here for the Silver Reef Photo Gallery!
Reef is situated in Washington County, eighteen miles
northeast of St. George. Its elevation is 4,000 feet above
sea level. It once was a bustling mining town, and there
are many folklore stories concerning the founding of the
town. Silver was discovered by John Kemple in spring of
1866 in a rock formation to the west of Silver Reef. However,
unable to find the source of the silver vein, Kemple moved
to Nevada. In 1874 he returned and set up the Harrisburg
Mining District. Kemple went on to locate many claims;
however, none were ever developed.
1875 there was a furry of prospecting in the area. News
of silver ore in the local sandstone rock drew the attention
of the Walker brothers, Salt Lake City bankers. They grubstaked
a noted prospector, William T. Barbee. By late 1875, twenty-one
potentially rich claims were staked, and Barbee set up
a town called Bonanza City.
there was a small cluster of business operations in Bonanza
City, property values were high. Miners, finding land
cheaper to the north, set up a tent city on a rocky section
of land known as the "Rockpile."
November of 1875 the mines in Pioche, Nevada, were closed,
and miners and merchants came to the new silver fields,
renaming the "Rockpile" Silver Reef. A town sprang up
almost overnight. Sturdy buildings were erected for nine
grocery stores, six saloons, a newspaper, and five restaurants.
laborers fresh off railroad work drifted into Silver Reef,
setting up their own Chinatown. The town's population
advanced to over 1,500 during the peak years of 1878 to
1882. There were six mills in operation, averaging over
a million dollars output per year. But, as was the case
with most western mining towns, the day of reckoning came.
Three factors came into play in 1881 to bring the end
of the boom. First, the world silver market dropped. Second,
the mines filled with water faster than it could be pumped
out. And, finally, the mine stockholders lowered the miners'
wages. Most of the mines were closed by 1884 and the town
died. Attempts to revitalize came in 1898, 1909, 1916,
and 1950. All failed. Today, remains of historic Silver
Reef can be seen, while a few modern houses have been
constructed in the vicinity.