On a recent road trip across the American West, I made a stop at The Gold King Mine and Ghost Town.
The ghost town is part of the mining town of Haynes, Arizona.
Today, visitors can explore an impressive collection of old buildings, antiques, and automobiles.
I will never turn down a visit to a ghost town.
These places fascinate me. Whether it's exploring an abandoned castle in the Australian jungle or opening the door to an old miner's cabin in my home state of Colorado, the deserted destinations feel like traveling back in time.
So on a recent road trip across the American West, I had a few ghost towns I was eager to visit.
Some were deserted — like an abandoned water park in the desert of California. Others were bustling with tourists eager to dive into history.
On that latter list was The Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, a former mining town where visitors can explore a handful of abandoned buildings, mining machinery, and antiques.
I arrived in Jerome, Arizona, and while a charming downtown lured me, The Gold King Mine and Ghost Town, a site with abandoned buildings, antiques, automobiles, and even a few farm animals, was what enticed me to stay.
The ghost town is dotted with old buildings. Some are original to the site, while others came from nearby towns.
It's only a 5-minute drive from downtown Jerome, but the abandoned mining town is technically located in the town of Haynes, Arizona.
I knew I was getting close to the ghost town as I spotted dozens of old abandoned vehicles.
Finally, I arrived at the entrance filled with visitors and paid $12 for my ticket.
I was handed a brochure with a town map and history. But I wanted to go deeper and tracked down Jay Harshman, the self-proclaimed “main guy" to learn about the ghost town's origins.
Harshman told me he grew up in the region, and after a stint in the corporate world, returned to central Arizona, where he’s worked at the ghost town for the last two years.
Harshman said he is a jack of all trades. He tinkers with old machinery, takes care of the property's farm animals, cuts wood, restores old buildings, and shares the town's history with anyone willing to listen.
“There's a lot that we do every day, and every day is not the same,” he told me. “That’s why I fell in love with it.”
Harshman said the old mining town of Haynes was active between 1890 and 1938. Gold, silver, iron, and platinum could be found in the mines, but the main commodity was copper.
Haynes was small, Harshman said. The average population of Haynes was 300 with a height of 504 residents. Compare that to Jerome, which had an average population of 2,000 that reached 15,000 people during the same period.
As we walked through the ghost town, Harshman said the area where we were standing wasn't where people lived. It was where the mining happened.
Above us, on the side of the mountain, was where 305 structures and the town of Haynes formerly stood.
Today, The Gold King Mine and Ghost Town are filled with structures, old vehicles, machinery, and antiques, but Harshman said not all of it was original to Haynes.
A mine's elevator shaft and headframe were part of the original town, he said.
A nearby boarding house was also an original building in Haynes. So were the assay office and jail bars that can be spotted in the ghost town.
These structures, and so many more, exist at the site today thanks to a man named Don Robertson, Harshman said.
Robertson grew up in Iowa and came out to the West in the 1960s. According to Harshman, he fell in love with Wild West culture and started collecting things.
When Robertson had gathered too much, Harshman said he searched for a place to store his collection.
That’s when he found The Gold King Mine.
Robertson came to Haynes in 1978 and made a 100-year leasing deal with the two corporations that continue to own the land today.
Combined with the standing mining machinery and structures, Robertson brought his belongings, and in 1982, opened it up to visitors.
“His whole purpose of revitalizing this town was to show people what kind of things people were working with and living with back in the day,” Harshman said.
Beyond an automobile collection and antiques, Robertson also preserved historical buildings from nearby towns.
The outhouse, for example, came from Wickenburg, Arizona.
Visitors can step inside a schoolhouse moved from Perkinsville, Arizona, which is filled with its original desks.
In another area of the ghost town is a dentist's office. Harshman said it was where Jerome's first dentists, Joseph and Raymond Pecharich, worked. Inside, the chair, equipment, and paperwork are all part of the original building.
Elsewhere, a service station was relocated from Cottonwood, Arizona, once known as Clemenceau.
And there is also a shoe repair store from Wickenburg, Arizona.
Today, Harshman is helping continue Robertson's mission by helping to restore Ma’s Kitchen, which was named by Robertson. It's original frame and floors were once part of a communal kitchen for miners in Haynes.
Harshman took me inside where I spotted an old pie safe, a dated telephone, and a decades-old jar of vaporizing ointment.
As we continued to explore the property, I spotted more old automobiles and interesting antiques.
I walked by farm ducks, said hello to friendly goats named Bonnie and Clyde, and overheard visitors amazed by the items in each building.
“A lot of people are cooped up in apartments or cities, especially people our age, and don't know what half this stuff does or that everything here was used for purpose,” Harshman said. “Nothing is a prop.”
I agreed. Walking through The Gold King Mine and Ghost Town felt like stepping back in time — an experience I don't encounter all too often in my normal city life.
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