~ A Wealth of Mining History ~
EUREKA WAS SETTLED IN 1864 by silver prospectors from nearby Austin who discovered rock containing a silver-lead ore on nearby Prospect Peak. The town site in Horse Thief Canyon was surveyed in 1869. The town was originally named “Napias” on January 13, 1870. On January 27, when the post office was established, the name was changed to “Eureka.” The town became the county seat in 1873, when Eureka County was carved out of adjacent Lander, Elko, and White Pine counties.
Mining, especially for lead, was the town’s economic mainstay, as the nearby hillsides ranked as Nevada’s second richest mineral producer, behind western Nevada’s Comstock Lode. Eureka overtook Austin in size and mining productivity during the middle 1870s when the Eureka & Palisade Railroad was extended south from the Central Pacific.
By 1878, when Austin had already begun its decline, Eureka’s population reached 10,000 and had taken second place among Nevada cities. There were dozens of saloons, gambling houses and bawdy houses, three opera houses, two breweries, five volunteer firefighting companies, two companies of militia and 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.
Fires in April 1879 and August 1880 destroyed most of the structures in the northeastern portion of town. Many of the buildings you see today were erected around 1880-1881. Mining production peaked in 1882 and tailed off rapidly after 1885. By 1891 the major mines shut down.
In the early 1990s, Eureka began to preserve its history with the restoration of the Eureka Opera House and then the Eureka County Courthouse. These two projects and the expansion of the Eureka Sentinel Museum have helped to make Eureka what it is today.