This past weekend Kim and I visited the ghost town of Metropolis, Nevada, to visit the graves of my great-grandparents, Wilford A. and Dorothy Jensen Hyde. They were early settlers of this “town that died from thirst,” according to the historic plaque that marks the site.
My grandma, Eva Hyde Koyen, grew up in Metropolis, and my mother, Patricia Koyen Dymock, was born there. Hearing them mention the name “Metropolis,” as a kid, I thought of Superman, and big-city skyscrapers. In the research I’ve found, the Pacific Reclamation Company of New York had grandiose hopes of turning it into a bustling town when they founded it in 1910. Many of the early settlers were Mormons, and my great-grandfather, WIlford A. Hyde, was the community’s first LDS bishop. In its heyday, the town boasted a school for 150 students, a three-story, 50-room hotel, an amusement hall, a newspaper, concrete sidewalks and electric lights on its main street.
But the founders underestimated the need for water to farm the harsh desert. They built a dam to get water from the nearby Bishop Creek, using bricks reclaimed from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. The dam provoked a legal water-rights battle with the town of Lovelock over water rights, and Metropolis lost.
Drought, jackrabbits, and Mormon crickets wreaked havoc on the crops. The population dwindled, and the town was pretty much shut down by the time the local post office closed in 1942.. It’s known as Nevada’s only agriculture ghost town, as most of the others were mining boom towns that eventually went bust.
On a lonely dirt road, we found the Lincoln School’s entrance arch and crumbling remains; the ruins of the Hotel Metropolis, and the Valley View cemetery. Everything else has been reclaimed by the sagebrush.
In the cemetery, I found Wilford and Dorothy’s graves. WIlford moved his family here in 1911 from Afton, Wyoming, where he managed the local creamery, served as a Wyoming state senator, and was a member of the LDS Star Valley stake presidency. My grandmother Eva wrote that he “wanted to own some land of his own and get away from the creamery.” His two brothers, John and George, moved their families to Metropolis too.
Dorothy told her children that when she saw the sagebrush-filled desert that was going to be her new home, her heart fell to the bottom of her shoes. She had come from a comfortable, two-story house in Afton, a beautiful little town cradled in the mountains.
But she and Wilford set about making a new life for their seven children. Land had to be cleared, a home built, wheat and hay planted. Dorothy had a reputation for growing beautiful flowers, and always had geraniums in her windows. Her children said she had a beautiful soprano voice, and they often heard her singing as she worked.
Wilford and Dorothy were well-known for their hospitality. As bishop, Wilford often invited families who traveled long distances to church to stay for Sunday dinner. When Church authorities visited, they stayed at the Hyde home — President Heber J. Grant, and apostles J. Golden Kimball and Mathias Cowley to name a few. In those days, you had to butcher your own beef, kill and pluck chickens, milk cows, churn butter, knead bread and grow your own vegetables in order to get dinner on the table.
“I’m sure Mother spent Saturdays just cooking, probably until way in the night, hoping to have baked enough for the crowds,” my Aunt Ellen Hyde Jensen wrote in a biography. “Mother’s cooking was excellent, and well do I remember the beautiful table she set with the snowy white cloth and napkins. Looking back on it now, I marvel at her ability — patience with all the children and graciousness with the adults; never hurried. Often families would stay overnight, and beds were made of floors and chairs and on some occasions, Father took a quilt and slept on the wheat in the granary.”
In addition, Dorothy was always in the Relief Society Presidency, either as a councilor or president. With doctors and mortuaries hundreds of miles away, the Relief Society took care duties such as delivering and caring for babies, nursing the sick, and preparing bodies for burial.
The winter of 1915-16 was a hard one, and typhoid fever swept through the community, striking all three of the Hyde brothers. John Hyde died in December. (His wife, Annie, was Dorothy’s sister.) George died on Feb. 1, and WIlford died Feb. 3, 1916.
Imagine three widows with 17 fatherless children, left to work acres of land out in the middle of nowhere! It’s pretty amazing to realize what those women managed to do.
“Our finances were sorely strained, but we never wanted for the necessities,” Ellen Hyde Jensen wrote. “You taught us that the simple things of life were the good things…the beauty of the sunset, the sweet smell of the rose, a bright red geranium in the window, a fragrant loaf of homemade bread.”
Ellen also wrote that her mother sacrificed to buy musical instruments to fill long winter evenings with the children’s sounds of the piano, violin, cello, and flute.
Ellen also praised her mother’s faith. “You didn’t just pray, but talked to the Lord as a kind and personal friend. We children just knew your prayers would be answered.”
Dorothy remained a widow for over 25 years, passing away in 1941.
The small Valley View cemetery contains the graves of several generations of other Metropolis families such as Bake, Hammond, Hepworth, Uhlig and Smiley. I’ve heard that some of their descendants still have ranches in the area; but I don’t know how many of these sites get visited on Memorial Day.
I know the graves of my dad, grandparents and other relatives in Rush Valley are always well-tended and honored by my siblings and cousins. But I doubt that many of WIlford and Dorothy’s descendants, now scattered across the country, are likely to make the trek to Metropolis on a regular basis.
So this year, I decided to honor their memory, and show some appreciation for my Hyde heritage. Knowing of my great-grandmother’s love of flowers, I’m glad she has some to brighten her gravesite this year. It was a long trip, and I may not get back here again soon. But it was worth it.
On our way home, we visited the Wendover World War II museum. Hard to believe that Wendover trained nearly 20,000 pilots, gunners and other soldiers during the war. I’ll be writing a post about it soon!