Sierra County Ghost Town

Lake Valley revives mining past

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As you walk around the ghost town at Lake Valley, you can almost feel the presence of the miners, saloon keepers, teachers, preachers and others who inhabited this once bustling mining town. The Lake Valley Historic Townsite is located about 30 miles northwest of Hatch.

It preserves the remnants of a town that at one time had about 4,000 people, more than a dozen saloons, four churches and two newspapers. A series of mines were used to extract tons of silver at Lake Valley. Later, manganese, which is used to make high-quality steel, was mined, creating a revival for the town.

“It’s the best little ghost town in the middle of nowhere you will find,” said Dan Peeler, an onsite volunteer and host who lives at Lake Valley with his wife, Alison.

The town’s heyday was from 1878 to 1893, when silver prices crashed, Peeler said. A huge fire destroyed much of the town’s business district in 1895 and it was never rebuilt, Peeler said. The last permanent resident left in 1994.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management preserves and manages the site. It is free to visit, but donations are encouraged. Lake Valley now only has 10 buildings that are still standing in various conditions. An easy three-quarter of a mile walking tour will take you around what’s left of the town.

Two of the buildings – the town’s second schoolhouse and a church – can be walked into and contain authentic furnishings that take you back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Both the schoolhouse and church have received some work to stabilize and shore them up, but they are the original buildings, Peeler said.

The schoolhouse –  the second in the town’s history –  was built in 1904 and was used until 1960. It contains desks, books, a bellows organ and other historic items. About half of the old schoolhouse is now used as a museum, showcasing a school bell, glassware, old oil cans, tools and other items documenting what life was like at Lake Valley.

“Everything here was either found here or donated by someone who used to live here,” Peeler said.  “They are all artifacts that have to do with Lake Valley. These aren’t artifacts from other towns.”

The church was built around 1920 and contains authentic pews and an organ. There are plans to do some rehabilitation work on the justice of the peace’s house and open that up to the public in the next few years, Peeler said.

“This is something you won’t forget,” Peeler said.

 “I will let you touch things most museums don’t,” he added. “You will remember that a lot more than something that is behind a velvet rope.”

There are seven other buildings you can see by doing the self-guided tour. Several – including the old Conoco gas station –  are on private property. You can view these buildings from the outside and take photos, but they are posted and fenced off.

Other buildings that are on BLM land, you can walk right up to them, touch them and look through the windows. You can see things like ornate wallpaper that was common back in those days, some furniture, desks and tools.

The grounds are also full of artifacts, like glassware, shards of broken teacups, nails and industrial equipment. You are free touch artifacts, but you aren’t allowed to take anything home and you must put them back where you found them. One highlight is an antique car –  a 1935 Plymouth PJ Deluxe –  that is along part of the walking trail.

Peeler and his wife are available to answer questions at the schoolhouse/museum. He will also take you out on a free, guided tour if you want.

“My message is: Come see it,” Peeler said. “I will take you on a trip to the early 1900s. I will tell you both dramatic and funny stories that all are historically accurate. I guarantee you will enjoy yourself if you come here. It is a hidden gem.”

Lake Valley got its name because at one time, the valley had some lakes, Peeler said. But they dried up after dams were built at Caballo Lake and Percha Creek, he added.

Carty Carson, district park ranger for the Las Cruces District Office for the BLM, said visitors can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to the entire day exploring the history of Lake Valley.

“It’s a little jewel,” Carson said.

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