevada, Vol. 1, author David Myrick has a full chapter on the Eureka & Palisade route and notes that Palisade, 10 miles west of Carlin, was on the Central Pacific mainline, but it was 84 miles north of Eureka. Building a railroad would be a monumental task but it was done and the line was opened amid great ceremony and fanfare on October 22, 1875.

By 1885, ore deposits in Eureka had been exhausted, and although the railroad continued to operate until it fell victim to the Great Depression in 1938.

 

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