Our next stop on Route 50 after Eureka is Austin, Nevada, which is located on the western slopes of the Toiyabe Range at an elevation of 6,605 feet. Named after Austin, Texas, Austin was founded in 1862 as part of a silver rush reputedly triggered by a Pony Express horse who kicked over a rock. By summer 1863, the Austin and the surrounding Reese River Mining District had a population of over 10,000 residents. By 1880, the boom was almost over, and major silver production ended by 1887. High quality turquoise is still mined in the area in small quantities. Gold and silver mining has continued in the area sporadically and at generally low levels of production. Today Austin is a living ghost town, and is perhaps the best preserved example of an early Nevada mining town. The International Hotel, first built in Virginia City in 1859, and parts of it were moved to Austin in 1863. The Hotel still serves meals and drinks, but does not rent out rooms (there is a motel across the street), and is said to be the oldest Hotel in Nevada. Austin contains numerous other historical buildings, in various states of repair.
Stokes Castle is a three-story stone tower located just outside Austin, Nevada. It was built by Anson Phelps Stokes, a rich mine developer, investor, and banker from the East Coast. The castle was meant to be used as a summer home for his sons. Construction began in 1896 by the brawn of miners and local skilled workers, and is made of hand-hewn native granite. The stones, weighing thousands of pounds, were hoisted into place with a hand winch and held in place with rock wedging and clay mortar. It was finally completed in 1897, it was used by the family for one brief period in June and July, 1897. Since then, with one possible exception, the structure has remained unoccupied.
The castle is patterned after a tower that Stokes had seen and admired in the Roman Campagna in Italy. The kitchen and dining room were on the first floor, while the second floor contained the living room and the third floor housed two bedrooms. Each of the floors had a fireplace, plate glass view windows, very adequate plumbing, and the second and third floors each had a balcony. The roof had a battlemented terrace, which had a 60 mile view down the Reese River Valley to the south. The Tower was filled with the finest of furnishings and artwork befitting a “castle.”
The family only occupied the Stokes Castle for a short time. The family traveled west in June 1897 with friends and spent about a month in the castle, and spent a few more days in October 1897. They returned in the summer of 1898, but due to an embezzlement scandal and the silver mine’s decline, the Stokes family sold the mine, the milling equipment, and the brand new castle, never to return to the town.
Eventually, the castle fell into disrepair, and almost became the victim of a publicity stunt in the early 50’s, when a Las Vegas promoter wanted to buy the castle and move it to the Sin City strip. That’s when a cousin of the Stokes’, former New York socialite and Nevada rancher Molly Magee Knudsen, stepped in and bought the property in 1956. When Molly passed away, it was left in the very capable hands of H.W. Trapnell, or “Wally,” who still owns the castle today. The tower was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. The structure still stands as an abiding monument to the local men who built it and to those who helped develop the mines of Austin.
Is the Stokes Castle haunted? Well, we shall see when the Nevada Paranormal Task Force makes their way over on April 8th, after their stop in Eureka. The team will be holding up at the local hotel… ummm haunted, and also will be investigating the old court house, ummm really haunted!!! This weekend plans to be full of adventure and good ole-fashioned ghost hunting. Stay tune, ya’hear!