Gerlach–Empire is a census-designated place (CDP) in Washoe County, Nevada, United States. The combined population was 217 at the 2010 census. A former company town for United States Gypsum Corporation, Empire was once home to more than 750 people. It is part of the Reno–Sparks Metropolitan Statistical Area. Most of the population lives in the two tiny settlements of Gerlach, a neighboring hamlet with fewer than 200 people that shares its schools with Empire; the rest live on outlying rural ranching properties. The nearest town, Nixon, is 60 miles to the south on a reservation owned by the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe.
6 In film
According to the United States Census Bureau, the CDP has a total area of 94.1 sq mi. (244 km2), all land. Its elevation is 3,946 ft (1,203 m).
As of the census of 2000, there were 499 people, 234 households, and 146 families residing in the CDP. The population density was 5.3 people per square mile (2.0/km2). There were 297 housing units at an average density of 3.2 per square mile (1.2/km2). The racial makeup of the CDP was 91.18% White, 2.81% Native American, 0.20% Asian, 4.61% from other races, and 1.20% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.02% of the population.
There were 234 households out of which 26.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.3% were married couples living together, 9.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.2% were non-families. 34.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.13 and the average family size was 2.71.
In the CDP the population was spread out with 22.6% under the age of 18, 7.0% from 18 to 24, 31.5% from 25 to 44, 29.5% from 45 to 64, and 9.4% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females there were 116.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 120.6 males.
The median income for a household in the CDP was $35,088, and the median income for a family was $43,125. Males had a median income of $36,000 versus $23,056 for females. The per capita income for the CDP was $14,793. About 10.3% of families and 14.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.8% of those under age 18 and 12.7% of those age 65 or over.
The economies of Gerlach and Empire focus on tourism in the nearby Black Rock Desert, and hunting. Gypsum mining was the historic staple of the local economy until 2011. Empire was the classic company town of the United States Gypsum Corporation (USG). All residents of Empire worked for USG and USG owns the properties and buildings. The Empire gypsum mine was the longest continually operating mine in the US, operating for eighty-eight years from 1923 to 2011. Most mines were shut down during World War II as resources were diverted to the war. It was determined that gypsum was an ‘essential’ resource and the mine was never closed during that period. The town had a church, a public pool, a 9-hole golf course, a post office (89405), and Empire Airport for light planes. There was also a day care facility for the employees of Empire, and a convenience store with a gas station—the only store for more than 50 miles (80 km).
The gypsum plant in Empire closed its doors on January 31, 2011, eliminating 95 jobs. Residents with children were allowed to continue inhabiting their company homes through June 20, 2011, the end of the school year. After that date, Empire effectively became a ghost town. In response, the local ZIP Code, 89405, was also discontinued. Four USG employees remain to maintain the property.
The other major industries are a Union Pacific switching station in Gerlach and public services of Washoe County, which includes its roads department and a K–12 public school owned by the Washoe County School District; the future of the Gerlach K–12 School is unknown, as it is estimated that after the gypsum plant closes only around a dozen children will remain in Gerlach. Many of the inhabitants of Gerlach are elderly retirees. Many people in Gerlach also have small private businesses. Many are Internet-based, due to the town’s remote location. Hunters from all over the west travel to Gerlach to hunt a wide variety of game such as chukar, geese, deer, antelope, etc. Joe’s Gerlach Club hosts an annual chukar feed in late January. Bruno’s restaurant hosts several other private parties in a large room in the back which is available for rent.
Since 1991, Burning Man, a week long countercultural festival with 51,454 participants (as of 2010), has been held nearby. Due to the appearance and actions of many of the participants, local enthusiasm is mixed, but the event is responsible for around 20% of the sales at the few commercial establishments in the area, which include the closest permanent fuel and grocery stops to the event site. The Black Rock Desert is also the site of many other recreational activities, organized and otherwise, throughout the year.
Gerlach was founded during the construction of the Feather River Route of the Western Pacific Railroad between 1905 and 1909.
Empire was founded in 1923; in that year miners formed a tent city while mining a claim originally established by the Pacific Portland Cement Company in 1910. U.S. Gypsum has owned the town since 1948, which reached a maximum population of 750 in the early 1960s. But when the recession forced the company to shut the plant in 2011, the town was unable to survive.
TransportationPrimary highway access to both Empire and Gerlach is provided by State Route 447. Gerlach can also be accessed via three former state highways: State Route 34, State Route 48, and State Route 49 (also known as Jungo Road).
Each town has an airfield, suitable only for light planes. The Gerlach field is simply a graded dirt strip, which is no longer usable. The Empire field is dirt, but light towers at a baseball field directly adjacent to and in line with the eastern end of the runway make approaches from or departures in that direction hazardous. Neither should be used unless under emergency.
In filmGerlach was one of the film locations for the film Far From Home (1989). Gerlach was also the site for Gary Cooper’s first (credited) film, The Winning of Barbara Worth (1926).
RadioAs of March 2010 Gerlach now has a non profit community based radio station founded by Jeff Cotton and Bruce Van Dyke. The call letters are KLAP and it is located at 89.5 on the FM dial. It is also available on line at www.KLAP.fm. It is located at 395 Main Street in the old Gerlach Gas Station and Garage Building Office owned by Gary Schmidt, an original underwriter of the station along with Twin City Surplus of Reno, Great Basin Brewery of Sparks, and Bruno of Bruno’s in Gerlach. The Garage Building was also prominent in the filming of “Far From Home”.
^ “American FactFinder”. United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
^ a b c Huffington Post: “Empire, Nevada Completely Wiped Out By Recession”, June 22, 2011.
^ a b Bruder, Jessica (June 11, 2011). “Slump in construction industry creates a Sheetrock ghost town”. The Christian Science Monitor. Yahoo! News. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
^ Fulbright, Leslie (August 28, 2005), “A warmer welcome, Residents of small Nevada town profit from annual counter cultural festival”, San Francisco Chronicle
^ Nevada Historical Marker 152, Nevada Historical Preservation Office