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Ely, Nevada And The Nevada Northern Railway

Ely (/ˈiːli/, Ee-lee) is the largest city and county seat of White Pine County, Nevada. Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. In 1906 copper was discovered. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50. The railroads connecting the transcontinental railroad to the mines in Austin, Nevada and Eureka, Nevada have long been removed, but the railroad to Ely is preserved as a heritage railway by the Nevada Northern Railway and known as the Ghost Train of Old Ely. As of the 2020 census, the population was 3,924.


In 1878, Vermont resident J. W. Long came to White Pine County and soon set up a camp known as "Ely", after discovering gold.[6] The name "Ely" has been credited to several possible origins: Long's hometown of Ely, Vermont;[7] a New York Congressman with the surname Ely, who sent Long as a representative according to local historians;[6] Smith Ely, a Vermont native who financed one of the city's early mineral operations;[7][8] and John Ely, an Illinois native who came to Nevada for mining.

Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906. This made Ely a mining town, suffering through the boom-and-bust cycles so common in the West. Originally, Ely was home to a number of copper mining companies, Kennecott Utah Copper being the most famous. With a crash in the copper market in the mid-1970s, Kennecott shut down and copper mining disappeared (temporarily).

With the advent of cyanide heap leaching—a method of extracting gold from what was previously considered very low-grade ore—the next boom was on. Many companies processed the massive piles of "overburden" that had been removed from copper mines, or expanded the existing open-pit mines to extract the gold ore. Gold mines as widespread as the Robinson project near Ruth, and AmSelco's Alligator Ridge mine 65 miles (105 km) from Ely, kept the town alive during the 1980s and 1990s, until the recent revival of copper mining.

As Kennecott's smelter was demolished, copper concentrate from the mine is now shipped by rail to Seattle, where it is transported to Japan for smelting. The dramatic increase in demand for copper in 2005 has once again made Ely a copper boom town.

The now-defunct BHP Nevada Railroad ran from the mining district south of Ruth through Ely to the junction with the Union Pacific at Shafter from 1996 to 1999.

Geography and climate

Ely is 77 miles east of Eureka, Nevada, 153 miles west of Delta, Utah, 105 miles north of Pioche, Nevada, 139 miles south of Wells, Nevada, and 120 miles south of West Wendover, Nevada.

Ely experiences a semi-arid climate (Köppen BSk), and extreme day-night temperature differences year-round. Ely's nighttime temperatures account for it being listed as one of the coldest places in the contiguous United States, with an average of 215 nights per year with a minimum temperature of 32 °F or less, 16 nights reaching 0 °F or less, and 22 days when the high does not top freezing. On average, the first and last dates of freezing temperatures are September 8 and June 18, respectively, allowing a growing season of only 79 days. Frosts have occurred in every month, even July. The diurnal temperature range of Ely is so great due to its elevation, dry air, clear skies, and location in a valley, allowing for intense radiative cooling at sunset, even after hot summer days.

The monthly mean temperature ranges from 26.7 °F in January to 69.3 °F in July. High temperatures of 90 °F or higher occur on an average of 29 days annually, but, due to the elevation and aridity, the low very rarely manages to stay at or above 60 °F. Extreme temperatures ranged from 101 °F on July 18, 1998 down to −30 °F on February 6, 1989.

On average, annual precipitation is 9.41 inches, with 73 days of measurable precipitation annually. The wettest calendar year is 1897 with 17.20 inches and the driest 1974 with 4.22 inches, though as much as 18.20 inches or 462.3 millimetres fell from July 1982 to June 1983. The most precipitation in one month was 5.52 inches in April 1900, and the most in 24 hours was 2.52 inches on September 26, 1982. Average annual snowfall is 54.1 inches, while the most snowfall in one month was 42.0 inches in March 1894, and the greatest depth of snow on the ground 24 inches on January 23, 2010 – though data from neighboring Elko suggest greater depths in the winters of 1889/1890, 1915/1916 and 1931/1932. An average winter will see a maximum snow cover of 9 inches, though the severe winter of 1951/1952 had fifty days with snow cover over 10 inches. The most snowfall in a season has been 110.4 inches from July 2010 to June 2011 and the least 12.1 inches from July 1950 to June 1951.


As of the census of 2000, there were 4,041 people, 1,727 households, and 1,065 families residing in the city. The population density was 566.8 people per square mile (218.8/km2). There were 2,205 housing units at an average density of 309.3 per square mile (119.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 89.14% White, 0.32% African American, 3.12% Native American, 1.09% Asian, 0.35% Pacific Islander, 3.71% from other races, and 2.28% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 12.35% of the population.

There were 1,727 households, out of which 28.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.4% were married couples living together, 10.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 38.3% were non-families. 33.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.30 and the average family size was 2.94.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 25.7% under the age of 18, 6.3% from 18 to 24, 23.8% from 25 to 44, 27.0% from 45 to 64, and 17.2% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females, there were 98.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,408, and the median income for a family was $42,168. Males had a median income of $36,016 versus $26,597 for females. The per capita income for the city was $17,013. About 11.3% of families and 12.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.0% of those under age 18 and 9.2% of those aged 65 or over.



Ely is a tourism center, and is home of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. The railroad museum features the Ghost Train of Old Ely, a working steam-engine passenger train that travels the historic tracks from Ely to the Robinson mining district.

Ely is the nearest city to the proposed site of the Clock of the Long Now on Mount Washington.

The historic six-story Hotel Nevada and Gambling Hall is in downtown Ely. Opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in Nevada until 1931 and was the state's first fire-proof building. It is a popular lodging, dining, gaming, and tourist stop.

The long stretch of road on State Route 318 near Ely is known for the annual 90 miles Silver State Classic Challenge course, an authorized time-trial Cannonball Run-style race that attracts entries from all over the world.

The Ely Renaissance Society is responsible for more than 20 outdoor murals and sculptures in the downtown area. Artists from all over the world have been commissioned to create images of area history, using different art styles. They also maintain a historical village consisting of a general store and several shotgun houses which display the history of the people that came to the area to work for the railroad and the mine.

Ely is also home to regional offices of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and Nevada Department of Wildlife, all of which have information and staff to help visitors enjoy the rich natural resources of the area.

Outdoors and recreation

The vast open spaces around Ely are popular with hikers, mountain bikers and cross country skiers.

Ely was the host of the 2016 National Speleological Society's annual convention. The Bureau of Land Management, operates an area supporting an elk herd south of town. The Ely Elk Viewing Area offers visitors the opportunity to see an elk community up close.


Starting in 1867, iron-rich gossans were mined for precious metals in Lane Valley west of Ely. The Aultman and Saxton Mines were operating by the 1870s. The Chainman Mine was developed by the 1890s and became the most productive in the area. Starting in 1903, copper was mined by the Giroux Consolidated Mining Company and by the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company in 1904. In 1913, Consolidated Copper Mines Company took over Giroux.

In 1936, Fulton and Smith first described magnesite, yet by 1942, when deposits were first studied no magnesite mining existed.

In 1943, Kennecott Copper Corporation took over Nevada Consolidated and by 1958 had consolidated all of the properties in the district.

KGHM International Ltd. owns a large copper mine, formerly owned by Quadra FNX, employing 510 people near Ely.


From 2006 through 2014, the UNLV Rebels football team of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas held training camp in Ely.



Commercial air service was available at Ely Airport until March 31, 2013. In 2011, the Ely Airport was frequently cited as one of the rural airports receiving federal subsidies through the Essential Air Service program.


  • U.S. Route 6

  • U.S. Route 50 (Ely is the eastern end of the portion of U.S. Route 50 known as "The Loneliest Road in America")

  • U.S. Route 93

The historic Lincoln Highway, the first road across America, went through Ely, entering town from the north on U.S. Route 93 and departing town to the west on U.S. Route 50.

Notable people

  • Patricia Nixon - Former first lady of the United States was born in Ely. Her father was a miner in the area and the family left when Patricia was two years old. Pat and her husband Richard Nixon visited the area during his 1952 vice-presidential campaign.

In popular culture

  • Operation Haylift (1950), by director William A. Berke, is about a historical event that took place in White Pine County.

  • Lust for Freedom (1987), a film directed by Eric Louzil.

  • Once Upon a Texas Train (1988), a television film directed by Burt Kennedy.

  • Roadside Prophets (1992), an independent film directed by Abbe Wool.

  • Guncrazy (1992), a film directed by Tamra Davis and starring Drew Barrymore.

  • Rat Race (2001), a film directed by Jerry Zucker, with its climactic scene shot in and around the restored train depot of the railway museum.

  • "Laying Low in Eli, Nevada" (2005), a song performed by David Dondero for his South of the South album.

  • My Blueberry Nights (2007), a film directed by Wong Kar-wai.

  • "Ely Nevada" (2008), a song performed by Ry Cooder for the My Blueberry Nights soundtrack.

  • Play Dead (2009), a film directed by Jason Wiles.

  • Paul (2011), Ely was portrayed in the film as the two main characters stopped for gas

Nevada Northern Railway

The Nevada Northern Railway (reporting mark NN) was a railroad in the U.S. state of Nevada, built primarily to reach a major copper producing area in White Pine County, Nevada. The railway, constructed in 1905–06, extended northward about 140 miles from Ely to connections with the Western Pacific Railroad at Shafter and Southern Pacific Railroad at Cobre. In 1967 NN reported 40 million net ton-miles of revenue freight on 162 miles of line. History The Nevada Northern owes its beginnings to the discovery and development of large porphyry copper deposits near Ely early in the 20th century. Two of the region's largest mines (including the Robinson Mine) were purchased in 1902 by Mark Requa, president of the Eureka and Palisade Railroad in central Nevada.

Requa then organized the White Pine Copper Company to develop his new properties, and it soon became evident that rail access to the isolated region would be essential to fully exploit the potential of the mines. Subsequent surveys indicated that the most practical route for such a railroad was northward from Ely, connecting with the Southern Pacific somewhere in the vicinity of Wells.

The Ely-area copper properties were further merged in 1904, forming the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company, and the Nevada Northern Railway was incorporated on June 1, 1905, to build a line connecting the Nevada Consolidated mines and smelter to the national rail network. The task of building the new railroad was contracted to the Utah Construction Company, which began work on September 11, 1905. Construction began at Cobre, where the Nevada Northern connected with the Southern Pacific, and proceeded southward. The line was finished a year later, its completion marked by a two-day celebration in Ely. The railroad's symbolic final spike—made of local copper—was driven by Requa in Ely on September 29, 1906,[4] which was designated as Railroad Day. To celebrate the new railway, a ball was held inside the Northern building, which was still under construction at the time.

Additional Ely-area trackage was constructed in 1907-1908 to serve the local mining industry. This trackage, known as the "Ore Line," included a route bypassing Ely to the north and continuing west up Robinson Canyon to the copper mines at Ruth. East of Ely, the Ore Line project saw the construction of the "Hiline," a branch leading to Nevada Consolidated's new copper smelter and concentrator at McGill. The Ore Line immediately became the busiest segment of the Nevada Northern by far, hosting dozens of loaded and empty ore trains daily.

As a subsidiary of Nevada Consolidated, the primary purpose of the Nevada Northern throughout its history was the haulage of copper ores and products. Other freight traffic was also carried, and the railroad operated a daily passenger train between East Ely and Cobre until 1941. Local trains were also operated from Ely to Ruth and McGill for the benefit of mine employees and others until the 1930s, and special school trains carried students to White Pine High School in central Ely.

A series of corporate financial transactions in the 1920s and 1930s brought Nevada Consolidated under the control of the Kennecott Copper Corporation, and Nevada Consolidated was merged into Kennecott in 1942. The Nevada Northern thus became a Kennecott subsidiary.

Faced with declining ore reserves and low copper prices, Kennecott closed its Ruth-area mines in May 1978, thus ending the ore trains between Ruth and the McGill smelter. The smelter closed on June 20, 1983, and the Nevada Northern suspended all operations immediately thereafter.

Nevada Northern Railway today In a series of donations beginning in 1986, Kennecott transferred the entire Ore Line, as well as the railroad's yard and shop facilities in East Ely, to the White Pine Historical Railroad Foundation, a non-profit organization which today operates the property as the Nevada Northern Railway Museum which operates a heritage railroad on this part of the former NN. Passenger excursion train service is offered between Ely, Ruth, and McGill using period equipment pulled by historic steam and diesel locomotives.

In April 2006, Nevada's National Historic Landmarks Committee granted unanimous support to nominating the Nevada Northern's East Ely shops complex as a National Historic Landmark. The nomination was approved by the National Park Service on September 27, 2006.

The remainder of the Nevada Northern has largely been moribund since 1983. In 1987, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power purchased the Cobre-East Ely line, in anticipation of the construction of a coal-fired generating plant along the route, which was never constructed. Meanwhile, the 1990s saw a brief resumption of copper mining near Ruth, this time by Broken Hill Proprietary Company (BHP). This project saw the construction of additional trackage near Ruth, and the resumption of service from there as far as Shafter by the BHP Nevada Railroad in 1996. Both the mine and railroad shut down again in 1999, and when mining resumed in 2004 concentrates were hauled by truck rather than by rail.

The disused line between Ely and Cobre was acquired by the city of Ely in 2006. Plans near 2008 by Sierra Pacific Resources for the construction of the Ely Energy Center, a 2,500 megawatt coal-fired generating plant in the Ely vicinity rose the possibility that the railroad may have seen another revival, carrying inbound loads of coal to White Pine County. Since then those plans have stalled; however, the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and Ely have considered other options to possibly restore the entire mainline route for heritage use. On October 14, 2021, plans to extend the line to McGill were announced.

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