A Peek Into the Past

Percival Nash at a Manhattan mining area in April 1909.

Photos from Manhattan’s heyday provide a glimpse into yesteryear.

A cache of photographs taken in the small mining town of Manhattan in the early 1900s was discovered by chance, and the images taken by Percival Nash offer a personal look at the once-booming town. Percival was—among other things—a sheriff, miner, and amateur photographer living in Manhattan in 1906. He lived there with his wife, Mary, for 10 years, and took numerous photos of life in and around the mines.

In 2004, Oregon photographer Joseph Deiss had a chance meeting with Sue Carlson, Percival Nash’s granddaughter. After learning Joseph was a photographer, Sue presented him with a box of glass plates and celluloid negatives, taken by her grandfather. The images of life during the town’s boom had been languishing in a box. Originally, there were 14 boxes of negatives, but only one had survived. Joseph took the box and started looking through it.

“It was a jaw-dropping experience,” says Joseph, whose first order of business was to archive the negatives. “Mary had written information about the negatives—places, people, and dates—on some of the paper sleeves.”

Most of the sleeves were falling apart, but Joseph spent a year preserving what he could, scanning all 134 negatives. While not too much is known about Percival’s life, his images provide a look at the people and town that has rarely been seen.

Manhattan Athletic Club.

Percival was born in England in 1874. He graduated from the Oregon State University in 1893 at the age of 19, and the university has several of his diaries in its collection. He spent time in Alaska before moving to Nevada in 1906.

While living in Manhattan around 1907, Percival was both a surveyor and assistant secretary for Manhattan Dexter Mining Company. He also served on the mine’s board of directors in 1915.

The small town—located about 50 miles north of Tonopah— has seen its fair share of booms and busts. It was founded in 1867 as part of the area’s silver mining boom, abandoned in 1871, and brought back to life in 1905 when 4,000 people poured into the region in the hopes of striking gold. In 1907, after San Francisco’s catastrophic earthquake and the debilitating stock market panic, the town pretty much gasped its last breath. Or so it was thought.

In 1909, the town was resuscitated once more by the mining industry. Percival, Mary, and their three children lived in Manhattan until 1916, before moving to Tonopah. After a year, the family moved to Reno, where among other jobs Percival worked as a prohibition officer. In April, 1929, he became chief of police in Las Vegas. Percival died in Las Vegas on Aug. 23, 1937.

John R. Dexter in his Manhattan office circa 1910.

Manhattan today bears little resemblance to the Nash photos, Joseph notes. He recently paid a visit to the once-bustling town, and continues to research Percival’s life, but he’s had difficulty finding information about the man whose obituary in the Reno Gazette-Journal stated he “was well known throughout the state and particularly in southern Nevada and in Reno.”

“The good news,” Joseph says, “is there is a Manhattan Library and Museum.”

Joseph is working with curator Tony Grimes to get clarification about the location of some of the images, as well as the names of some of the individuals depicted. He hopes to return to Manhattan to track down the actual location of some of the images, as well as Percival and Mary’s cabin. Ultimately, he hopes to piece together the story of the Nash family one photo and story at a time.

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