On the way to Gold Point about three hours northwest of Las Vegas, the first indication that you’re entering the Old West is a Nevada historical marker riddled with bullet holes. The sign marks the spot where travelers take a sharp left onto State Route 774. After a few miles of nothing but Joshua trees, the buildings of the old mining settlement emerge. It’s a ghost town but for a few residents, and the one you’re likely to run into first is Herb Robbins.
He’s better known around these parts as Sheriff Stone (a nickname whose origin involves a character on the old TV show Night Court). Depending on the time of day, he’s also fire chief, resident historian and cook. Mostly, since the early 1980s, he is the town’s chief renovator, saving old mining shacks and the 100-year-old town’s post office, saloon and general store, in hopes of drawing people to the 55 acres of history. Robbins and his partner in preservation, Walt Kremin, own about half of the 50 buildings, taking on the town as their life’s work.
“America once said if you find something, you can develop it,” Robbins says. “I had the opportunity to not let Gold Point go to dust.” The two spent more than $100,000 to acquire and remodel buildings, including five deteriorating cabins they turned into sleeping quarters for the 3,000 or so guests who sweep through each year. “I lost one building, but I’m not going to let any more fall,” Robbins says. “It’s become a race against time.”
The town’s original name, in 1908, was Hornsilver, named after silver ore found in the area. Within months, population surged to about 1,000. It dropped to 200 in 1910 and dwindled more as the miners’ dreams faded. A small resurgence occurred in 1932, when, to restore enthusiasm, the town’s name was changed to Gold Point. Land in the vicinity yielded about $4 million in precious metals; in Goldfield, 30 miles away, miners dug up $90 million. Gold Point’s mines closed in 1960, and the prospectors moved on.
One of Robbins’ volunteers, who goes by the name Stranger, works on a shack. He wears an American flag bandana over his long, blond hair and has flecks of spackling in his salt-and-pepper beard. Stranger shows off a solid oak drop-box ceiling he’s completed. “I believe in people having dreams,” he says of the restoration. “There are so many other ghost towns that have been vandalized or have simply gone away.”
The town’s revival is now celebrated each Memorial Day, with a weekend-long event that features live music, the Chili Cook-Off & Dutch Oven Stew Contest and the Beatty Cowboys, who ride in to reenact a bank robbery. Beyond the festivities, visitors tour the abandoned mines (safely, from the outside), hang out in the saloon playing shuffleboard or shooting pool on a 1909 Brunswick table, or visit the post office, where letters from a century ago sit out on a dusty desk.
Part of the town’s draw is hearing the town-keeper’s stories, says Kristen Bridges, a Las Vegan who leads camping trips to Gold Point. She recounts Robbins’ oft-told tale of hitting a video poker jackpot in 1998. He won almost $223,000 at Texas Station and devoted a large portion of it to Gold Point. “That’s just the way he is,” she says. “Dedicated and giving.”
It all began when Robbins was living outside Sacramento and began amassing what’s become a 115-pound photo album with 8,000 shots of Old West towns he’d visited. A friend encouraged him to start purchasing buildings in Gold Point. Since then, Robbins, who also works as a wallpaper hanger (occasionally taking jobs in Las Vegas), has dedicated himself to preserving the town, which he feels like is an essential part of both America’s and Nevada’s history. He, Kremin and their volunteers lately spend up to 10 hours a day hammering, drilling and wiring.
“It’s my passion. I’m obsessed,” he says, and then looks at Kremin. “Or, he’s obsessed, and I’m possessed.”