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9 Reasons to Make the Day Trip to Virginia City, Nevada

Updated on July 10, 2019
Ronald Piper profile image

I love traveling for all the new things it exposes me to, from friendly locals and breathtaking architecture to regional grub.

Living in Northern Nevada is a fabulous experience. You can drive up to Lake Tahoe or go fishing for Kokanee salmon in the upper Truckee River. In the evening, you can gaze at the millions of twinkling stars in the sky, once you get away from the city lights. There is another gem in Northern Nevada, and that is the home of the Comstock Load, Virginia City.

Whether you live in the area or visiting, just 20 miles southeast of Reno is a piece of history. Virginia City is a day trip worth taking to see a glimpse of how the people of the old west once lived during the gold rush.

In Virginia City’s heyday, it was a leader in cultural sophistication, diversity, technological innovation, and a dynamic center of industry. It is a shell of the boomtown it once was, but there are many sites to see as you walk upon the wooden sideways. Being there gives you a chance to see for yourself what life in the old west.

1. Mackay Mansion

The mansion started as the Gould and Curry Mining Company Office and would later be the residence of a powerful mining magnate, John Mackey. Built-in 1860 in Italianate style, the three-story brick house is surrounded by a wood deck and veranda. It is now a museum and said to be haunted by many ghosts.

The interior of the house is fully renovated and filled with historical items from the 19th century. While John Mackey lived in the house, he spared no expense on fine furnishings, opulent decorations, and art.

Master bedroom in the mansion
Master bedroom in the mansion | Source

2. St. Mary in the Mountains Catholic Church

This magnificent brick gothic church displays a spire that measures 127 feet and six inches from the top of the cross to the ground. It still functions as a church but is also host a museum in the basement level.

The rest of the interior gives a visitor the feeling that they stepped back into time. The visual feel is as much as it was in the mid-1870s. In the rafters for the sanctuary hangs a lavish Czechoslovakian gas chandelier. In the entryway of the sanctuary, sits a pre-1875 pewter baptismal font.

The stained glass windows are beautifully colored to add to the ambiance of the church. The pipe organ dates back to 1898 and is still played during Catholic today. One can imagine sitting in a pew and listening to the same organ people did when Virginia City was a boomtown.

St. Mary's sanctuary
St. Mary's sanctuary | Source

3. The Washoe Club Haunted Museum

The brick hotel and bar are designed to be the luxurious accommodations for the elite of the time. People like Ulysses S. Grant, General Robert Sherman, are a few famous people that passed through its doors. On the second floor of the building was where the Millionaires Club would meet and enjoy luxuries that regular people of the West could only think about in their dreams. Today, you can still get a drink at the bar, and at night you can take part in daily ghost tours. If you are brave enough, you can even spend the night and investigation the ghostly happenings in the building.

Washoe Club bar area
Washoe Club bar area | Source

4. The Way It Was Museum

Inside this museum, you will see a stunning array of Western history. Some of the great relics from the period include vintage maps, mineral and mining artifacts, rare photographs lithographs, and vintage clothing. There is also a working model of the actual gold and silver mine. You will be amazed by how many mining shafts are below the city.

Medical supplies of the 19th century display
Medical supplies of the 19th century display

5. Ponderosa Saloon/Ponderosa Mine Tour

The infamous saloon is still in operation and features live bands. During its heyday, it was a famous watering hole for the hardworking men of the mines. Today, the saloon maintains the look and feel as it did in the mid 19th century. The Best & Belcher was not a profitable mine and closed down, but the mineshaft was not far from the saloon. The owners of the Ponderosa knew this and 100 years later dug a tunnel from the back of the salon and started offering tours. They stabilized the walls of the mine, and with the help of contemporary technology, it became a museum and showcases over 300 pieces of mining memorabilia.

Ponderosa bar area
Ponderosa bar area

6. Piper's Opera House

Today, Piper’s Opera House is a museum and functioning event hall. The well-known performers of the time graced the stage in the 19th century: Lillian Russell, Edwin Booth, Lily Langtry, and Samuel Clemens aka. Mark Twain performed at Piper’s Opera House. In the early 20th century, when vaudeville was en vogue, acts like Al Jolson, Enrico Caruso and Harry Houdini made appearances at Piper’s.

Piper Opera House stage
Piper Opera House stage | Source

7. Mark Twain Museum

The museum is inside one of the oldest buildings in Virginia City. Mark Twain worked for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper and lived in the town from 1861 o 1864. The museum is home to historical book, photographs of the era, and documents of the time. The desk and chair Twain used while working for the newspaper are on display. Some of his original works are in the museum as well.

Mark Twain's desk and chair
Mark Twain's desk and chair

8. Forth Ward School Museum

This well preserved 1870’s school tells the story of early Virginia City and what it was like to live there. At the time of its construction, it was the first of its kind on the West Coast. The French-inspired Victorian Structure dominated the south end of C street. It was state of the art for the 1870s with its single desks for each student, heating and ventilation systems, drinking fountains, and flushing toilets.

Today, it is a museum that holds records from the Comstock era to present day. The renovated classrooms allow you to experience the daily life of a child and teacher. There is a gallery which displays the Comstock through time, and an Alumni Room with pictures of teachers and students. On the third floor sits the Printers Room and a restored 1887 Chandler and Price printing press and Mark Twain exhibit.

19th century schoolroom
19th century schoolroom | Source

9. Silver Terrace Cemeteries

The are many cemeteries in Virginia City from the Comstock era, but Silver Terrace stands out with its iron wrought fencing that surrounds it. It makes you wonder if it is there to keep people out or keep the dead in the cemetery. People come at night and watch the graveyard to look for ghosts.

The cemetery sits on a windswept hillside that overlooks part of Virginia City. Many of the grave markings are ornate and notable tombstones with are intricately carved designs that include angels, animals, cherubs and flowers. Many of the people that died and buried in the graveyard were miners that died horrible deaths. Others perished in the great fire of 1875 that destroyed much of the city.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2019 Ronald Piper


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    • Ronald Piper profile imageAUTHOR

      Ronald Piper 

      6 weeks ago

      Thank you, Liz!

      I used to drive through Virginia City 3 to 4 times a week when I lived in the area. I always had it in mind what it must have been like for the people during the silver mine boom.

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      6 weeks ago from UK

      This is a very interesting, well-illustrated and well-structured article.


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