Finding Metropolis

If you ever wanted to trek along a true road to nowhere, try it in Elko county, Nevada—or don’t!

On our recent road trip to Salt Lake City, we decided to find the abandoned ghost town of Metropolis. Some brief research on the internet led us to believe that Google Maps directions generally work. Little did we know that most people venture in westbound from Wells; and if heading eastbound from Elko, Google may very well take us on a two-hour odyssey on treacherous dirt roads that end in absolutely nowhere.

But undeterred, we did eventually find Metropolis along our journey home.


While not every metropolis starts with an ambitious epithet, some—and certainly one—can end preposterously because of a failure to obtain water rights.

The town of Metropolis started with much aspiration and rigor. In 1910, east coast financier Harry Pierce convinced investors to form the Pacific Reclamation Company (PRC), with the hopes of establishing a 40,000-acre agricultural metropolis in Elko county, Nevada ​[1]​. And the first few years unquestionably lived up to the founders’ hopes—by 1911, the PRC already completed the 100-ft Bishop Creek Dam, and by 1912, a reservoir is formed, complete with expansive canals and an elaborate water distribution system ​[2]​. Streets and land lots were plotted, and the Southern Pacific Railroad built an 8-mile spur to the town. Within a year, Metropolis even had its own bi-monthly newspaper, the Chronicle ​[1]​.

It is not a dream or a visionary promise but a reality. The consumation [sic] of a scheme so well thought out and so admirably executed as to banish all doubting thoughts, and put Nevada knockers under the sod.

Weekly Independent, 26 Jan 1912 ​[3]​

But that same year, residents in Lovelock Valley downstream along the Humboldt River sued the PRC. Because it never got water rights before damming the river, the court ruled against it, and the city would be allowed to draw only enough water to irrigate 4,000 of the 40,000 acres of land ​[1]​. The farmers tried dry-farming for a while, but a conspiracy between crop-eating jackrabbits, crickets, a typhoid epidemic ​[4]​, and droughts made sure that Metropolis fell as quickly and as spectacularly as it rose.

Hotel Metropolis

Following the town’s first building, Amusement Hall, Hotel Metropolis opened in December of 1911. The $75,000 hotel was supposedly the largest hotel between Denver and San Francisco, and boasted a variety of modern amenities for the time, with steam heat and electric lighting, as well as a billiard room, marble-tiled lobby, barbershop, bank, and newstand ​[1]​.

The hotel closed just two years later, and burned down in 1936 ​[1]​. Ruins of concrete walls and foundations of it remain today.

Lincoln School

The $25,000 school for 180 students opened in September of 1914. By this time, the city had already lost its battle over water rights, but the school would run classes well into the 1940s ​[1]​. The school was the entirety of the Metropolis School District, which was second only to that of Elko city ​[6]​.

Metropolis Today

All that remains of Metropolis today are ruins of the Metropolis Hotel and the Lincoln School. The prominent arch of the school still stands and has become the ghost town’s landmark.

See a full gallery of Metropolis here.


  1. [1]
    R. Maturi and M. B. Maturi, Nevada : off the beaten path. Old Saybrook: Globe Pequot Press, 1997.
  2. [2]
    S. W. Paher, Nevada ghost towns & mining camps. Berkeley: Howell-North Books, 1970.
  3. [3]
    “Elko County’s New City,” Weekly Independent, p. 1, Jan. 26, 1912.
  4. [4]
    “The Ghost Town of Metropolis,” presented at the Plaque, 2013.
  5. [5]
    “Metropolis, Nevada,” Reno Gazette, p. 20, Feb. 02, 1912.
  6. [6]
    “Metropolis Now Full Grown Town,” Nevada State Journal, p. 7, Feb. 25, 1912.
  7. [7]
    “Lincoln School,” presented at the Northeastern Nevada Museum, 2008.