Named in honor of Gen. Frederick W. Lander, Lander County many a superlative to the casual Nevadan. Within this wedge-shaped county are many tales of trebulation. Austin, once Nevada's richest and largest town after Virginia City, began as a silver mining camp in 1862, then by the summer of the next year, Austin and the surrounding Reese River Mining District had a permanent population of over ten thousand people. Austin's future looked promising when the town was declared the county seat of Lander County; further, the Nevada Central Railroad built a connecting line from Austin to the Transcontinental railroad at Battle Mountain in 1880. Unfortunately, the railroad arrived too late; by 1881, Austin's boom was over.
Today's Austin is as picturesque as ever!
Some people think of Austin as a "living ghost town", a hamlet of people who just will not leave; a certain air of stubborness resides over the little town -- perhaps a well-preserved example of pride and tranquility? The answer is simple: there is a reason why people still call Austin home! Three stately churches, standing proudly over the town could be considered endangered relics of a fast-disappearing western heritage; St. Augustine's Catholic Church, the Episcopal Church, built in 1878, and the Methodist Church, built in 1866 keep a careful and solid watch over Austin. But it's the International Hotel that is Austin's claim to fame. First built in Virginia City in 1859, the International was moved to Austin in 1863. Today, 'the hotel' (as said by Austinians) still serves a delicious meal, deals a mean video poker, and pours liquor so hard, it'll make a man fall to his knees. The West is still loud and proud in Austin. However, the International's owners aren't the only ones who embrace the town's glory days. Everybody in Austin chants of old memories, but they keep the thought at a good distance away. Today, with its 340 residents, Austin barely clings to life by scrimping income from tourists driving through on the Loneliest Road. Life goes on, because in Austin, thoughts of 'the good ol' days' are likely to invoke depression as much as fascination. In 1979, Lander County gave Austin a crippling blow when the seat was shifted to Battle Mountain, a town dubbed, "the armpit of America." At least one Austinian believes this was a "shot to the knees", an unconscious attempt to fan the flame of Austin's life. Maybe they're right.
Despite its hard times, Austin is still without question one of the most beautiful towns in Nevada. Don't expect to find a restored opera house like Eureka, a busy boardwalk like Virginia City, or a little wooden church like Manhattan. Austin is its own being, its structures kept preserved by locals who leave things just the way they are. Everything sits, stands and leans as it did, without progress or regression; time has been patient with Austin. If a structure falls, the celebration of its death takes place. If a structure stands, it is put to use. One of the most picturesque buildings is the original Lander Courthouse, still in use by the county sheriff. A closer look may reveal the building's patience, almost like it waits for Nevada to give power back to Austin. On the bright side, things are looking up for the little town! Austin's forced state of arrested decay displays a shrine of old western history, a perfect destination for visitors to walk through an authentic mining town, without the souvenir shops, fancy forced gunfights, or flashy showboating. In Austin, what you see, is what you get. In addition, Austin is surrounded by scenery fit for royalty; Austin is quickly becoming a destination for outdoors enthusiasts, everyone from hunters, anglers, backpackers and bicyclists who make the long drive from Reno or Carson to splendor in Nevada's Toiyabe, Monitor and Toquima Ranges. Like a boost in moral, mining activity near Battle Mountain, Round Mountain, and the Reese River Valleys produce high-quality turquoise, hence placing Austin in the perfect position for selling the prized material. Visitors to today's Austin will find several shops in town that make jewelry from local turquoise.
Like a die-hard soldier, Austin continues to hang on, slowly rebounding not by gold or silver, but by a precious blue stone. Austin now declares itself, the 'Turquoise Capitol of Nevada'; with time, hopefully Austin will turn into a turquoise mecca, holding her own against towns like as Kingman or Flagstaff. Time will only tell.
Lander is by far the easiest county to conquer, with all but one marker located right alongside the Loneliest Road. This is disappointing to the average enthusiastic marker hunter! Pesky marker #95 is 105 miles from US 50 in the 'armpit of America.' Bite the bullet, enjoy the monotony of SR 305 and think about getting back to Austin! After all, most of Lander's markers are scattered throughout the little town. Support Austin's economy but booking a day or two at the local motel. Even a week spent here may not be enough for the outdoor enthusiast. Besides, Battle Mountain has enough already. Stop into the International and have a bite or two. Shop some turquoise, or take a stroll through town; have a picnic at 'the Castle'; take a hike, or a multi-day back pack into the Toiyabes right at Austin's doorstep, or catch a wild trout in one of the many streams flowing down from the mountains. Trust me folks, there is much more in Lander than just the markers! Don't let Austin's tiny population and 'lack' of services fool you to stay elsewhere. Austin has enough to keep you comfortable with a few motels and a few gas stations, a laundromat, and plenty of campsite outside of town. The International Hotel hosts pretty much everything in town in terms of food, drink and gaming. However, more services are found in Battle Mountain if you're so inclined to stay in an 'armpit'; services in Battle Mountain include typical interstate motels, a KOA campground, a grocery store, hospital, the Owl Club Casino and less-expensive gas...
...But ask yourself -- Who wants to stay in an 'armpit' anyway?