Chloride City, CA (Death Valley National Park)

Chloride City, CA - Mining ruins at Chloride City

 

Chloride City was one of the first communities to have formed in Death Valley. The Chloride Cliff Mine was discovered in August of 1871, by A. J. Franklin, an engineer employed by the U.S. Government. Legend has it that Franklin was out surveying the Nevada/California border line, when he came upon a rattlesnake. He picked up a stone to throw at the snake, and found what he thought was a vein of silver. Franklin wasted no time, he staked seven claims, and in October formed the Chloride Cliff Mining Company.

In April of the following year, Franklin began working his claims. In July, he was employing seven miners. The shaft was down seventy feet, and he had nearly 100 tons of ore ready for shipment. The facilitating of these ore shipments proved to be problematic. No roads had been built through Death Valley that lead to civilization, and yet Franklin was dependent on San Bernardino, which was 180 miles away.

The process of creating a route through Death Valley to San Bernardino proved to be lengthy, and pack trains would arrive at the Chloride Mines about once every three months. The significant cost of shipping ore got to be too much, making it nearly impossible to attract investors. Finally after two years, Franklin was forced to shut down the Chloride Cliff Mining Company.

Franklin and his venture, despite failing to provide a financial gain for Franklin, had a profound effect on mining in Death Valley. The road that had been carved out in order to reach the Chloride Mines from San Bernardino began to be used and improved by the large borax mines in the years that followed.

Franklin never abandoned his mines completely, despite not working them regularly, he returned every year to do the required assessment work, until he died in 1904. Franklin’s son, George E. Franklin, kept the tradition going after his father’s death.

Soon after George took over the mines, the Bullfrog Hills boom happened, and the mining boom at Rhyolite and the Bullfrog Hills in southwest Nevada was in full swing. With Rhyolite becoming an overnight boom town,  George seized the opportunity to reopen the Chloride Cliff Mines. This new opportunity provided George the ability to mine and ship ore at a profit, unlike his father.

 

Chloride City, CA - A "Cousin Jack" at the old town site. "Cousin Jack" is the name given to dug-out miner cabins that have been built into a hill or mountain side.

Chloride City, CA – A “Cousin Jack” at the old town site. “Cousin Jack” is the name given to dug-out miner cabins that have been built into a hill or mountain side.

 

Before long prospectors made their way from the busy Bullfrog Hills to the Chloride Cliff area in search of new prospects. In September of 1905, the Bullfrog Mining District was created, and the Chloride Cliff area was included in this newly formed district.

Chloride Cliff was soon inundated with new mining ventures. Mucho Oro Mining Company began operations in April of 1905, the Bullfrog Cliff Mining Company was formed in October, and the Death Valley Mining and Milling Company  in November. Between these three companies and George Franklin’s holdings, they owned the best ground in the Chloride Cliff area. Between the big four, the ore  value averaged around $50 per ton.

With so many miners and so much action happening within the vicinity, it was only natural for a town to be born; 1905 saw the birth of Chloride City. The town was situated in a saddle, 4,800 feet above Death Valley. During winter months this area of the Funeral Mountains had its share of cold blistering wind, and even snow. There was no water available locally for the miners and mines, it was packed in from three miles away at Keane Springs. Lumber for the building of structures was also packed in from up to 10 miles away.

Despite having little in the way of businesses or conveniences, it was thought that Chloride City may become the next boom town. The few businesses that did exist where a blacksmith shop, an assay office, a cookhouse, and a bunkhouse.

In April of 1906, the San Francisco earthquake and fire occurred, this caused a scare in the mining industry, as it was unsure what kind of financial crisis an event of this magnitude would cause. Little work was done during April and May, and by June the only company operating at Chloride Cliff was the Death Valley Mining and Milling Company.

For George Franklin, this was the end of the road. He sold his mine, and claims that had been in his family since 1871, to a Pittsburgh based mining outfit for a reported sum of $150,000.00. Death Valley Mining and Milling, as well as the other companies that had been working the area all folded in July, and all the mines went idle.

Chloride City and it’s mines became a ghost town by mid-1906 and remained that way until the end of 1909. During this long hiatus all the Chloride Cliff mines had been consolidated and purchased by Pennsylvania based company, Pennsylvania Mining and Leasing Company. The Pennsylvania company had much success with the Chloride mines, they expanded the operation regularly, but by April of 1911, they had done so much expansion that they didn’t have a clue what their next move was. So they sold it…

 

Chloride City, CA - The grave of James McKay, a man that nobody knows anything about.

Chloride City, CA – The grave of James McKay, a man that nobody knows anything about.

 

J. Irving Crowell, of London was the purchaser. Crowell did little work after the purchase, mostly just the required annual assessment work. The mines of the Chloride Cliff, lied almost idle until 1928 when Crowell sold to Louis McCrea, of Beatty, NV.

McCrea, worked the mines for a short period before leasing the mines to the newly formed, Chloride Cliff Mining & Milling Company. The new company had big plans, but as usual, didn’t follow through.

Small amounts of mining took place for the next thirteen years, but all operations appear to have come to a stop in 1941, and Chloride City and it’s mines would slip into history.

Today very little remains of Chloride City, a few old cabins hang on by a needle thread, most have been reduced to nothing more than a pile of old boards. The mines have been sealed by the National Park Service for our safety (sarcasm). The grave site of James McKay, a man that nobody knows anything about sits lonely at the old town site.

The most impressive thing at Chloride City today are the spectacular views of Death Valley, that rival those of Dante’s Peak and Aguereberry Point, and the somewhat scary, yet thrilling road that leads you there.

 

Chloride Cliff - An amazing view which rivals those at Dante's View and Aguereberry Point.

Chloride Cliff – An amazing view which rivals those at Dante’s View and Aguereberry Point.

 

 

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.