Last week, there was a town called Empire, in Nevada. This week, that town no longer exists, in one of the saddest stories that has come to symbolize the pitiful plight of the US economy.
The closure of the US Gypsum plant just outside the town had meant the closure of the town itself.
Empire, America’s last remaining company town that was founded in 1923, initially little more than a miner’s tent camp, was finally sealed off for good last Monday. Empire, a victim of the economy, rather than a disaster, is now a ghost town consigned to history.
Located about 100 miles to the north of Reno, at its peak Empire was a lively, if never quite thriving, little community of 750 people. Even as recently as last January, Empire was home to around 300 souls.
That was until the only source of employment dried up. With the economy in such a poor state, the demand for sheetrock, the principle reason for the town’s existence, dried up. With no demand, there is no need for a Gypsum plant anymore. Sadly, with no Gypsum plant, there’s no need for the town anymore.
An exclusive company town, homes and apartments could be rented by employees at bargain basement prices – Just $250 a month for a two bedroom home, or $125 for a single apartment.
In addition to the residential properties, Empire had a public swimming pool, tennis courts, a community center, a school, even a golf course. All this is now no longer needed.
The school, located in nearby Gerlach, is going to be particularly hard hit. They had 73 students in the previous school year, the vast majority of them being Empire kids. Now, they are expecting about 12 kids to show up for the following school term. That means the school has had to let go most of its teaching staff, who will now likely have to move away too.
But despite the upheavals the town has gone through, not everyone is planning on leaving. Judy Conley, a secretary for over 35 years at the Gerlach School, says she doesn’t want to go anywhere. “But I will miss all of my friends. I’ve lost them all,” she says. “We spent our whole lives together, I will miss them all so much.”
Steve, her husband, lost his job as the quarry manager after 40 years with the company, having taken over the job from his father.
“Sad to say, it was a business decision to close the plant,” said engineer Mike Christopher. “It’s all because of the foreclosure crisis. If that hadn’t of happened, we’d still be fine.”