Louise Speaks: Heading home and about 30 miles south of Goldfield is the turn off to Gold Point. This is heading west towards California and is a main connector. Our purpose to go to Gold Point was to see some castle that is currently for sale. We never found the castle but thanks to the internet I was able to do some research and find out the history. In 1998, Randy Johnston bought 40 acres of land adjacent to Gold Point. Two years after buying the property, Johnston began construction of his “castle,” known as the Hard Luck Castle, and he has been at it ever since. Originally a plumber, this self-taught jack-of-all-trades does most of the work himself, occasionally helped by visiting volunteers. He lays block, sets stone and tile, fabricates steel and iron, installs plumbing, runs gas and electrical lines, builds furniture, harnesses solar and wind power, plasters, paints, grouts, maintains his own access road and handles whatever else needs doing. From a foundation on bedrock, the 50-foot-diameter tower of concrete, stone and metal rises four stories, capped with a plate-glass cupola perfect for enjoying expansive daytime views and glittering night skies. The structure encompasses 8,000 square feet from basement to cupola and consists of 22 rooms. Walls are 126 inches thick with arches for solid wood doors with hand-wrought hardware. Many windows pierce walls for light. The living space includes a great room, dining room, two kitchens, four bedrooms, three bathrooms, a wine cellar, a media room, an electrical room and a workshop. A large shed outside houses a larger work space. Johnston’s bastion utilizes power generated by the sun and wind, stored in banks of batteries. Thick walls protect the house from extremes of cold and heat. Vents channel outside air or rising heat to keep the interior spaces comfortable. The structure has no fireplaces, odd for a castle, but there aren’t any ready sources of firewood nearby. Cooking is done with propane in the kitchen and on a barbecue outside that burns wood pellets. Water is trucked in from a spring near Gold Point on the far side of the mountains and is stored in a huge gravity-flow tank.
Johnston has the basic house completed, but finishing work remains to be done, such as grouting floor tiles and applying finish coats on many walls. He is installing two pipe organs in his desert retreat, complicated instruments he enjoys playing and maintaining. He admittedly gets sidetracked when opportunities arise, such as his recent acquisition of cast-off parts of a vintage pipe organ, which he plans to use to increase the number of pipes in his organs. He has made many recent trips to the coast to pick up the long lead pipes and wooden covers. By the way, the unique property was on the market for $3,250,000 but has since be reduced to $1.5 million. This is quite the deal since Johnston has invested over $3 million dollars in the property. Johnston says he is selling the home because his health is failing and he wants to buy a 50-foot sailboat and just relax. The entire Hard Luck Mine and Castle estate is for sale,’ the home’s website reads. ‘Everything – and we mean everything – comes with the sale. All the owner wants to leave with is his truck, his trailer, and his dogs.’
Johnston interrupts whatever he is doing to give visitors a guided tour of his unique home. A donation of $5 to $10 per person is suggested at the end of the tour. Not sure what the cost is as different web sites have listed different donations. We would have gladly paid the donation if we could have found the castle. Our mistake was that we went into Gold Point instead of taking a turn before reaching town.
Upon arriving in Gold Point, we didn’t even get out of the car. There were tents camped everywhere and we have no idea why. There were buildings but none looked livable. We did see people, but they were just staring at as as we drove by. We felt like we were trespassing and the first car they had seen in days…maybe weeks. If they call this a ghost town, this is an accurate description. It wasn’t until I started researching Gold Point and it’s history to write this blog that I’m thinking we should have stopped and looked around.
The town of Gold Point goes way…way back. A mining town turned ghost town. Fast forward to 1960. Mining continued up until the late 1960’s, when, at the 1000 ft. level of the Dunfee Shaft, a dynamite charge went off wrong and caved a large part of the ceiling in. Rather than put out more money, on what had declined to a marginal operation, the mine turned off the lights and closed the doors. Other than an occasional lessee here and there, this was the last serious mining operation in Gold Point. For the next 10 years, Gold Point was basically a Ghost Town and would have blown away piece by piece like so many other towns of the Old West had it not been for the loving and watchful eye of Ora Mae Wiley and her friends. Ora had come here around 1930 from Georgia to have a little look and see what the wild west was like. She met her future husband, Senator Harry Wiley, one of the founding fathers of Hornsilver, now Gold Point, and stayed in Gold Point until her death, at the age of 83 in 1980. In addition to mining, Harry, served on the Board of Supervisors from 1940 until he was elected to the Nevada State Senate in 1946, where he served until his death in 1955. The couple also operated a little general store and a Standard Gas station. Ora Mae was Postmistress in Gold Point from 1940 to 1964. In 1967 the 4th class Post Office closed. Slowly, a newer generation of Gold Pointers started moving into town. Today Gold Point boast of a population of 6 full time residents and as many as 6 part time residents. There are a handful of other people who own property in Gold Point, but they are scattered around the U.S. and rarely make the trip out. There are a few others who live just outside the town limits as well. Together, everyone watches out for everyone else and that is the reason there are no problems in Gold Point. When you visit Gold Point you may not see anyone, but rest assured they are watching you, and we sure felt that way today.
The mercantile store and grill have both gone through restoration. Restoration of some of the other old buildings have been going on since the late 1970s. Apparently there are two museums in town that are open to the public on most weekends. Today is Saturday and like I said, if it wasn’t for the wind blowing, we would be seeing nothing move. The story about how Gold Point got to be this tourist attraction, although I don’t see it, is quite fascinating. In 1978 Herb Robbins and his buddy, Chuck Kremin, pulled into Gold Point, which in 1908 was a flourishing gold mining town. They found a handful of die-hards clustered alongside a gravel road proudly named Gold Street, which is off the nearest highway, 190 miles north of Las Vegas. Kremin stopped to talk to the first person he saw, and after several minutes, he called out to Robbins, “Do you want to buy property here?” ‘‘Sure,’” Robbins recalled. They later drove up to purchase 3 lots for $500 a piece. Kremin took one and Robbins took two, and a few months later, they were part owners of a few empty lots in Gold Point. Once Robbins got the lots, he got hooked, and his love affair with Gold Point began.
Property ownership grew from hobby to avocation. In 1981, Robbins partnered with Chuck Kremin and Chuck’s brother Walt to buy the old post office, the general store and the home of former state Sen. Harry Wiley. The price included all the antiques and furnishings. Now they had a place to stay other than in a tent or trailer when they visited Gold Point. Chuck Kremin soon stepped back from an active role, but over the next 10 years, Robbins and Walt Kremin continued to buy any and all the buildings that were available no matter what their condition. In 1986 Robbins purchased the cabin/home where he lives now and plans to spend the rest of his life in that very cabin. Their plan was no more grandiose than to save a bit of Old West heritage. Robbins and Kremin have spent years going through mining shacks, homes and businesses, trying to stabilize and rehabilitate them. They have re-roofed structures, gutted interiors and added framing, drywall, insulation and electricity. Visitors coming to Gold Point stay in their small RV park or the bed-and-breakfast, yes they claim to have a B & B, which are actually renovated miner cabins that are popular with European tourists. They have decorated the cabins with old-fashioned wallpaper and furnished them, giving people who enjoy ghost towns a chance to stay in one. This experience of breathing fresh life into this hamlet is not about the money. Robbins and Kremin say they’ve spent far more than they could hope to recover in a lifetime. Such is the price to preserve and share history.
For over 30 years now Walt and Robbins, with many thousands of dollars of their own money, have been purchasing building materials and working on all the different cabins and buildings. It takes thousands of dollars to rebuild and preserve even a small old miner’s cabin, and they have 12, not to mention the other bigger buildings, so it’s been a slow process. Each year they find the price of wood products continuing to climb. It takes a lot of different materials to save a cabin. The only thing they generally do to the outside is put on a roof. They try not to put on any new wood unless absolutely necessary. Rolled asphalt roofing is usually applied first. Then as they get the extra money they put on the cedar shingles. Inside is a little more complex. These 100 year old cabins and buildings were built without any framing like they build today. The walls are only as thick as the 1 x 12 inch board and bats that were used. They go in and strip the walls down to the original walls and then build a 2 x 4 frame inside. This stabilizes the cabin tremendously. They can then install the electrical wires, insulation, sheet rock, paint and/or old newspapers or old fashioned wall paper, carpet, curtains and finally furniture. Besides their own labor they are very grateful that they have what they call our Friends of Gold Point who occasionally come and donate their time helping them.
The Bed and Breakfast idea came a few years ago when they finally took the suggestions from different friends to let other ghost town enthusiasts stay in the old cabins that they had fixed up and take donations from them to help purchase more building materials. Throughout the year they are constantly purchasing building materials with this money along with their own hard earned cash.
Living here, may sound like a romantic notion to some, but make no mistake, it’s hard. It’s a 60-mile drive to get groceries. The nearest Walmart or Home Depot is a couple of hours away at best. Before cell phones, residents had to drive about a dozen miles to the now closed Cottontail Ranch brothel to use a pay phone. Now they have some service, and they have satellite TV. And what happens when Robbins and Kremin are physically spent and can no longer maintain Gold Point? Both are in their 60s now and have cut back on many of the activities they used to do in the town. “When the time comes, everything goes up for sale, not necessarily to the highest bidder but to the person who takes care of it the best,” Robbins said. “Buy it all, we’ll sell you everything with one condition.” That condition is that they have to live here until they die.
These buildings were 100 years old in 2008. Each building they save they hope will see another 100 years. This will be their legacy. This is what they wish to pass on to future generations to see and experience as they have over their lifetime. So you see by reading all the history of Gold Point I wish we had stopped and looked at some of these buildings. I generally research sites before Thelma and I go on one of our adventures, but since I didn’t plan this trip, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I’m not sure this is a place I would return to, but the idea of staying in one of these mining cabins does sound adventurous and might be worth a trip back.