Ely is the largest city and county seat of White Pine County, Nevada, United States. Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906. Though the railroads connecting the First Transcontinental Railroad to the mines in Austin and Eureka have long been removed, the railroad to Ely is preserved as a heritage railway by the Nevada Northern Railway and known as the Ghost Train of Old Ely. As of the 2010 census, the population was 4,255.
Ely was founded as a stagecoach station along the Pony Express and Central Overland Route. Ely's mining boom came later than the other towns along US 50, with the discovery of copper in 1906. This made Ely a mining town, suffering through the boom-and-bust cycles so common in the West. Originally, Ely was home to a number of copper mining companies, Kennecott being the most famous. With a crash in the copper market in the mid 1970s, Kennecott shut down and copper mining disappeared (temporarily).
The town was first called Ely in 1878 in honor of Smith Ely, president of the Selby Copper Mining and Smelting Company.
With the advent of cyanide heap leaching—a method of extracting gold from what was previously considered very low-grade ore—the next boom was on. Many companies processed the massive piles of "overburden" that had been removed from copper mines, or expanded the existing open-pit mines to extract the gold ore. Gold mines as widespread as the Robinson project near Ruth, and AmSelco's Alligator Ridge mine from Ely, kept the town alive during the 1980s and 1990s, until the recent revival of copper mining.
As Kennecott's smelter was demolished, copper concentrate from the mine is now shipped by rail to Seattle, where it is transported to Japan for smelting. The dramatic increase in demand for copper in 2005 has once again made Ely a copper boom town.
The now defunct BHP Nevada Railroad ran from the mining district south of Ruth through Ely to the junction with the Union Pacific at Shafter from 1996–99.
Ely is a tourism center, and is home of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Nearby are Great Basin National Park, Cave Lake State Park, and Ward Charcoal Ovens State Historic Park, as well as the state parks of Lincoln County, Nevada.
The railroad museum features the Ghost Train of Old Ely, a working steam engine passenger train that travels the historic tracks from Ely to the Robinson mining district.
The historic, six-story Hotel Nevada. is located in downtown Ely. Opened in 1929, it was the tallest building in Nevada well into the 1940s and was the state's first fire-proof building. It is a popular lodging, dining, gaming and tourist stop.
The long stretch of road on State Route 318 near Ely is known for the annual Silver State Classic Challenge course, an authorized time trial Cannonball Run-style race that attracts entries from all over the world.
The Ely Renaissance Society has facilitated more than twenty outdoor murals and sculptures in the downtown area. Artists from all over the world have been commissioned to create images of area history, using different art styles. They also maintain a historical village consisting of a general store and several shotgun houses which display the history of the ethnic groups that came to the area to work for the railroad and the mine.
The Bureau of Land Management, part of the United States Department of the Interior, operates an area supporting an elk herd south of town. The Ely Elk Viewing Area offers visitors the opportunity to see an elk community up close.