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June 11, 2007
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For Sale: historic Idaho gold mining burg-turned ghost town

ROCKY BAR, Idaho (AP) " Bob Johnson is offering what he thinks is a hauntingly good deal for the right buyer: a classic Idaho ghost town, or at least part of one.

Johnson is part owner of the historic gold mining town of Rocky Bar. And in a glossy, Sun Valley real estate magazine, he's peddling his stake in the town for $250,000, a price that entitles the buyer to 8.9 acres of land, a rustic hotel building, a mine, a leaky wading pool and the town jail.

The sale price also includes mineral and timber rights.

Johnson, and his wife, Pat Johnson, say they have mixed feelings about putting the land and buildings on the selling block.

"But we don't come up here anymore and neither do our kids. It needs somebody to keep an eye on things," said Johnson, who bought half the town in the early 1980s as a recreational escape.

"We just love the mountains," Pat Johnson adds. "The four-wheeling, the hunting; you can hunt deer, elk and bear here. And it's nice country."

It's also remote and rugged.

The old town sits in southwestern Idaho in Elmore County, between Featherville and Atlanta. In its heyday, Rocky Bar boasted stores, bars, fraternal lodges, two hotels, a photography studio, mines, mills, a Chinese district and newspaper. In the late 1800s, more than $6 million in gold was mined in town.

Such prosperity helped make Rocky Bar one of the region's larger cities, with population estimates varying from 500 to 1,500. It served briefly as the county seat of the now-defunct Alturas County, which became all or parts of more than a dozen Idaho counties.

Rocky Bar also had it's own connection to the Oregon Trail. The steep road over the pass from Rocky Bar to Atlanta has claimed the lives of seven mail carriers and was considered the most dangerous in the U.S.

Bob Johnson said he was mining in the Boise Basin when he learned in 1980 that his uncle, who owned part of the town at that time, had died and his uncle's wife wanted to sell it. Johnson snapped it up.

"I bought it for the mining, but I also wanted to keep it in the family," Bob Johnson said. "They'd been mining by dragging a bucket through the stream.

"The bucket kept filling up with water so they drilled holes in the bottom of it. I looked at those holes and knew they'd missed a lot of the gold. We mined here from 1982 to 1988 and made enough to pay for the land," he said.

Sun Valley real estate agency Marlow Geuin, who oversees the listing, says response has been steady, but no firm offers yet.

"Since I first put it in the system, I must have gotten 300 e-mails from other real estate agents," Geuin said. "They couldn't believe I had a town for sale. And compared with Sun Valley, where a million gets you a condo, $250,000 is cheap. I've gotten inquiries from all over the country."

The Johnsons envision a buyer establishing an RV park for hunters, but admit the lack of power and running water make that option a challenge. A doctor expressed interest as a base for extreme skiing, but he backed off after realizing skiers faced a steep climb from the base of Steel Mountain to town.

"I'd like to see it become a historic site," artist Kerry Moosman, who lives part of the year in nearby Atlanta and owns the Masonic Hall, a house and former saloon in Rocky Bar.

"There's enough left with the jail, saloon, hotel, Masonic Hall and the cemeteries that it would make a nice interpretive site where people could learn about the history of Rocky Bar," he said.

Although a handful of ghost towns are scattered across the state, former state historian Larry Jones says towns on the market in the condition of Rocky Bar are rare.

"Usually there's never much left but the foundations," Jones said. "It would be nice to preserve the buildings that are still there. It deserves it because it was one of our earliest mining communities. It was one of the things that brought people to Idaho, and it's never been interpreted."

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The Post Independent Updated Jun 11, 2007 06:24PM Published Jun 11, 2007 06:24PM Copyright 2007 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.