• Image about Herb Robbins
Gold Point, Nev., Pop.: Five: Experience what life was like in the boomtowns of the Old West.
Berthold Steinhilber/laif/Redux

Gold Point is a Nevada ghost town, and Herb Robbins is the ghost whisperer who keeps it alive.

Herb Robbins’ boots crunch in the desert hardpan as he walks around Gold Point, Nev. (pop.: five). It’s not yet noon on a crisp morning, but he’s already giving his second media tour of the day. For a 103-year-old ghost town 200 miles northwest of Las Vegas and smack in the middle of nowhere, Gold Point is surprisingly popular. Visitors come to stay in refurbished cabins with modern amenities like indoor plumbing and electricity. They come to see the light-pollution-free night sky, to peer down the shafts where miners scratched and blasted out a living, or to taste what life was like in the boomtowns of the Old West.

Experience Gold Point
Reserve a cabin at www.goldpointghosttown.com for a donation of $99 to $139 per night.

Robbins, 59, welcomes them all. He’s the fire chief, historian, town docent and sheriff (that last one is an honorary title he picked up playing the role of drunken Sheriff Stone in a homemade movie set in Gold Point). He’s affable and easygoing, his round face generally punctuated with a smile. He’s happy to show people around this ramshackle, ?vehicle-strewn, treeless town of dirt streets and wooden buildings darkening in the sun.

But this town is no tourist attraction; it is Robbins’ hobby and his home. It’s still on the map because he and his business partner, Walt Kremin, 65, own about half of it and sink their own money into preserving it. “It’s about freedom,” Robbins says. “Everything is pretty neat and pretty old, and it is just … free.”

Robbins isn’t a rich man; he’s a wallpaper hanger by trade, and business has been slow lately. But he got lucky once. In January 1998, he lined up a royal flush, in order, playing $2 video poker at the Texas Station casino in Las Vegas, good for a $222,636 payday. He spent some of his winnings restoring ?buildings in Gold Point, built a website to tell the world about his not-quite-dead ghost town (www.goldpointghosttown.com) and put the rest away for retirement. Every dollar saved buys more time out here, living with history and tumbleweeds.

“I just find it fascinating what people did 150 years ago to make money for beans and bacon,” he says, “because not everybody got rich. Hardly anybody got rich. The store owners got rich. The miners didn’t.”

Now You Know: According to the website www.ghosttowns.com, there are more than 275 ghost towns in Arizona.
Robbins opens the door to the building that housed a post office until it closed in 1968 and walks past a row of “Wanted” posters from the 1960s. He bought the post office 30 years ago and has pretty much left it alone. There are forms noting mineral claims on the desk, old telephone books in the slots and the odd ink bottle on the shelf. The office looks like it could have closed last week. “It’s still got the original dust,” he says.

Most Nevada boomtowns were barely around long enough to have one name; Gold Point had three. It was originally called Lime Point for the lime deposits discovered there in 1868. It was renamed Hornsilver when that mineral was found in commercial quantities in the spring of 1908. Sometime after 1930, gold mining became prevalent, and the town became Gold Point.

At its high mark, Gold Point boasted 225 tents and wood-frame buildings, including at least 13 saloons. In his encyclopedic book Nevada Ghost Towns & Mining Camps, historian and author Stanley W. Paher quotes a neighboring town’s newspaper to describe the frenetic development: “Hornsilver is the latest wonder in Nevada mining districts. Main Street is extending almost as you watch it.”

But by October 1942, all major mining operations had ceased as the War Production Board shut down gold mines and the war effort siphoned off workers. Paher, writing in the late 1960s, summed up Gold Point’s decline: “All business establishments have closed, and about four dozen windowless wooden buildings face the deserted streets.”