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Man uses casino winnings to enliven Nevada ghost town

Herb Robbins
Herb Robbins stands in front of the saloon in Gold Point, Nevada. Robbins has spent $150,000 buying buildings in the ghost town  

In this story:

From silver to Gold Point

Population: 5

'My lucky number is seven'

Minding the mines

If you go ...




GOLD POINT, Nevada (AP) -- Sheriff Herb Robbins heads toward a deserted saloon, eager to investigate the commotion echoing from the old wooden building. There are no wild bar fights, no sleeping drunks, just a player piano belting out "Washington March."

The sheriff, who also happens to be the mayor, bartender and local historian, has spent $150,000 buying buildings in this ghost town and sprucing them up.

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Gold Point Ghost Town
 

Robbins the innkeeper has only had a handful of customers paying to stay in his refurbished cabins, but that doesn't matter. The tour guide in Robbins, the preservationist, just wants people -- even if it's just a few -- to experience the Old West before this town fades away like the miners who founded it.

"You gotta do something in this world, and I guess I'm destined to save these buildings," Robbins says, the gravel crunching beneath his cowboy boots.

From silver to Gold Point

Gold Point, now just a collection of dusty streets and tiny wooden buildings, had its beginnings in 1868 a half-mile away in a tent city called Lime Point. By 1882, the miners had moved on and abandoned the town. In 1905, Hornsilver, named for high-grade silver ore, was founded where Gold Point is today. A post office went up and soon a Chamber of Commerce.

Gold Point
A full moon rises over Mt. Dunfee and a dilapidated sign in Gold Point  

In its heyday in 1908, there were 225 tents and buildings and about 1,000 people. For years, gold and silver were mined. To renew interest in the town, the camp was renamed Gold Point in 1930.

Major mining operations ceased in 1942 and by the 1960s, a ghost town was all that remained.

Stan Paher, who wrote about Gold Point in his book, "Nevada Ghost Towns & Mining Camps," ranks Gold Point as one of the top 20 ghost towns of Nevada's 668 because it is so well-preserved.

"There's so many buildings. It had almost a thousand people at one time," Paher says.

Population: 5

Gold Point's nearest neighbor is the Cottontail Ranch brothel, just a few miles down a dusty road -- about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas.

As the sun peers through the desert mountains, a collection of failing buildings appear in the middle of nowhere. A sign on the way into town boasts a population of 27, a figure this town hasn't seen in years.

residents
Herb Robbins, left, shakes hands with John Wellborn at the saloon in Gold Point. Wellborn is one of five full-time residents of the ghost town  

Abandoned mailboxes line the road, an old street sign tilts to one side, a handful of broken-down cars gather dust amid the sagebrush.

The evening is still -- just a cricket chirping outside the screen door. No traffic, no voices, no bright lights.

A slight wind purrs across the handful of streets. A wood slat on a cabin porch is loose, making a slight creak when it's stepped on.

It's a different time, a different place, a different world.

"It's so quiet," Robbins says. "It's just like the turn of the century. It's a beautiful little ghost town."

The serenity is interrupted by the sound of heavy footsteps coming from an old shack.

It's the sheriff -- or, tonight, the bar keep -- and it's time to get the saloon hopping.

On this day, Robbins' patron is 74-year-old John Wellborn, who has lived here on and off since 1969. Robbins shows Wellborn the remodeled saloon, which now boasts pool tables, a dart game, shuffleboard and the player piano.

Wellborn -- who says he's not a hermit, he just doesn't like traffic jams -- is impressed. He's one of the town's five full-time residents.

"If he didn't restore them (buildings), they'd just fall to the ground," he says, downing a soda.

For Robbins, it's shots of Bols Strawberry Liqueur. It's been a hot day in the ghost town and he relishes the cool air in the saloon and a chance to unwind.


"People say I'm possessed. I just say it's fun."
Herb Robbins, Gold Point Sheriff

Robbins, who grew up in Sacramento, California, first came to Gold Point in 1978. His hobby is touring ghost towns and he keeps a scrapbook full of 5,000 pictures. His interest borders on obsession. He can't talk about Gold Point without rattling off a string of facts.

"People say I'm possessed," Robbins says. "I just say it's fun."

Robbins, 48, surely never thought his fascination would lead to him owning most of a ghost town, but he began slowly buying what buildings were available here in true Las Vegas riches and rags style: Robbins, a part-time wallpaper hanger, won several large video poker jackpots.

'My lucky number is seven'

He hit his biggest jackpot -- $220,000 -- in 1998 after he ate seven tacos for dinner and went to a casino at 7 p.m. wearing his boots with seven shoelace holes. "My lucky number is seven," he says earnestly.

Gold Point
Gold Point, now just a collection of dusty streets and tiny wooden buildings, had its beginnings in 1868 a half mile away in a tent city called Lime Point. By 1882, the miners had moved on and abandoned the town  

Before the big one, he estimates he had won $481,000 on 71 different jackpots. He's invested much of the money. The rest he put toward restoring Gold Point.


He has refurbished the inside of three cabins to be used as bed-and-breakfast units and hopes to renovate 10 more. It costs $3,000 to $4,000 to redo each cabin. ... There is no running water in the guest cabins -- just jugs brought in by Robbins. There are no phone lines either.

Now Robbins owns 24 of the 55 buildings here. Where someone else might see a tiny, wooden shack on its last leg, Robbins sees an opportunity to recapture a glimpse of the Old West.

He has refurbished the inside of three cabins to be used as bed-and-breakfast units and hopes to renovate 10 more. It costs $3,000 to $4,000 to redo each cabin. The exteriors are left the same as they were built. Inside, Robbins adds insulation, wallpaper, carpet, a couch, bed and even a television. There is no running water in the guest cabins -- just jugs brought in by Robbins. There are no phone lines either.

The town's most famous residents were former state Sen. Harry Wiley and his postmistress wife, Ora Mae. Wiley died in 1955. His wife stayed until her death in 1980. A doormat at the entrance to her cabin still bears the name "Wiley," a reminder that not much changes here.

Inside the musty post office, Robbins eagerly steps behind the counter next to a wall full of FBI wanted posters from the 1930s and 1940s.

"If you weren't on the wanted list, you could get your mail," he says, brushing by a cob web.

Robbins walks to the other side of town -- a few minutes away -- to see Karen Anderson, a 60-year-old former madam at the Cottontail Ranch, another brothel.

Strangely enough, her home as well as Wellborn's are protected with "No Trespassing" signs.

Anderson lives here with her dog, Littlefoot, and hardly ever leaves. She first came here in 1982 with a boyfriend. "He dumped me out here, I stayed," she says.

As Robbins heads back toward home, Wellborn's voice fills the empty town. "Here kitty, kitty, kitty."

Is seems Miss Kitty is missing and Wellborn doesn't want the coyotes to get her. After a few minutes of searching, Miss Kitty appears in the window of an abandoned truck.

"It's a busy night in Gold Point, Nevada," Robbins decides.

Minding the mines

Robbins says he doesn't want to disturb Gold Point's lifestyle, just offer tourists, a few at a time, a chance to stay here for a night and visit the old mines. Since Robbins began advertising the town on the Internet, only a few people have paid the $77 to stay the night and eat breakfast, cooked by Robbins the chef.

mining cabin
The sun sets over a mining cabin on the edge of town  

"I'm not doing this for the money," he says. "I'm doing this because I think it's important to save these buildings. I've gone back to places and they're gone."

Robbins, who as a boy used to explore old mining shafts and camps, still likes to climb deep into the abandoned mines overlooking the town. He steps down into the cool shaft, descending lower and lower until his words fade into the darkness.

"I hear some things in some of the mines," he says, climbing back up a rickety ladder.

A ghost perhaps? Or maybe just the spirit of miners being carried on by a man who finds solitude in the past.

If you go ...

Herb Robbins can be reached by phone at (775) 482-4653.

On the Net: http://www.goldpointghosttown.com/

Copyright 2000 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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