The town of McGill is located in White Pine County, Nevada, in the Steptoe Valley eleven miles north of the county seat, Ely.
McGill is a former "company town" established to house workers at a copper reduction facility (smelter). As with many other towns in rural Nevada, the fortunes of McGill are linked to the ups and downs of the metal mining industry. Copper deposits in the area were discovered in the 1870's, but remained unexploited until new technologies led to a "copper boom" in 1903. A railroad was built from the mining area located west of Ely into the Steptoe Valley, then north to a connection with the Southern Pacific line. A copper reduction plant was built on a bench overlooking the McGill Ranch in Steptoe Valley, and the first trainload of copper ore arrived at the McGill plant in 1908.
The town of McGill was built in phases, starting in 1908 and continuing through the 1930's, with housing for reduction plant workers and their families, a commercial area to provide goods and services, and various public/recreational facilities including a swimming pool, ball field, clubhouse, and parks. The Kennecott Copper Company exercised control over many aspects of town life. Neighborhoods were established for the workers, and their families, who came from many countries throughout the world to work at the smelter. Kennecott provided recreational opportunities for workers and their families, maintained houses and grounds, and even determined the number and type of private commercial enterprises allowed.
Starting in the 1950's, changing company policies led to Kennecott's sale of employee housing to another company, which subsequently gave current occupants the opportunity to buy their own houses. After the 1950's workable copper reserves become depleted and costs of production increased, leading to the closing of the reduction/smelting operation in 1983.
The population of McGill reached a high point of 3,017 people in 1930, then population fell through the later part of the 20th century as mine production diminished. After Kennecott closed the smelter in 1983 Population dropped to 1,258, and the 2000 census showed a population of 1,054. According to trends, however, McGill is not becoming a ghost town. While population continued to fall in the years 1970 to 2000, it did not fall as sharply as it did in the previous decades during which Kennecott was scaling back operations.
The State of Nevada opened a maximum security prison, the Ely State Prison, on the western flank of the Steptoe Valley between Ely and McGill in 1989. This prison employs 341 people, some of whom live in McGill. In addition to these relatively new residents, McGill residents and White Pine County real estate professionals report that there appears to be an emerging market for McGill houses among retirees and second home buyers, many of them from the southern Nevada/Las Vegas region.
-Excerpt from McGill Business Plan dated 6/10/04