Friday, November 18, 2011

Early History of Silver Reef

Large-scale mining in Silver Reef started up in the 1870s, but some small-scale mining had been done prior to the 1870s. Some historians believe that the silver in the Silver Reef Mining District was first discovered by the Spanish in the 1400s. They base this on an early map of the district discovered in the 20th century. If this is true, for some unknown reasons, the Spaniards abandoned their mining claims and the area went unexploited for over two centuries.

Historians aren't entirely sure when the 19th century discovery of silver in Silver Reef was made, but most accept the story of John Kemple. In the fall of 1866, John Kemple passed through the area on his way to Nevada, possibly to do some mining there. While in Southern Utah, he stayed with a friend, Orson B. Adams. Although Southern Utah was an unlikely place to find any kind of pay ore, Kemple brought with him some basic prospecting and assaying tools.

Two stories describing the discovery stem from this point. One says that on a cold day, a fire was lit in the Adams's fireplace, and a silver stream came oozing out of one of the heated sandstone rocks that made up the fireplace. Kemple immediately identified it to be pure silver, and the next day he managed to locate where the sandstone rock had come from.

The other story says that while walking around the Adams's property, Kemple came upon some silver float material. The assay value of this initial discovery is unknown, but it apparently wasn't enough to keep Kemple in the area, as he soon left for Nevada.

Regardless of which story is true, Kemple returned to the area in February of 1871 with a group of miners and established the Union Mining District. Only 16 claims were staked, however, and the Union Mining District, for reasons unknown, was abandoned. Three years later, in 1874, Kemple returned again and reorganized the old Union Mining District as the Harrisburg Mining District. A few months after the Harrisburg Mining District had been organized, Kemple hadn't struck much high-grade silver, so he sold his claims. He remained in the area until 1879, when he moved to Beaver County.*

In 1875, the Walker brothers, bankers from Salt Lake City who often invested in mines, sent William Barbee to the Silver Reef area to stake claims. Barbee had staked claims for the Walkers in Ophir, another Utah mining town, a few years earlier, and had much experience in the field of prospecting. Soon, Barbee had staked over 20 claims, and in December, he wrote a story for The Salt Lake Tribune describing his finds and encouraging miners to come to the area.

Anticipating a silver rush, Barbee established a town near the mines and called it Bonanza City. By early 1876, Bonanza City had become a sizable locale; however, property values there were too high for the average miner to afford, so most miners set up a tent settlement north of Bonanza City. As more people came into the area, the tent settlement grew larger, and the place was called Silver Reef.

Next time, we'll discuss the boom period of Silver Reef, so stay tuned!

*According to an autobiography written by John Kemple's son, John Orson Kemple

Friday, July 29, 2011

About Jon and the Wells Fargo Silver Reef Museum

Hello, Silver Reef fans! I'm Jon Alvey, a teenage history enthusiast from the Ogden area who is especially interested in the history of Silver Reef. I first found out about Silver Reef while doing a research project for Wikipedia in 2009, and since then, my interest in Silver Reef has expanded into a passion. As I was doing research one day, I discovered that Silver Reef had a museum, the Wells Fargo Silver Reef Museum. I was able to visit the museum in the summer of 2011, and I'm planning on going back again soon. Silver Reef has a very rich history behind it, and I feel as though this history should be preserved through the reconstruction and preservation of old Silver Reef. Now that you know a little about me, let's discuss the Wells Fargo Silver Reef Museum.

The Wells Fargo Silver Reef Museum is located in the oldest Wells Fargo & Company Express office in existence. This particular office was constructed in 1877 and contains two separate rooms with side rooms in each of the two main rooms. The Woolley, Lund & Judd Mercantile occupied the south half of the building, while Wells Fargo & Company occupied the north half of the office. The Wells Fargo side operated as both a stage stop and a bank. Visitors to the museum can still see the old strongbox, safe, and bank vault, and can walk into the bank vault.

The museum features several items telling the story of not only Silver Reef, but of the Old West, as well. On display in the northern half of the building are several items of the time period, some of which were found in Silver Reef. Also on display are historical images and elk horns said to be from the Elkhorn Saloon, which operated in Silver Reef from about 1877 to the mid-late 1890s. In the next room over are fossils and rock samples taken from the area and several ore processing items that were typically found in the mills in Silver Reef. At the western end of the room, the original door for the Silver Reef jail is on display, as are historical images of Silver Reef.

The half which housed the Woolley, Lund & Judd Mercantile is used as both an art gallery and a gift shop. The gift shop sells Silver Reef-related post cards, jewelry, "Native American Paiute" Rock Art, and much more. The art gallery displays art work by Jerry Anderson and other local artists. A small building behind the museum houses models of old Silver Reef, Silver Reef's mills, and Silver Reef's Catholic Church. The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day except Wednesday. The museum is located at 1903 Wells Fargo Road, and can be contacted at 435-879-2254 or by email at

The Wells Fargo & Company Express office is Silver Reef's only original building. The original Rice building, located just south of the Wells Fargo office, burned down, and was reconstructed in 1991. The Cosmopolitan Restaurant, located north of the Wells Fargo office, was reconstructed in the 1990s and is currently not operating; however, efforts to reopen the restaurant are underway. The many foundations that line the streets of Silver Reef tell the story of an old mining town that has survived through all these years. Two cemeteries, a Catholic and a Protestant cemetery, are also located in town.

Next time, we'll discuss the history of Silver Reef. Stay tuned!