Driving 27 miles south of Lander on Wyoming Highway 28, and then taking a gravel road left for roughly less than five miles, you arrive in Atlantic City, a century-old ghost town. Gold miners poured into this district in the late 1860s and, within a few months, created three typical frontier gold camps here South Pass City, Atlantic City, and Miner’s Delight. Today, Atlantic City can easily claim the title as boom/bust capital of Wyoming. Since its official platting in April 1868, the town has experienced a continuing series of mining booms and busts, all but one tied to the fortunes of gold.
In 1867, Atlantic City’s population approached 300. When W.H. Jackson took his 1870 photograph of Atlantic City, the town sported a three block main street with business buildings on both sides and heavily populated residential areas on the hillsides and in Beer Garden Gulch.
Several miners from South Pass City in 1868 discovered "The Atlantic Ledge"gold-bearing quartz several feet thick and thousands of feet long. The discovery spawned a boom of free-milling gold that resulted in a population of nearly two thousand in two years.
During the town’s boom, it possessed a brewery, a beer garden, a large dance hall, and an opera house. After three years, the town consisted of a log school and a two-story stone building constructed by J.W. Anthony in which Robert McAuley operated a store. The ninety-foot upper story served as a dance hall where Calamity Jane conducted business. In 1862, Emil Granier, a French engineer, proposed a twenty-mile sluiceway to provide water. The ditch, built with $1,000.00 and three hundred Swedes, passed through miles of hard rock, circled around the town and angled south. Christina Lake, located at the head of the ditch, was dammed to create a vast water supply. Unfortunately, the grade had been laid out with too much slope, leaving the sluices wiped out and water spilling over. The result was a supply of "liquid gold" that had every miner rushing in, creating small bonanzas and heavy whiskey consumption.
Forlorn and defeated, Emil Granier returned to France to explain the project’s failure and to request refinancing. Instead, Granier was jailed, tried, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite the Granier ditch failure, Atlantic City made the following additions: Mr. Giessler created a new store in 1898; the Carpenter family created a two-story log hotel in 1900; July 4, 1900 included a rodeo on Main Street; and in 1912, the log church was built which came to be known as "National Shrine."
By 1875, all of the gold had been harvested, and in 1920, all of the mines were shut down. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Atlantic City experienced a small boom as the E.T. Fisher Company built and operated a dredge on the streams near Atlantic City where it took out seven hundred thousand dollars in gold. The two-man operation was comprised of a "traveling mill" mounted on rails. While one man controlled the dredge, the other handled the two-story gold washer, oiling bearings, and watched for nuggets. Along the way they left heaps of rock which are still visible today. Many of the nearby mines re-opened. By the start of World War Il, this short-lived excitement faded: When the government declared gold a non-strategic metal, the mines were forced to close. In their search for metal, scavengers came into the area and dismantled many of the mines in the district.
By the 1950s, Atlantic City was listed as a ghost town. During several winters in the 1950s and early 1960s, only three or four people remained in the town. In 1950, the only remaining business in operation was the Carpenter Hotel a one-night stay in the cabin was one dollar and meals were fifty cents.
Later in the 1960s, interest in a different metal-iron ore brought hundreds of people to the area when U.S. Steel constructed a large, open pit mine three miles northwest of Atlantic City. Although most of the miners commuted from Lander, several settled in Atlantic City. This and the growing interest in vacation homes made the town slowly grow again. In the 1980s the U.S. Steel mine closed, and with economic hard times throughout Wyoming, most of the people in this community left to find jobs.
Each spring, the eternal hope of the gold mining community grows as geologists, promoters, and would-be investors drift in and out of Atlantic City. The wind of this old gold town always whispers of another boom on its way.
Atlantic City Tour
1. Beer Garden Gulch. To the east lies Beer Garden Gulch, so named because of the two breweries that operated during Atlantic City’s early years. Nothing remains of the extensive saloons, gaming houses, and red light district. Only the stream, which provided the water for Wyoming’s first brewery, still exists.
2. Dexter Mill. The large Dexter Mine and Milling Company’s cyanide mill was built in 1904 at considerable expense, but it recovered little gold. The company eventually went bankrupt. In the late ‘20s, the buildings were moved to the Carissa Mine near South Pass City where they still stand today. A private residence was built on part of the foundation of the mill.
3. School House. Education was sporadic in early Atlantic City. The first recorded school was taught in a private home in 1869 by Miss Irwin. Some time later a schoolhouse was located here, but around the turn of the century, a cowboy riding through town knocked down a pupil, Jean Harsch. The citizens then moved the school to a safer location off of the main roads, east of the present location of the church.
4. Sypes Barn. The Sypes dairy barn dates to the early 1900s. Below the barn, the Sypes also built a huge, two-story house. Charley Sypes was a bookkeeper and caretaker for the Dexter Mining and Milling Company. In addition to running the dairy, he also served as postmaster for several years during the 1920s at the Granier building. When the Timba Bah Mining Company took over the Dexter interests, Sypes remained as its agent. He later committed suicide because of debts, and his large, white house was dismantled and moved.
5. Gustafsen House. Martha Harsch and Pete Gustafsen occupied this home after they married in 1912. Martha’s sister, Nora, whose husband disappeared after their first year of marriage, also lived with them. The Harsch sisters were always called by their maiden name. Until Martha’s death, the Harsch family had been an integral part of the town’s history for almost a hundred years. Most of the family members are buried in the Atlantic City Cemetery on the hill east of town.
6. Gratrix Cabin. Reportedly the oldest building in Atlantic City, it was occupied by Judge Buck Gratrix, a late 1860s arrival who served as a Justice of the Peace. The building may have also served as the site of town meetings and a school. Gratrix boasted of having lived in three counties (Carter, Sweetwater and Fremont); two territories (Dakota and Wyoming); and one state (Wyoming)all while living in this same house at this site.
7. Assay Building. Early photographs of Atlantic City show the front part of this building, which may have been one of the several assay offices during the first boom. Presently it is a private residence.
8. Granier building. Emile Granier came to Atlantic City in 1884 before Atlantic City’s second gold boom. A French capitalist, he supposedly invested almost a quarter of a million dollars in his hydraulic mining project. To the south and west of Atlantic City, one can still see evidence of the 25-mile ditch constructed to bring water down from Christina Lake, high in the Wind River Range, to Granier’s claims east of Atlantic City. His ditch was completed in 1888 and operated for several years. In 1893, Granier’s company went bankrupt, and he left. Ironically, Granier’s dream of worthwhile gold recovery was realized by the Fischer-Crawford dredging operation in the 1930s; the dredge’s gold was retorted into $10,000 bricks in Granier’s former building, which burned down a few years later.
9. Red Cloud Saloon. The saloon was one of the earliest and most popular places in Atlantic City. An 1869 edition of the Sweetwater Mines newspaper noted that it was owned by Bill Long (Lawn) who was part Indian and was reportedly at one time kidnapped by Chief Red Cloud. Saloons were built before the church and schools, as in most frontier mining towns.
10. Harsch House. John Murphy, an early miner, built a house here in 1868 and operated it as the Atlantic Hotel, which was mentioned in James Chisholm’s book <I>South Pass, 1868<I>. Murphy also owned a house of ill repute in South Pass City. Active in creating Wyoming Territory from the Dakota Territory, he served as the first sheriff of Carter County. He remained in the area and died in Lander, where the local newspaper obituary mentioned his "weakness for strong liquors."
11. Giessler Store and Post Office (Atlantic City Mercantile). After the success of an earlier store east of the McAuley Store, Lawrence Giessler constructed this building in 1893 out of adobe brick, covered with metal siding. The next year he built a large livery barn across the street, behind the store. For many years, Giessler successfully operated the store, a freighting business, and a ranch on Willow Creek. He installed the first telephone system in the area in 1904. After his death, his wife, Emma, operated a cafe and boarding house for the booming town. After the store closed in the late ‘30s, it was not opened again until the iron ore boom in the 1960s. A U.S. Steel worker, Lyle Moerer, restored the building. He and his wife, Jerrie, ran a store, gas station, and bar for several years. Since then, various owners have operated it as a bar and steak house. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
12. Drilling Rock. While hand drilling holes for dynamite was dangerous and demanding work, the early miners enjoyed showing off their skill at drilling contests. This rock was quarried from nearby cliffs and brought to Atlantic City for contests. In recent years, there has been a national revival of drilling contests.
13. Harsch Chicken House. This structure, slowly being reclaimed by the elements, is easily spotted in early photo- graphs of Atlantic City. A long time resident of the town remembers it as the Harsch family’s chicken house. It also probably served as an early home.
14. Main Street. This block contained a variety of businesses through the years, including a butcher shop, a general store, a drug store, and several saloons. The private residence in the middle of the block on the north side was once part of Blackie’s Saloon. The Huff-Green saloon was located next to it.
15. McAuley Cabin. This cabin, where the Robert McAuley family lived for many years, dates back to the late 1860s. Many other families have occupied it through the years.
16. Fisher Cabin. Now abandoned, this cabin belonged to a bachelor by that name, according to several accounts. It may have also been used as a schoolhouse.
17. McAuley Store (Hyde’s Hall). This building was constructed around 1869 by J.W. Anthony, who was never paid for his work, as happened with many of his jobs. Robert McAuley then opened a store here that supposedly also had gaming tables, a saloon, the post office, and one of the best dance floors in Wyoming. According to local legend, Calamity Jane, then living in the nearby settlement of Miner’s Delight, was once a dance hall girl here. The second story was removed after being weakened by an earthquake in the early 1900s. Judge McAuley, the Justice of the Peace, was a well respected, imposing man of the community. In the 1920s, one of the local characters, Tom Hyde, who was famed for the many wives he wooed and lost through lonely hearts clubs, restored the building and renamed it Hyde’s Hall. It served as a community dance hail for several years.
18. Private Cemetery. On the hillside behind the McAuley Store, on private land, is a small cemetery, sometimes called a children’s cemetery. Only one headstone remains since most of the others were made of wood. The inscription reads: "Lydia Mae, only daughter of R. and L. McAuley, 1874."
19. St. Andrews Episcopal Church. In 1911, the Atlantic City residents began raising money through plays and dances to build the town’s first church. It was consecrated in 1913, and for many years Miss Ellen Carpenter looked after it. By the 1960s, the church was beginning to show its age. Through a community effort, the new people of Atlantic City restored the building. Since then it has served as the ecumenical, community church. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
21. Huff Hotel. Jake Huff built the Huff Hotel, one of the most imposing buildings of early Atlantic City, as well as a livery barn, candy store, and bunkhouse. Only the Huff Candy Store remains. Built later, about 1903, it was operated by the Huff sisters. Among the first settlers, Jake Huff had a financial interest in many of the businesses, including a brewery, saloon, gold mines, a stamp mill (west of town), and a lumber mill.
22. Harsch Blacksmith Shop. An early arrival in South Pass City, Philip Harsch had a blacksmith shop in that town until he moved to Atlantic City and opened this shop. His son, Henry, operated it until the 1920s. The dredging of the 1930s destroyed the remaining structures, but horseshoes still occasionally turn up in the vicinity.
23. E.F. Cheney Blacksmith Shop (Located across the street). This young man arrived in Atlantic City by stagecoach from Point of Rocks during a spring snowstorm in 1869. His diary, found at the Pioneer Museum in Lander, is one of the few day-by-day accounts of life in early Atlantic City. In the 1870s, he opened his own shop, but as the population of the town decreased, he moved his business to the growing community in Lander Valley.
24. Atlantic City Volunteer Fire Department. Atlantic City existed as a community for almost a hundred years without a fire department. With the influx of people during the iron ore boom, a volunteer fire department was organized. Local residents, including those from South Pass City, donate many hours to keep the fire department viable.
25. Carpenter Hotel (Miner’s Delight Inn). The Carpenter family arrived in Atlantic City in October 1890 during an aborted attempt to reach the West Coast. Clarence Carpenter went to work for Emile Granier. The next year, his wife, Nellie, began serving meals to miners in their home on this location. Due to a small boom from the Dexter Mining Company in 1904, the Carpenters built a new addition, took in boarders, and put up the Carpenter Hotel sign. When Nellie became ill, her daughter, Ellen, took over most of the work. During the boom of the 1930s, the hotel was expanded again. "Miss Ellen" gained a wide following with her all-you-can-eat, family-style meals. Miss Ellen operated the hotel until her death in 1961. Former visitors of the hotel, New Yorkers Paul and Georgina Newman, bought and began restoring the hotel in 1963. For more than two decades the Miner’s Delight Inn was recognized widely for its fine dining. After Paul’s death in 1986, Gina kept the restaurant open. In 1997, Ken, Donna and Lester Ballard purchased the former hotel. Their love of the history of the area brought them to Atlantic City, where their historic building is presently a bed and breakfast.
26. Diana Stamp Hall. The first stamp mill in Atlantic City, a ten stamp mill, was constructed in 1869 by a man named Rice. Later the Diana Gold Company milled ore from various mines here. Because of metal scavengers, nothing remains of the mill. Local residents have always referred to the road and hill and Mill Hill, and it has been a favorite ski hill for decades.
27. Toll Road. In April 1869, the Carter County Commissioners approved the operation of a toll road between South Pass City and Atlantic City. The original site is probably in the draw, halfway up the hill. However, people were not inclined to pay a toll since other roads could be taken, and the toll was soon discontinued.
Portions of this article are reprinted from Atlantic City brochure.