Eureka is a small jewel, the site of an 1864 silver discovery and the county seat of Eureka County. This attractive and historic community offers many enjoyments for visitors, from seeing the 19th century sights like the Eureka Opera House (right) to excellent food and lodging choices
The new Eureka mural by artist Erik Burke depicts the historical processes of making charcoal for smelting silver ore, pouring the molten silver to make silver bars, and the Eureka & Palisade train that transported them to the transcontinental railroad at Palisade. (photo by Robin Cobbey)
A mining mural and a cowboy silhouette were recently added to two historic buildings on Main Street, Eureka, with the hopes of helping revitalize the downtown.
Eureka Restoration Enterprise (ERE), a small non profit whose goal is to help beautify and rejuvenate the downtown area, commissioned two muralists with a request for a mural that depicted Eureka’s rich mining and agricultural history. “We want to entice entrepreneurs to help create a vibrant downtown for the local population as well as to entice the many Highway 50 travelers to get out of their cars and spend time in Eureka,” said Amanda Pearce, ERE co-founder.
Muralist Erik Burke at work
After raising funds from an art and wine walk held in May of this year, the group set out to find an artist whose work embodied their mission. After noticing an article in the Reno Gazette-Journal about muralist Erik Burke and his work at the Reno Aces Ballpark (which depicted the local history of a train traveling through Donner Pass and a portrait of railroad surveyor Theodore Judah) they knew he was the one for the job.
“We originally wanted the entire mural to depict the Eureka & Palisade Engine because of its importance to Eureka’s mining history and also because it is really a beautiful engine,” noted Garney Damele, another ERE co-founder. “We also wanted an artist that was good at interpreting history.”
“In regards to the mural design, I included the train but wanted to illustrate more of the unique history of Eureka and why the train was even needed,’ Burke said. “Since the train was our focus, I placed it closest to the street where most passerbys (sic) will see it and used the shape of the charcoal ovens to tell the story of the silver smelting process.”
Local business owners Maria Urena and Santiago Martinez who own and operate the Urban Cowboy Bar & Grill (formerly Ratazzi’s), agreed to allow ERE to use the exterior of their building as the first site for a mural.
L to R: Garney Damele, muralists Nick D’Auria and Erik Burke, and ERE member Amanda Pearce
A second mural was added to the old Pavilion owned by Mike Rebaleati. Artist Nicolas D’Auria came up with the idea for a silhouette of a cowboy, but wanted a local influence. Fifth-generation Eureka native Mark Damele agreed to stand in for the job. The two artists projected Mr. Damele’s profile onto the side of the building after dark and finished that project in one evening.
“Mural projects all over the country are using collaborative public art projects to improve neighborhoods,” said Pearce. “We would like to join forces with the local businesses and the County programs to continue improving our area.”
The local non profit first traveled to Ely where they visited with the Ely Renaissance Society, who were instrumental in beginning the mural project there with the belief that it would attract businesses and tourism to the area. “They stressed to us how once the art component of revitalization was introduced, they started to generate more interest from the locals,” Pearce said.
In addition to funds raised from the wine walk and raffle, ERE received financial support from the Nevada Arts Council and the GRP Pan Mine.
Open, sunny Eureka is one of the best-preserved mining cities in the American West. Silver strikes made here in 1864 by prospectors from Austin proved uneconomical to work at first because of the high lead content of the ores, but within a decade three mines alone had paid out in dividends more money than had ever been invested in all Eureka County enterprises combined.
Eureka was famous as the "Pittsburgh of the West" because of the black smoke squeezing out of smelter smokestacks to smear the sky and poison the hardy desert vegetation (and the residents too). It overtook Austin in size and mining productivity during the middle 1870s and in 1878 Eureka had a population of about 9,000, taking second place among Nevada cities. There were dozens of saloons, gambling houses and bawdy houses, three opera houses, two breweries, five volunteer firefighting companies, and two companies of militia as well as the usual complement of doctors, lawyers, merchants, bankers, hotels, newspapers, and other businesses. Fifty mines produced lead, silver, gold, and zinc for the smelters, which could process more than 700 tons of ore a day.
Many of Eureka's buildings are impressive, but the city's architectural jewel is the recently refurbished Eureka Opera House. Built in the fall of 1880 on the smoldering site of the burned-down Odd Fellows' Hall, the Opera House now welcomes small conventions from around the state, performances by nationally recognized artists, and serves as a Cultural Arts Center with a permanent fine arts collection open for visitors during normal business hours.
The splendid Eureka County Court House across the street has been restored to original 1879 condition; visitors are welcome. The Eureka Sentinel Building a block south has been converted to a wonderful museum, with the old newspaper back-shop left as it was when the last tramp printer finally called it quits. It is fully equipped with type cases, working presses await an experienced hand, and the walls are papered with posters and handbills dating back to the 1880s fluttering on the walls.
The Owl Club in the center of town and the Pony Expresso Deli at the south end are favorites of travelers along US 50. Raine's Market provides for the needs of a few hundred people in this isolated community with precision and flair. In its 19th century building — pressed tin ceiling, oiled wood floor — Raine's stocks everything under the sun, or rather under the hunting trophies: moose, deer, mountain lion, antelope, elk, bear — all gaze serenely down on the humankind grazing through the aisles. A new store is being built a short distance out of town.
There are several cemeteries in Eureka, including one that was set aside for smallpox victims.
Tax money derived from the Carlin gold mine at the far northern end of the county has built a new high school, a 3-story fire station and other modern community facilities in Eureka, including an enclosed pool open six days a week year-around.
The country around Eureka will probably always provide excellent hiking and hunting. Simply breathing in the cedar-scented air of the wide open spaces is an act of pure pleasure, utterly unimaginable to the people who lived here breathing its poisonous smoke in the 19th century.