Latitude / Longitude:
3,796 ft (1,157 m)
Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)
Silver Reef is a ghost town in Washington County, Utah, United States, about 15 miles (24 km) northeast of St. George and 1 mile (1.6 km) west of Leeds. Silver Reef was established after John Kemple, a prospector from Nevada, discovered a vein of silver in a sandstone formation in 1866. At first, geologists were uncertain about Kemple’s find because silver is not usually found in sandstone. In 1875, two bankers from Salt Lake City sent William Barbee to the site to stake mining claims. He staked 21 claims, and an influx of miners came to work Barbee’s claims and to stake their own. To accommodate the miners, Barbee established a town called Bonanza City. Property values there were high, so several miners settled on a ridge to the north of it and named their settlement “Rockpile”. The town was renamed Silver Reef after silver mines in nearby Pioche closed and businessmen arrived.
By 1879, about 2,000 people were living in Silver Reef. The town had a mile-long Main Street with many businesses, among them a Wells Fargo office, the Rice Building, and the Cosmopolitan Restaurant. Although adjacent to many settlements with a majority of Mormon residents, the town never had a meeting house for Latter-day Saints, only a Catholic church. In 1879, a fire destroyed several businesses, but the residents rebuilt them. Mines were gradually closed, most of them by 1884, as the worldwide price of silver dropped. By 1901, most of the buildings in town had either been demolished or moved to Leeds.
The sandstone formations from which Silver Reef gets its name were formed when tectonic stresses forced long, longitudinally aligned sections of Navajo Sandstone to buckle and stand on their sides, giving them the appearance of ocean reefs. Over long periods of time silver ore, sediments, and vegetation were carried in water runoff from the Chinle Formation to the White, Buckeye, and East reefs. The ore settled as deposits and the vegetation became petrified. The Silver Reef Mining District’s geologic resources consist mainly of silver deposits, with smaller deposits of copper, gold, lead, and uranium oxide. Iron oxide deposits in the soil rocks cause a red coloration, and dinosaur tracks from the early Jurassic period have been found in the area.
In 1916, mining operations in Silver Reef resumed under the direction of Alex Colbath, who organized the area’s mines into the Silver Reef Consolidated Mining Company. These mines were purchased by American Smelting and Refining Company in 1928, but the company did minimal work as a result of the Great Depression. The Western Gold & Uranium Corporation purchased Silver Reef’s mines in 1948, and in 1951, they began mining uranium in the area. These operations did not last long either, and the Western Gold & Uranium Corporation sold their mines to the 5M Corporation in 1979. Today, the Wells Fargo office, the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, the Rice Building, and numerous foundations and walls remain in the town site, and a few dozen homes have been constructed in the area.