“Empire City” A Nevada Ghost Town

The Comstock Gold Rush brought thousands of people (mostly men at first) over the Sierra Nevada Mountains from California where the Gold had become scarce and hard to find.

Many of the early arrivals from the Golden State had disappointing results so they returned home. Those who stayed sent for their families. Once reunited, they settled in what became the State of Nevada in 1864, also known as “The Silver State.”

Many small towns were quickly built during this time as the population in the area exploded with the news of the Gold and Silver strikes in and around Virginia City, Nevada

From its birth, Empire City was primarily a milling town. Companies erected large stamp mills to process ore from area mines.  Because of its location on the Carson River, it also served as a terminus for lumber that sent down the river from Alpine County, California. The lumber was essential to provide fuel for the mines and mills and for new construction of homes and businesses as the area’s population rapidly grew.

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“Dutch Nicks” Hotel & Map of Empire City from the General Land Office Rectangular Survey            May 16, 1862

Not much was  written about Empire City. The history is pieced together with a few bits and pieces of information which I have attempted to put in chronological order below.

In the early 1850’s a man named Nicholas Ambrose (or Ambrosia) also known as “Dutch Nick” opened up a way station on the old emigrant trail along the Carson River. The station which consisted of a hotel and a saloon became known as “Dutch Nick’s,”

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Empire City and proximity to the Morgan, Mexican and Brunswick Mills (excerpt of outline map of Washoe District, NV 1879) Courtesy of U.N.R.

Frank Rechter, formerly of Franktown, Washoe County, immigrated to Empire City (then just a trading post) where he died in the late 1850’s.

In September of 1857, two merchants who supplied the territory on the eastern Sierra Nevada were accosted by Indians, one being killed during the event. They were said to have been “packing goods for “Dutch Nick,” who keeps a trading post on the road between here (Genoa) and Gold Canon.”

 

 

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Map of the Washoe Silver Region (including Empire City & Merrimac Mill) (H.H. Bancroft & Co. May, 1862)

1859: Gold and Silver were discovered in the area of Virginia City, Nevada. New communities east of Carson City began to emerge. With the rapidly increasing population, housing became critical. There was a lack of readily available lumber to build homes and businesses.

In November of 1859, a saw mill, “Colburn’s” was up and running in Eagle Valley (near Carson City).

On December 4, 1860, the County Court of Carson County, Utah Territory: “Ordered that the survey of “Empire City” made May 1860 by Barker & McBride, for Wm. H. Mead, and Nicholas Ambrosier (AKA Ambrose, Ambrosia, “Dutch Nick”) be approved specially.”

The order christened the official birth of Empire City.

In June, 1861, news came that a “New Sixteen-Stamp Quartz Mill” was under construction by “Atchinson and Harrington” on the Carson River, just above Dutch Nick’s.

August, 1861: The population in the area of Empire City, including the Sullivan Mining District, and the inhabitants for ten miles along the river totaled 285.

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A letter to the Sacramento Daily Union published September 3, 1861, stated: “Journeying onward from this point (Carson City), the first stretch of three miles over a sage plain, (mostly a deep sand) brings us to Empire City, a hamlet, recently sprung up on the banks of the Carson River.”

 

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Empire City Circa 1910

Camels which were referred to as “Nevada’s ships of the deserts,” were imported to Nevada to carry salt to the area’s mines and mills.

In September of 1861, several Camels were reported to have been seen “in the vicinity of Empire City” on their way to Washoe Lake.

October, 1861, the Nevada Legislature set the boundaries of the Third District for Congressional Representation to be “within Eagle Valley, Carson City, Empire City, etc.”

Later that month the first murder in the new town of Empire City occurred at a ball which was being held at “Dutch Nick’s” in Empire City, the victim’s name was Juan Gonzales

In late August or early September, 1868, a Jewish pioneer from California named Solomon Wagenheim, floated the largest drive of lumber in the town’s history, 15,000 cords of wood.

November of 1868: a story in the San Francisco Bulletin, was published which read: “Five miles from here (Carson City) is Empire City, with its 300 inhabitants and its two big mills, the Yellow Jacket and the Mexican – the latter crumbling in idleness and the former pounding away night and day.”

At the east end of Empire City is a hill. Atop the hill sits the “Empire Cemetery” which has also been called the “New Empire Cemetery” and “New Brunswick Cemetery.”

This site was chosen to be the cemetery because of its elevated location. The hill would prevent the flood water from damaging the graves when the Carson River overflowed its banks in the spring.

It also was a safe distance from the heavy traffic which ran through the town often carrying heavy loads of Ores and supplies to and from the Comstock mines in nearby Virginia City.

June 10, 1871: The land on which the cemetery is located is part of the Northwest quarter of the Northeast quarter of Section 11, Township 15 North and range 20 east. This part of Section 11 and the South half of the Northwest quarter of Section 11 was patented by the U.S. to S. H. (Samuel Huntington) Wright.

1894: Rebecca Ambrose sold the remainder of the Ambrose lands at Empire City to her son Charles “Ab” Ambrose

1920: There is a question as to the legitimacy of the title to the land.

An explanation of the ownership of the land which Empire City was built upon was written by C. A. Ambrose:

“Ambrose Ranch and Town of Empire, Explaining the Town of Empire.”

“The Ambrose Ranch was taken up in 1849 by Nicholas Ambrose, and owned and lived on by him until his death.” He further wrote: “On the Carson River in the year 1860, One half of one part of this land lying along where the railroad runs today was sold by him to Wm. Read, Stebbins and Hall. Record shows that a town was started in 1860.

Later, when Nevada became a State, and land was surveyed a patent was issued to Judge S. H. Wright, then District Judge for this District [Second Judicial District] for the people, and lots or Deeds to lots was given by him in the Town of Empire and money received for said lots were turned over to Mead, Stebbins, Hall and Ambrose from this part of the Ranch.All the balance that was left was deeded to H. Ambrose by Judge Wright in one large tract that was claimed of and is today and has been since 1849 part of the Ambrose Ranch….”

This was the method in which Federal Town-Site Patents were issued by county or district judges at the time. This would explain why S. H. Wright received a patent for land at Empire, except, according to the Bureau of Land Management the patent was not a Town-Site Patent.

The B.L.M. stated that it was a Cash Entry sale. By Federal Statute, in a Federal Town-Site Patent, the judge would have had to have kept out the land on which the cemetery was located for the benefit of the public.* This provision of the law also applied to land on which a school had been built and any other publicly used lands (including streets and highways.)

The Cemetery is the only piece of Empire City that remains today. I drove up the hill to visit the Cemetery (which is now located above a Waste Management Depot, and next to a rock & gravel company) and parked on the dirt round in front of the makeshift turnstile, I was surprised to see the numerous gothic style enclosures and beautifully carved headstones which marked many of the graves.

I cleaned the lens of my camera just before I took the photos in the cemetery. When I got home and transferred them to my computer, I noticed a few strange blurry spots in some of the pictures…I guess that is to be expected when visiting the cemetery of a ghost town.

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