Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Life and work in the Ryan district, Death Valley, California, 1914–1930: A historic context for a borax mining community
by Ringhoff, Mary, M.H.P., University of Southern California, 2012, 318; 1514165
Abstract (Summary)

The Ryan district is an early 20th century cultural landscape associated with a historic borax mining operation just outside the eastern boundary of Death Valley National Park, California. Its heart, the town of Ryan, was built by the Pacific Coast Borax Company (PCB) in support of its extraction work at six nearby mines; other industrial support systems included the Death Valley Railroad (DVRR) and the Baby Gauge Railroad. Ryan housed PCB workers from 1914 to 1928, at which point the operation was abandoned in favor of richer deposits elsewhere. The town experienced a brief second life as a hotel and recreation destination as the economy of the Death Valley region shifted from mining to tourism. Since its final closure, Ryan and much of the surrounding land has been maintained on private property by a mining company. Today, Ryan and its extant buildings are part of a larger cultural landscape that includes abandoned mines and their associated work camps, railroad lines, railroad construction camps, and abundant archaeological deposits.

Like many other industrial mining operations of the western United States, Ryan was established and controlled by a corporate entity, was focused on mineral extraction, was situated in an isolated location, and was fairly short-lived. What makes the Ryan district unusual is its association with the borax industry rather than precious metal mining, its location in one of the world's most forbidding environments, and its second life as a tourist destination. What makes it extraordinary is its state of preservation, both architectural and archaeological.

This thesis presents a historic context for the Ryan district, under the theme Life and Work in the Ryan District, Death Valley, California, 1914–1930. It explores the larger history of borax mining in the western United States in the 19th and 20th centuries, situating Ryan within the broad patterns of development that characterized the industry. Four subthemes are discussed as avenues for interpreting Ryan's physical environment. They address the district's industrial development patterns; the physical development of the town; its corporate and vernacular architecture; and its social history. Appropriate property types are proposed under each subtheme to facilitate future evaluation of the district's cultural resources for historical significance.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Breisch, Kenneth
Commitee: Sandmeier, Trudi, Smith, Jessica L.K.
School: University of Southern California
Department: Architecture
School Location: United States -- California
Source: MAI 51/01M(E), Masters Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: American history, Cultural Resources Management, Architecture
Keywords: Borax, Death valley, Early 20th century, Historic preservation, Mining, Western u.s.
Publication Number: 1514165
ISBN: 978-1-267-44440-0
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