White Pine Public Museum & McGill Historic Drug Store

November 11, 2022

Wilson is optimistic about the future. “We have people from all over visit our museum, and we’re proud of the collection we have,” he said. “It’s one of many great reasons to come to Ely!”

Arctodus simus, the Giant Short Faced Bear from 12,000 years ago.

Bill Wilson is the Board Chair of the White Pine Public Museum & McGill Historic Drug Store in Ely, Nevada. They have a pretty famous resident: the fossil remains of a (now extinct) Giant Short Faced Bear (Arctodus simus).


The skeleton was found in a cave near Ely in 1982 and was a special find not just because of the completeness of the skeleton, but the fact scientists had been unaware the Giant Short Faced Bear had lived in what is now Eastern Nevada.

“Our museum was great before,” Wilson said. “But adding the bear skeleton has been not only an amazing find, but great for the education and enjoyment of the community by having it here in the museum.”

Antique Luggage

Museum History

The White Pine Public Museum was started in 1959 by the Ely Business and Professional Women’s Club in August, 1959. Exhibits at the museum came from locals who either donated or loaned items to be displayed.

Bill Wilson shows off the old school house, originally from Bakler, Nevada

Later, the McGill drug store was donated to the museum in its entirety by the Culbert family. There is a wonderfully preserved train depot (Cherry Creek Train Depot) on the grounds for people to see.

Antique Railcars

“Ely isn’t a big city, but we’ve got fascinating history here worth telling,” Wilson said, “and that was before we got the cave bear.”

Giant Short Faced Bear

In 1982, a local cave exploring group noticed a stream trickling out from a tiny opening in a mountain face. After doing a bit of digging to squeeze a human through, they discovered a cave with a stream running through it, which was amazing in itself but what they saw next shocked them: The most complete skeleton ever found of a Giant Short Faced Bear, the largest predator in the North American Ice Age.

Before this find, scientists didn’t know this species of bear was in Eastern Nevada.
The prehistoric Giant Short Faced Bears were five to six feet tall at the shoulder when on all four feet. When standing on their hind legs, bears were a towering 12 feet tall!

Wilson said the Giant Short Faced Bear is the museum’s main attraction, and people are regularly amazed when they see it up close. “The  Bear was a fast runner, up to 40 miles per hour,” Wilson said. “You wouldn’t want one chasing you!”

Pony Express

The Pony Express was in operation for a little over a year and a half and ran right through Ely. The museum has an original hand drawn map of the area from that time, showing the stagecoach station nearby, and the route the Pony Express took up to Ely.

An original hand drawn map of the Pony Express near Ely

Packages were able to make it across the country in ten days, which was amazing for its time. Riders would go 10 to 15 miles, change mounts and keep riding, doing 75 to 100 miles in a day.

The actual length of operation of the Pony Express was short but its legend survives to this day.

Local, Rich History

While Ely was a Pony Express town, it was a rail town much longer. The museum has preserved rail cars from its past as well as the Cherry Creek Train Depot, looking just like it did 100 years ago.

World War II era display

There are displays from the 1940s during World War II, antique fire trucks, a wooden ore wagon from 1870, and a school house over a century old, and more. 

McGill Drug Store

Sitting 12 miles north of Ely in McGill, Nevada, is the McGill Historic Drug Store, now a part of the museum and a treasure of American 20th Century history. 

Originally built in 1908, the McGill Drug Store served residents all the way until its closing in 1979. 

In the late 1930s, a man named Gerald “Jerry” Culbert became the pharmacist, and by the mid-1950s he and his wife Elsa became the owners.

Exterior, historic McGill Drug Store

The museum closed in 1979, and in 1995 the sons of Gerald and Elsa donated the store and its contents to the White Pine Public Museum, which has maintained it since.  Visitors can step inside and feel like they are in an actual, operating old style drug store. Products on the shelves are from the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and every invoice for prescriptions is still kept intact.

A slice of Americana in McGill

The prescriptions are a snapshot into the past of what ailed people at different times, and what they were taking to treat it. 

The store is open to private tours upon request. 

The Future

Wilson said the museum started off with donations, and they still rely on donations to keep things going. One of Pattern Energy’s core values is supporting the communities we are a part of, and we were pleased to support the White Pine Public Museum and McGill Historic Drug Store and its mission to preserve the rich history of the area for future generations. 

Wilson is optimistic about the future. “We have people from all over visit our museum, and we’re proud of the collection we have,” he said, and then smiled. “It’s one of many great reasons to come to Ely!”