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Visit the Wild West at Historic Virginia City near Reno

Updated on April 1, 2015
St. Paul's Episcopal Church built in 1876.
St. Paul's Episcopal Church built in 1876. | Source

The Beginnings of Virginia City

When we think of Virginia City the once famous hour long television series Bonanza may first come to mind. The Cartwright family was famous for their beautiful ranch and the day to day dealings of times gone by in the Wild West. Virginia City was a bustling town that the Cartwright family would ride horseback to for dining and shopping and of course drinking in the famous saloons. In each episodes, stories of the mining town are brought to life. One I remember was their fear over water contamination from silver mining. It is a fictional show but with a good bit of historical input. Arsenic is used when mining silver. It was not unusual for a gunfight to insue in those days and in some ways it even seemed commonplace

Some would call Virginia City a Ghost Town but there is so much history there. To miss an opportunity to visit would be missing out on a tremendous amount culture and history, especially around the time of the great gold rush, Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. If you have interest in this era there is so much to see and do. My husband and I had the opportunity to visit the city 4 years ago. We saw railroads, mines, fully functioning saloons, and banks where money was held during the great gold and silver rush of 1859,

People would stop in this area as they were heading west across the sierra nevada mountains. Primarily mormons were the first to come upon the gold in the area. It was discovered at Six-Mile Canyon by two miners named Pat McLaughlin and Peter O'Reilly. A fellow miner, Henry Comstock, stumbled upon their find and later claimed it was on his property. The gullible men promised him his name in history when the mine was later named. To this day there is still a Comstock Mining Company on the New York Stock Exchange originating from this site.

Interestingly there was a problem with mining the gold. There was a sticky blue substance that stuck to all the miners picks and shovels. In assaying the mud it was found to be silver worth $2,000 a ton in 1859 dollars!!!!

The city became what some now call the most industrialized city of the west at the time.

Millionaires made Overnight

The discovery of the gold and silver caught the attention of quite a few people including Abraham Lincoln who needed the money to finance the civil war. He soon made Nevada a state without ever having the needed population to do so. This kept the Union going through the Civil War.

The owners of the mine became instant millionaires who built beautiful mansions. They brought in wares from Europe and Asia. Virginia City's population grew to 15,000 residents and finally to 25,000 at it's peak.

The investments made in Comstock Mines in the 1800 fueled it's many newly made millionaires to start the Virginia & Truckee Railroad which went from Reno to Carson City to Virginia City and later to Minden. Today take a ride on the restored train.

The city of San Francisco was also built on the money of the mine.

Celebrities in Virginia City

In 1853 Samuel Clemens alias Mark Twain became a river boat captain until the Mississippi was forced to close for a short time during the civil war. He joined the confederate army for all of two weeks, resigned and followed his brother, an abolitionist, whom President Lincoln had just appointed to secretary to the territorial governor, to Virginia City Nevada.

Clemons tried to make his millions in mining to no avail and in 1862 he went to work with the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, His writing abilities as humorist and reporter were recognized at the time and he took on his pen name of Mark Twain.

Their was never a shortage of things to do as the city was a bustling metropolis with something going on all the time. Mark Twain made his living at the time the delivering news of the day. The saying goes if there was nothing to report make it up.

In 1968 Mark Twain reminisced about his time in Nevada with the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise: "To find a petrified man, or break a stranger's leg, or cave an imaginary mine, or discover some dead Indians in a Gold Hill tunnel, or massacre a family at Dutch Nick's, were feats and calamities that we never hesitated about devising when the public needed matters of thrilling interest for breakfast. The seemingly tranquil ENTERPRISE office was a ghastly factory of slaughter, mutilation and general destruction in those days."

The Comstock Lode

Remains of the Combination Shaft, 2011. The Combination Shaft, located near Virginia City, began in 1875 when the mine owners combined their efforts to sink a shaft to explore the Comstock Lode at a greater depth. The Combination was the deepest shaf
Remains of the Combination Shaft, 2011. The Combination Shaft, located near Virginia City, began in 1875 when the mine owners combined their efforts to sink a shaft to explore the Comstock Lode at a greater depth. The Combination was the deepest shaf | Source

The City's Growth

The Comstock Lode is famous for putting Virginia City on the map. It had the most advanced methods of mining and the city was laid out in a grid pattern with and after only 2 years in existence consisted of 42 saloons, 42 stores, 3 hotels and 6 restaurants. Today the city draws more than 2 millions visitors a year with the Historic Piper Opera House being one of the most popular attractions.

What to Do

The historic V&T Railroad line was re established in 1974. It runs daily tours throughout the summer in century old railroad ornate open and closed railway cars

Mines and mine tours are shown allowing visitors to re experience the making of one of the most important times in our history. You can visit the museums, old buildings and of course tour the actual mines. The Comstock mine actually shows you how gold is processed from ore to recovery. Beware of little ones as some find going down into the mines a little scary. I read one reviewer comment they must be haunted!!!

The walking tour takes you through all the popular historical buildings and sites and lets your relive history as in the days of the old west. Do some souvenir shopping also. The tour begins as you enter the city from Reno.

Visit the two main Cemeteries on the city's hillside. Interestingly very few of of the Gold rush residents were from Nevada . Read their tombstones and see where they hailed from as well as their unconventional way of life.

Go on a Stagecoach ride and see the city as you listen to your driver tell you about the historical city with many anecdotal tales!

There are more than 16 museums in the area allowing you to peruse through history learning about Mark Twain, the Gold Rush and the Growth of the West.

If time allows stay in one of the hotels and visit the opera house. Bookings of different performers and plays are listed online.

The History of Virginia City

The historical Fourth District School in Virginia City
The historical Fourth District School in Virginia City | Source
Bank | Source
Old Stage Coach
Old Stage Coach | Source
Comstock Saloon in Virginia City
Comstock Saloon in Virginia City | Source


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  • nancynurse profile image

    Nancy McClintock 2 years ago from Southeast USA

    Thanks I developed a love for history and especially the Civil War. I had no idea Abraham Lincoln used the money for the war. You learn so much visiting and hub writing. Did not know about Mark Twain's venture either.!!!!

  • FlourishAnyway profile image

    FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

    This sounds like a great place to take a family vacation!