Colonel Sherman Stevenson built the Owens Lake Silver-Lead Furnace in 1869 to create silver bars from raw ore taken from the rich mine of Cerro Gordo. He operated the furnace only a year before James Brady took it over and continued operation until 1874. The Colonel also built a sawmill nearby to cut trees in Cottonwood and provide charcoal and lumber for the mine. All the trees near the Cerro Gordo had been cut down. Please see the Cottonwood Creek Charcoal Kilns California Historical Landmark No. 537 for more details.
Brady built the town of Swansea over time while he was managing the furnace. The output of the furnace was recorded to be 150 silver bars, weighing 83 pounds each, every 24 hours. However, the life of the furnace and the small desert town was short lived. The Lone Pine earthquake of 1872 (estimated to be similar in magnitude as the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire) caused so much land displacement that the pier at Owens Lake was no longer usable. The remainder of Swansee that had not been destroyed by the earthquake was wiped out by a tremendous thunderstorm and flood two years later.
Today Swansee is remembered in old shacks standing in various stages of decay.. The California Historical Marker is located 300 feet west of Highway 136 (P.M. 9.5), 3.1 miles northwest of Keeler, the closest town.
Inyo means “dwelling place of great spirit” in Paiute Native American language. Inyo County has many “greats.” Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States and Death Valley, the lowest spot in the Western Hemisphere, are both within Inyo’s boundaries. Great earthquakes have left their mark in recent history, changing the course of the Owens River and exposing ancient sedimentary rock.