Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Silver City: The Old West, frozen in time

Historic Idaho ghost town is a popular late-summer road tr

Express Staff Writer

Silver City, once a bustling mining town, is now an important piece of Idaho history. Photo by David N. Seelig

For the casual traveler, motoring about on any of Idaho's many backcountry roads in search of fascinat-ing destinations, the odds of accidentally coming across the remote ghost town of Silver City are highly unlikely.

Located deep within the rugged Owyhee Mountains in extreme southwest Idaho and accessed by only two maintained dirt roads, Silver City (elevation 6,180 feet) is about as off the grid as anyplace in the state. At such a high elevation, heavy snows typically block access to the town from sometime in October to May or June.

Though quite remote in terms of distance from ma-jor population centers, Silver City's isolation should not deter visitors. In the American West, few other places exist so perpetually frozen in time. Arguably the grandest of Idaho's many ghost towns, Silver City's history is long and storied. Sometime around 1865, massive deposits of silver were discovered high in the Owyhee Mountains on 8,051-foot War Eagle Mountain. Prospectors also discovered large gold deposits in the nearby mountains. The discovery of the rich ore depos-its led to the quick establishment of Silver City. Nearby mines would eventually produce about $60 mil-lion in precious metals. Silver City grew into a bus-tling town, topping out at about 2,500 hardy souls. From 1866 to 1934, the city held the distinction of being the Owyhee County seat. It also had the first telegraph and first daily newspaper in the territory.

Unlike many of Idaho's former mining boomtowns that, due to the ravishes of time and heavy winter snows, have faded away into the dusty, cobwebbed con-fines of history, Silver City still looks much the same as it did so many years ago. Of the hundreds of build-ings that stood in Silver City during its heyday—in-cluding eight saloons, six general stores, a Masonic Lodge, a Catholic Church and a hospital—about 75 structures of varying levels of intactness exist today. The crowing glory of these buildings is the exquisite, antique-filled Idaho Hotel. Built in 1866, the Idaho Ho-tel once rang with the sounds of newly arrived, for-tune-seeking miners.

Like many mining boomtowns in the West, the population of Silver City declined over time, but unlike the majority of them the town was never abandoned. Today the local population fluctuates from season to season. Even through the long winters, Silver City has at least one hardy resident to keep an eye on things.

Because of its remoteness, Silver City hasn't become the kitschy tourist draw that so many other pseudo ghost towns throughout the West have. Indeed, Silver City is the real thing, down to its intact faded board-walks, cemeteries, barbershop and bathhouse. Walking the dusty streets and boardwalks leaves visitors feeling they stepped into a time warp. They half expect to see a stagecoach charge round the bend, ready to deposit another load of miners chasing dreams of gold and sil-ver.

Modern-day fortune seekers still arrive in Silver City, but they come in search of treasures of another kind. These visitors are lured by the town's perfectly preserved charm and Old West feel.

How to get there:

The most direct route from the Sun Valley area is through Murphy, Idaho. The director of the Owyhee County Museum in Murphy, Thomas Couch, said the route starting near Murphy is a well-maintained two-lane dirt road. However, the county doesn't maintain the roads within the town, so visitors to Silver City should use a four-wheel drive vehicle as a precaution. Visitors should also fill their gas tanks before arriving in Silver City, as there are no gas stations within the town or nearby.

From Ketchum, take state Highway 75 south to Shoshone, turning west onto state Highway 26. After 27 miles, join I-84 for 100 miles until reaching Nampa. Drive south of Nampa on state Highway 45 for 14 miles to the intersection with state Highway 78. Take High-way 78 southeast for another 15 miles, passing through Murphy, until the intersection with the Silver City Road on the right (south) side of the highway. From there, it's 21 miles to Silver City, with the first five of those miles on paved surfaces. The 240-mile drive takes about five hours. It is advisable to check road condi-tions by calling (208) 583-4104 before departure.

What to do:

While all visitors are free to walk around the town and visit the store and hotel, the historic homes in Sil-ver City are not open to the public. However, an annual open house is held on the second weekend after Labor Day when 10 residences open their doors.

Where to stay:

Accommodations are available at the Idaho Hotel in Silver City. There are 12 rooms at a rate of $75 per room or $150 for the Empire suite. The hotel is typi-cally open through the second weekend in October. Call (208) 583-4104 for reservations. Visit for further details.

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2023 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.