“When the first camel contingent arrived in Virginia City, Nevada in 1861, their appearance was nothing short of sensational. People walking C Street were stunned at the sight, horses reared up; some men wondered if they had lingered too long at the saloon, one man even consulted his doctor to see if his mind had gone. For a brief time, the camel pack trains hauled salt for use in the mills for reduction of ore, hauled wood for the mines (where it was used in prodigious quantities), and bore massive loads of merchandise.” Virginia City, its history…its ghosts
When I arrived in Virginia City in 2005, there was nothing of the sort; however, to this day, numerous stories still fill the dusty air of this quiet little town. In a prior post I stated that I rarely returned to a place twice; however, Virginia City, Nevada surprisingly beats the odds. Of all the places I’ve been, Virginia City – a little dot on the Nevada map stills intrigues me, the rich history begs me to return.
Today, I’m reaching far back into my bag of Road Trips to pull out the Calgary – San Francisco Road Trip 2005 (including some “film” pictures). However, today, I’m only reliving my favourite stop – as stated earlier Virginia City, Nevada.
Like many of us, I like to make my trips as unique and memorable as possible. At times this can require numerous hours searching out the best places to stay and interesting places visit. Virginia City has it all. Now, if you take out the map and find this town, you may find yourself asking, “Why on earth did you pick that spot!” Actually, the number one reason, it’s near the beginning of the Highway 50 – The Loneliest Road in America” – yes, had the pleasure – all the way across! However, that is a story upon itself, today, we focus on Virginia City!
We arrived late in the afternoon via Reno, Nevada. The road leading up to the town was full of switchbacks, so much so, that I started to feel carsick – something that is very unusual for me. However, as bad as I was feeling, we kept climbing and the views were amazing! Do we have pictures of this, no unfortunately. Back in the day, we were still using our film camera and we were very picky about when and where we would use the camera – do I regret that decision now – of course! Hence, the other reason to return and visit the surrounding area! Picture heaven!
Since it was getting late, we decided that we would check in to our “hotel room” before venturing out. Now, I did mention that I like “unique”, well, our accommodation that evening was the most unusual of the entire trip and probably the most unusual place I have EVER stayed since – pictures – yes! We booked the “Miners Lodge” at the Gold Hill Hotel (Nevada’s oldest hotel and established in 1859), located just outside Virginia City. What a gem! I can’t say enough about the accommodations, the surroundings, the staff, it was perfect! Literally, it was an old tin shack that had built over an old mining shaft. It was essentially, a mini apartment located in the middle of nowhere! Impeccable! Just what the Road Trip Hound ordered! After a nice dinner in the adjacent hotel, we decided to retreat to our “tin shack” and call it a day…it was hot and we were tired.
The following day was just a beautiful as the day prior, bright blue skies with a hint of wind – perfect for trekking around Virginia City. We knew our time was restricted due to the fact that we would be driving the Loneliest Road that day; however, we couldn’t resist the character of the town, so we decided to walk up and down the old boardwalk of Virginia City in addition to visiting one local graveyard.
After spending a couple very delightful hours in the town, we knew we had to push onto to our next destination. As I left the town, I knew in my heart that one day I would return…perhaps it will be sooner than later…
“History: A City of Silver and Gold
The 19th century mining bonanza turned Virginia City into the most important industrial city between Denver and San Francisco, and it turned destitute prospectors from all over the world into millionaires. They built mansions, hospitals, churches, opera houses and schools, and imported furniture, fashions, and entertainment from Europe and the Orient. They helped finance the Civil War, and went on to build empires around the world. Among the finest examples is San Francisco, a city built with Comstock silver.
The Ophir, Gould, Curry and Consolidated Virginia mines— those consisting of the “Big Bonanza” of 1873—brought out at least $300 million in mineral deposits and made telecommunications giant John Mackay a virtual overnight millionaire. The Comstock king spent millions of those proceeds on Nevada’s School of Mines. In addition to Mackay, the “Bonanza Kings” included Fair, Flood and O’Brien. Other notable icons of the Comstock included engineer Adolph Sutro, banker William Sharon, entrepreneur George Hearst, and madame Julia Bulette.
While the Virginia Truckee Railroad transported bullion from the rural highlands of Virginia City to Carson City, the Territorial Enterprise, with literary whiz Mark Twain, delivered news of the day to the vibrant mining metropolis of 25,000 citizens at its peak. In 1868, Mark Twain reminisced and wrote about his journalism career 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.”
—Mark Twain’s Letters from Washington, Number IX, Territorial Enterprise, March 7, 1868
The spirits of the people of the “Queen of the Comstock” still haunt the places where they lived, worked, played, learned, and died. Mining was a hard way to make a living, with 100-degree temperatures 3,000 feet down a mine shaft that required deep concentration from the person at the helm of the elevator. But the wealth of Virginia City helped finance the U.S. government during the Civil War, as attested by a museum named after General Ulysses Grant. In fact, silver from Virginia City may have helped save the Union.
Away from work, the people of the Comstock enjoyed performances at Piper’s Opera House, which still stands today as a favorite for events and weddings. The citizens also played baseball as a favorite pastime, and unwound after a long day at Virginia City’s many saloons that topped twenty-two at one point. Many attended school, with the Fourth Ward School once educating grammar and high school students. It is now considered a must stop on the driving tour of museums and attractions south of town. Virginia City comstockers are buried in the cemetery with stories told to this day, and tombstone messages reflect their unconventional lives.
The history and stories of Virginia City are as unique, rich, and colorful as the streets and buildings themselves. One must see Virginia City to even remotely understand it.
National Trust for Historic Preservation Award
In February, 2009, the National Trust for Historic Preservation presented the Distinctive Destinations Award to Storey County Commissioner Bum Hess. In his acceptance speech Commissioner Hess stated:
“Virginia City is thrilled and gratified that our town is being awarded national recognition as a destination whose colorful, exciting history lives on for everyone to experience. We are proud to have protected the picturesque buildings and artifacts so we can offer visitors an authentic Victorian era experience in Nevada’s most famous historic mining town at little or no
cost.”” Virginia City website
Categories: Road Trip Pictures