Not your typical ghost town

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It may not seem like much today, but at the turn of the century the boomtown of Rhyolite was the talk of Nevada. Gold was discovered there in 1904, and by 1907 the town had 10,000 residents, three railroads stopped there and by comparison the tiny desert outpost of Las Vegas was little more than a waystation for people on their way to Rhyolite.

Unlike most boom towns, though, Rhyolite was more than a tent city and a few scattered structures -- assuming their town was destined to be the next major city on the ever-expanding map of the American West, they built Rhyolite to last. It featured a grid of streets, a railroad depot, a two-story schoolhouse, a three-story concrete bank, and at least 50 saloons. (This proliferation of watering holes explains why Rhyolite boasted three houses made from cemented-together beer and champagne bottles, one of which still stands.)

The bottle house:
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As a result, a number of structures remain, and wandering its now-desolate streets one gets a sense of what it must've been like to live here. But just as quickly as Rhyolite boomed, it went bust: in 1908, the mines began to peter out, and the double-whammy of the San Francisco earthquake (1906) and the financial panic of 1907 effectively dried up investment money which might've searched for new mines. By 1910, the population was down to 675, they turned the lights and power off in 1916 and by 1920 just twenty people eked out their lives in there -- in the dark -- some of whom are buried in its cemetery. (The ghost cemetery of a ghost town; yes, it's as creepy and evocative as it sounds. See pictures.)

A wooden grave marker in Rhyolite cemetery:
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These days, Rhyolite is the site of occasional movie shoots (a scene from Michael Bay's The Island was shot here) and serves as a potent warning to would-be investors of every stripe: before you build in concrete, test the market with a tent city first.

More pictures after the jump!

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March 8, 2007 - 9:00am
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