Ely is the largest city and county seat of White Pine County. Originally founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route, Ely sprang to life after a sudden mining boom that came much later in its life. Some people pronounce its name as "Ee-lie," like the name, but in reality, make no mistake: it is pronounced "EE-lee." Say it the wrong way, and you will no get receive some stares in town! Unlike the other towns along "America's Loneliest Road," Ely sprang to life with the discovery of copper, not gold or silver. With its copper boom, Ely has become synonomous with the railroad, of which it was one of the greatest railroad towns in the West. Ely's great legacy is preserved as a heritage railway by the Nevada Northern Railway and known as the "Ghost Train of Old Ely."

After its beginnings on the Pony Express, Ely made its mark on the map with the discovery of copper in 1906. The town quickly grew into a company town, but of course, Ely too suffered the same boom-and-bust cycles so common in the West. Originally, the city was home to a number of copper mining companies, Kennecott being the most famous. With a crash in the copper market in the mid 1970s, Kennecott shut down and copper mining disappeared (temporarily). With the advent of cyanide heap leaching �- a method of extracting gold from what was previously considered very low-grade ore �- the next boom was on. Many companies processed the massive piles of "overburden" that had been removed from copper mines, or expanded the existing open-pit mines to extract the gold ore. Gold mines as widespread as the Robinson project near Ruth, and AmSelco's Alligator Ridge mine 65 miles from Ely, kept the town alive during the 1980s and 1990s, until the recent revival of copper mining.

  • The White Pine County Courthouse in downtown Ely, Nevada.
  • Ely, Nevada.

Ely's bustling copper industry and isolated location mandated several railroads for shipping the ore to points elsewhere. Mark Requa of the Nevada Consolidated Copper Company built a 150-mile line from Cobre on the Southern Pacific to Ely in 1905 and 1906 to haul ore from Copper Flat mines west of Ely. Ore was loaded into railroad gondolas at Copper Flat for the trip to the smelter at McGill, over a double-track trestle 1720 feet long. After a temporary bust, the railroad was even used to haul passengers via the "school train," carrying McGill youth to Ely High School. This ended in 1941. Copper ore still moves over the railway between the Copper Flat pit and the McGill concentrator and is still shipped out to Cobre. The railroads connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad to the mines in Austin and Eureka have long been removed. Today, Kennecott's smelter has been demolished, but copper concentrate from the mine is now shipped by rail to Seattle, where it is then transported to Japan for smelting. The dramatic increase in demand for copper in 2005 has once again made Ely a copper boom town.

Today, amidst its hidden mining face, Ely is the tourism center for all of eastern Nevada! Ely prides itself on its wide abundance of surrounding attractions, home of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum and gateway to nearby Great Basin National Park. (see Attractions) The railroad museum features the original Ghost Train of Old Ely, a working steam engine passenger train that travels the historic tracks from Ely to the Robinson mining district west of town. The historic, six-story Hotel Nevada, located in downtown Ely at Railroad Street, opened in 1929 and was the tallest building in Nevada well into the 1940s when it was the state's first fire-proof building. Today, it is still a happening establishment, offering the only live-gaming in all of eastern Nevada. Of course, no mention of Ely would be complete without elaboration of the Ely Renaissance Society, a series of works that has facilitated more than twenty outdoor murals and sculptures in the downtown area. Artists from all over the world have been commissioned to create images of the area's fascinating history using different art styles. The Society also maintains a historical village consisting of a general store and several shotgun houses which display the history of the ethnic groups that came to the area to work for Kennecott and its railroads. Additionally, the establishment of Great Basin Nat'l Park in 1986 has brought a further influx of tourism to Ely. Great Basin is a result of decades of hard-fought legal battles and heated compromise between the federal government and long-generation landowners. The result is one of the nation's least visited and newest national parks, a park that preserves over 79,000 acres of high mountain landscape.

US 50 through downtown Ely, Nevada.

Status: Incorporated City & County Seat
Founded: February 1906
Population: 4,255 (2012)
Zip Code: 89301, 89315
Motto: "Gateway to Great Basin"


Distance in miles from ...
Eureka -- 97
Pioche -- 105
Wells -- 139
Delta (UT) -- 153
Tonopah -- 168
Salt Lake City (UT) -- 241
Las Vegas -- 246
Carson City -- 320

Fun Facts:
- The climactic scene to the 2001 movie Rat Race was filmed in Ely, in and around the restored train depot of the railway museum.
- Ely is one of only three places in America where three US Routes converge.