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Empty Town Lives Again

Janet Collins, Business in Vancouver, May 27 - June 2,  2003

There's a new kind of gold being produced by abandoned mining towns around British Columbia. Some enterprising individuals and companies have seen the potential of the sites, many of which come with services (power, water, etc.) installed and ready. There is often no need to go through the complicated process of rezoning or surveying and the lots are often inexpensive alternatives for recreational sites and a myriad other uses.

Nashville forms a case in point.

Located just 6.5 miles (11 km) west of Kaslo on Highway 31A in the West Kootenays, Nashville (also known as Nashton and South Fork) once serviced the nearby mines of Montezuma and Mexico. At the turn of the last century Nashville was a bustling community of 200. A post office was erected in 1915 and remained open until 1940. The building still stands today but is used for storage by a remaining resident. The closure of the mines in the area caused the town to be abandoned by 1950, but now folks are starting to return.

"We bought this property in 1994," says Rudy Nielsen, president of New Westminster-based Niho Land & Cattle Company Ltd., owners of the Nashville townsite.

"There were no buildings on the lots, but you could still make out the streets."

The lot sizes vary and Niho sells them for from $1,900 to $4,650. Nielsen won't disclose the number of lots nor will he say what he paid for the townsite.

Towns like Nashville were primarily company towns. When the employer left town, so did the employees.

As for the new owners of the individual lots, their reasons for buying are as varied as the lots themselves. In the case of Nashville, Nielsen says the majority of purchasers are from B.C, with some out-of-province buyers, especially from Ontario.

"They mostly bought them for recreational use," said Nielsen. "Because the lots are serviced, you can park your RV on the lot and have a great little fishing or hunting base for the season."

Cory Hallett doesn't own a RV, but that didn't stop him from buying a lot in Ferguson, 40 km northeast of Nakusp in 2001.

"I hope to build a fishing cabin on it one day," said the Regina, Saskatchewan, resident who bought his lot sight-unseen for around $5,000, plus $1,000 for legal fees. In the 1890s, workers at the local lead and silver mine set up the town. Niho bought the town in 1998.