In 1865, soldiers from Camp Douglas, located in Salt Lake City, located lead and silver deposits on the west slope of the Oquirrh Mountains. Several years prior to their discovery, they were made aware of these deposits by the settlers in Rush Valley, who informed the soldiers that the local Native Americans were casting their own bullets out of lead and fashioning ornaments out of silver. After diligent searching of the western slope, they eventually found ore outcrops and early Native American excavations in East Canyon (originally Bates Canyon, later named Ophir Canyon). The resulting mining community was named Ophir (established 1870) after the biblical King Solomon’s mines (Carr 1972; Van Cott 1997). Another theory is that a prospector took one look around and exclaimed “Oh fer Gawd’s sake” (Sadler 1979).
Ophir is located within the original Rush Valley Mining District (UDARS 2003), approximately 4 miles up what is now known as Ophir Canyon. The ores taken from the surrounding mines were primarily lead, silver, and zinc, all of which contained copper impurities. Very little gold was extracted from the mines. Between 1870 and 1900, about $13 million worth of ore was extracted from the Ophir mines, of this total only $329, 000 came from gold deposits (Carr 1972).
Mines were scattered across the surrounding hillsides and by 1871, 2,500 claims had been staked (Thompson 1982). The bulk of the ore shipments leaving Ophir averaged $6,000 per ton. The ore was typically shipped to Stockton for processing; where Colonel Patrick Connor, the commander at Camp Douglas, had built a smelter. On occasion, ore was shipped to Connor’s smelter at Corrine, north of Ogden. The Corrine-bound ore traveled by steamboat across the Great Salt Lake from E.T. City (later Lake Point) located at the south end of the lake (Carr 1972; Van Cott 1997). Later, two smelters were built at Ophir that greatly reduced the shipments of raw ore out of town (Carr 1972).
The boom days for Ophir began in the 1870s when silver was discovered (Carr 1972). At its peak, 6,000 people lived and worked in Ophir. During its early years, buildings consisted of wood hovels and tents. Later, well-constructed wood-frame and stone buildings took their place (Carr 1972). In October 1870, The Daily Utah Reporter observed that in Ophir “…they are building good houses, apparently making preparations to live here some time…” (Daily Utah Reporter [DUR] 8 October 1870:2). The town was comprised of saloons, dance halls, gambling halls, redlight establishments, two schools, theaters, drug stores, cafes, townhall/fire station, post office, stores, newspaper, stage line, railroad, hotels, and boarding houses (Carr 1972).
By 1880 the boom days were finished. The easy pickings had been extracted and the miners, camp followers, merchants, and families had moved away; only about 50 families remained. A few mines continued operating, including one owned by Senator W. A. Clark of Montana. Clark is responible for the construction of two railroads on the west side of the Oquirrhs. He helped finance the San Pedro, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake Railroad (SP, LA, & SL) which extended south through Rush Valley and is now the Union Pacific Railroad mainline. In addition, he built his own railroad, the St. John and Ophir Railroad (SJ &O) which ran from St. John Station to Ophir (Carr 1972; Thompson 1982). Clark constructed the railroad primarily to ship ore from his Ophir Hill Mine, but others used it as well, including other mines, merchants, and passengers. The standard gauge railroad was in operation from 1912 until 1928, when there was not enough ore being produced to justify the cost of operation. The tracks and the passenger/baggage car remained in use until 1938, at which time the tracks were removed. Instead of salvaging the passenger/baggage car, it was left by the side of the tracks (Carr and Edwards 1989) and still sits there today (2022). Today, some of the lower portions of the SJ & O serve as the roadbase for the paved road leading up to Ophir (Carr 1972).
The open mines kept producing and in 1918 Ophir had a population of 560 and still maintained a post office, weekly newspaper, a general store, stage line, and railroad. In 1930, a large flotation mill was constructed at the mouth of the canyon to process tailings. In 1949, Ophir boasted a small hotel and a bar (Carr 1972).
In 1970, the town had a population of 76 and a few mines were still producing (Carr 1972). On October 25, 1971, a cave-in claimed the life of one miner at the Ophir Hill Mine. The cave-in occurred about 10:45 am partially burying two miners, Stan Holtzman and Harold Allen. It took Allen about one and a half hours to dig himself out and then he had to travel approximately 1.5 miles through the mine to get help. Rescue crews were able to converse with Holtzman who was partially buried but unable to extricate himself from the dirt. Unfortunately, during the rescue, the ceiling collapsed and completely covered Holtzman. His body was recovered at 3 am. Twenty-four-year-old Holtzman left behind a wife, a five-year-old daughter, parents, and two sisters (The Tooele Bulletin [TB] 26 October 1971:1).
As of 2018, Ophir had a population of thirty-eight. The few citizens of Ophir have developed a small outdoor museum that consists of a caboose, several houses, a post office, a shoe shop, and a school. The outdoor museum is operated by volunteers and the caboose functions as a visitors center when volunteers are on hand (UAF 2018).