Strange Geographies: the Forgotten High School of Goldfield, Nevada

Ransom Riggs

At the turn of the last century, Goldfield was a mining boomtown -- prospectors were pulling millions of dollars worth of ore out of the ground each year, and with a population that ballooned to more than 30,000 by 1904, it was the largest town in the state of Nevada. It was a classic Old West success story: gun-slinging heroes like Wyatt Earp trod its wooden sidewalks, and in a society where the real measure of a town's worth was its bar-and-whorehouse scene, Goldfield had the rest beat: Tex Rickard's Northern Saloon had a bar so long it required 80 bartenders to run it. Of course, I wouldn't be writing about Goldfield if everything had kept going like gangbusters. By 1920s, the gold mines had started to peter out, and in 1923 a moonshine still exploded and started a fire that took most of the town's wooden buildings with it. Today about 400 people remain in Goldfield, a semi-ghost town set among the barren wastes of Nevada's high desert, surrounded by ghost stories and empty buildings -- many of which are impressive stone and brick structures that survived the 1923 fire.

One of those buildings is Goldfield High School, built during the boom years in 1907. It graduated its last class in 1952, and has stood proud but shuttered ever since, impressive on the outside, decaying within. Over the past few years, a small team of dedicated volunteers has begun trying to save the high school, but restoring it to its former glory is a gargantuan task. Vandals and the elements have had their way with the building for many years, and it will take many more to lift it from the beautiful state of decay it's in today.

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The first thing you notice is a fascinating jumble of layers and textures -- peeled paint, fallen-away plaster, warped and weathered boards and the wooden guts of walls that were never meant to be exposed, all creating this insane, ancient-looking pattern of wear.

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The second-floor hallway, and one of many open or broken windows. Anything with wings or a ladder can get inside.

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The school's main staircase is probably its most impressive feature. Creaking and lacking a few crucial banisters, its a little scary -- but beautiful nonetheless.

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Anyone interested in helping out the Goldfield High School volunteers -- with work, donations, or anything else -- can email them here or leave a message at 775-485-3788.

Check out more Strange Geographies columns here.

If you'd like a print of one of these photos, they're available here.

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