January, 1897: “Joburg”, as it is known to the natives, owes its existence to the discovery of gold (and other valuable minerals ) in the hills of the Rand Mining District. The Johannesburg Milling and Water Co. laid out the town in December of 1896, with the anticipation of the arrival of the Randsburg Railroad, which occurred in December of 1897. The company was incorporated in January of 1897. Prior to the establishment of the town site a number of people had squatted on land and opened their business. This caused some problems when the Johannesburg Milling and Water Co. set up their land office to sell lots. A law suit was settled in May of 1897 and the company’s title to the land was affirmed by the courts. A Patent was issued to the company, in the fall of 1897.
ABOVE: JOHANNESBURG PROMO AD, L. A. HERALD, October 31, 1897.
Extolled are the virtues guaranteed to enrich the health, wealth and aesthetic values of prospective purchasers of town lots:
“Nature’s Sanitarium. An Ideal Townsite. Owing to the location of Johannesburg– at an altitude of 3500 feet in the mountains of the Desert — it renders the place entirely free from all malarial influences, as well as affording enchanting views in all directions. The highest point reached by the thermometer this summer was 100 degs. in the shade. The exceeding dryness and bracing influences of the atmosphere make the place especially inviting to the invalid.
“Postoffice, Telegraph, Telephone and Express facilities are established. Large Hotel, fully equipped with modern conveniences, electric bells, etc., and broad verandas, now open for guests. Broad, graded streets and avenues, with water now piped under pressure to the center of principal streets. Owing to the fact that the ownership of the Townsite is largely with the company, it renders intelligent improvement possible.”
What we might term ‘vaporware’ in the 21st Century, the Railroad, Mills many of the Mines were yet figments of hopeful imagination. The ‘Fully equipped, modern 10- Stamp Mill’ illustration correctly foretells a mill, possibly the Red Dog (?), though the artist has apparently not seen the real thing, many of the engineering details more fanciful than actual.
The Wood’s Concentrator is given star billing, even as it was an as yet unproven, (and promptly failed) Rube Goldburg scheme, itself more imaginative than practical. (See Joburg>Mills)
Fittingly, to the fast-and-loose standards of the time, the sketch map kind of scrambles features, relocates them to the convenience and taste of the ‘cartographer’. One would be hard pressed trying to navigate to the Panamints, for instance, missing altogether.
Perhaps by accident the ad meanders into objectivity, proclaiming accurately: “Johannesburg – Terminus of the Rand Mining District Railway, Distributing Point for the Desert Mining Region, Rand, Goler and Panamint.” (WJW) – Courtesy: UC Riverside
The town never grew very large, for while there was some mining and milling adjacent to town; its primary reason for existence was the fact that it had the terminal for the Randsburg Railroad and closer proximity to water needed not only for the town but for milling purposes.. The Randsburg Railroad was not the success that its backers had envisioned as the rates were prohibitive and therefore they did not monopolize the freight and passenger business as they had hoped. By February of 1899 the Yellow Aster had built its own mill and ore from their mines was no longer sent by rail to Barstow for processing.
March 11, 1898: “Johannesburg’s Improvement Association JOHANNESBURG, March 10.-The Johannesburg Improvement association organized here last night and elected a board of directors consisting of F. B. Qua, Frank Griffith, C. F. Gates, O. M. Peck, A. N. Farris. H. Croford and Arthur Woods. At a subsequent meeting of the board Mr. Woods was elected president; Mr. Griffith vice-president: Mr. Gates, secretary, and Mr. Farris, treasurer. The general purposes of the organization are to upbuild and extend the business of Johannesburg enforce existing laws and build and keep in repair roads leading to and from the town. The personnel of the organization comprise the best people of the town and no doubt much good will come from the work they purpose doing.” –The Herald
April 9, 1898: “A meeting of the Improvement association was held Wednesday evening. On Friday some of its members accompanied by Col. Woodard of the Kramer and Randsburg railway, went over a part of the Panamint road with a view of seeing what repairs were necessary to put it in good condition. Sign boards will be placed along the road to direct the unwary traveler. Mr. Woodard, for the railroad, and Mr. Qua, for the Johannesburg townsite company, will build a corral at once for the accommodation of the freight teams, and all freighters between Johannesburg and the outlying districts will be given free use of the corral and their teams will be supplied with water. This is an important step toward securing the trade of the neighboring districts.” –The Herald
Johannesburg however did remain as a supply center serving Trona, Ballarat, Panamint, Skidoo, Harrisburg, and mines in the Slate, Argus and Panamint Mountains, until the arrival of the Trona Railway in 1914. It also served the Bullfrog district of Nevada until Railway service was established from there to Beatty, Nev.
Silver City the town that never was. In 1921 the Johannesburg Townsite Mining Co. is thought to have picked up the assets of the Johannesburg Milling and Water Co. in a vain attempt to create excitement about a “New Townsite”. This theory is based on the fact that all their investments, and new business’s, that they claimed to have brought in are located on the original townsite lots. Additionally there is no evidence of the streets of the new townsite ever having been graded with the possible exception of Silver St. which is an extension of Bulwago St.
The Rand District News in their June 14, 1922 edition reported that “The Johannesburg Townsite Mining Company have just completed a deal for an independent water system for Johannesburg. A 4-inch main is to be laid down the main street with 3-in. laterals for all other streets. A 40,000-gallon reservoir is to be built above the town for storage. Water will be furnished at reasonable rates.
In addition to the hotel and water system the company has laid out 2500 lots in the new townsite, streets are being graded and named and modern bungalows and cottages being built by the company. Five of these cottages have been completed to date and 30 more contracted to go up as fast as they can be constructed.
In short Johannesburg’s new townsite is growing over night. Located close to the mines and equal distance to the other towns of the district it occupies an enviable position at the end of the Santa Fe Railroad and in the very heart of the whole Rand District. It’s officers, and men behind the company are doing things, they are awake and moving, and generously giving to the Rand District those things that are most needed to house the many new arrivals and furnish homes for the permanent. Their success is assured and the people of the whole district thank them heartily for what they have already done and offer their help to keep up the good work.”
In addition to the above the Rand District News stated the Johannesburg Townsite Mining Company had brought in other businesses such as the Johannesburg Lumber Company, the Jo-Burg Café, Mr. F. H. Smith a lawyer from Calexico, Mr. Edward L. Haff moved his engineering and surveying business from Randsburg. They were also responsible for the addition of A. K. Campbell’s restaurant, the J0-Burg Bar and a garage which was constructed by the Townsite Company.
The Putnam Act that held up the price of silver expired in 1923 starting the end of the silver boom, The Kelly mine sold out in 1929 and with the advent of the Great Depression, the railroad suspended business in 1930 and pulled up its tracks in 1934. The town has survived on the tourist trade off of Highway 395. Today Johannesburg is a sleepy little village made up mainly of retired people, with a Post office, and one gas station/convenience store. It is however the only town in the Rand District that has continued to grow in population over the years.