Constructed in 1910 to process the copper ore from nearby mines, the ruins of this million dollar smelter and former townsite spread out over 1300 acres of high desert near Yerington, Nevada.

After checking out the otherworldly formations created by the sediment runoff from the nearby Bluestone Mine and the recently designated Superfund site of the massive Anaconda Copper Mine, I headed 12 miles north up Highway 95A to check out the ruins of the Thompson Smelter.

The ruins are spread out over nearly a mile of high desert in the northern end of Mason Valley.

Following the development of copper mines west of Yerington, New York City financier William Boyce Thompson, organized the Mason Valley Mines Company and financed the building of “one of the best plants ever built in the West” at his namesake town.

The first smelter, which was served by the newly completed Nevada Copper Belt Railroad (of which Thompson was the northern terminus), went to work in 1912, and was capable of treating 700-1000 tons of copper each day.

A small company town, known as Thompson, was created next to the smelter, housing 250 workers in bunk houses, cottages, and officers’ quarters. The two block town had an auto repair shop, a school, a movie house, and a company store. Power transmitted from Reno provided electricity to the mill and townsite.

In 1913, a second furnace was added to the smelter and the Thompson townsite grew to nearly 350 people but this prosperity wouldn’t last.

The smelter closed in late 1914, reopened again from 1917-1919 and then one final time at a reduced capacity from 1926 until 1928.

During its brief history, the smelter served the Yerington district mines as well as 209 recorded mines and small shippers across Nevada and northern California.

During World War II much of the remaining plant was removed for scrap and in June 1945 the 200 foot tall smokestack was torn down for its brick.

Walking around the 1300 acre site today is like walking back in time.

Nuts, bolts…

…and other remnants from when the mill was still in operation can still be found throughout the site.


I spent several hours photographing the ruins of Thompson, Nevada and would’ve been happy to stay even longer but I still had a long day of exploration left and needed to get to Virginia City. I’ll tell you all about that trip in a future post.