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Dec 18th
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Home Travel OnTravel in the West / Paul Lasley This Old Nevada Boom Town Has Much for You to Explore

Virginia City, Nevada

This Old Nevada Boom Town Has Much for You to Explore

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This year marks the 150th anniversary of Virginia City, once a thriving Old West metropolis of some 30,000 residents located 24 miles east of Carson City and Reno, Nevada.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has named the city one of the 12 most distinctive destinations in America. Trust representatives presented the award at the historic Piper's Opera House.

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As in days gone by, the resulting celebration featured champagne and oysters, once the most expensive food in the mountain town. In those glory days, the delicacies would have been delivered by wagon from San Francisco.

Today, with interstates crossing the Sierra, commerce is considerably easier, but Virginia City still retains much of the glamour of those glory days. When silver was discovered here in 1859, the town quickly became known as the "richest place on earth." Big strikes in the gold and silver mines created instant millionaires. Some $400 million of gold and silver was taken from mines.

Mining in the Comstock Lode, as the strike was called, was dangerous and costly. There was the constant danger of fire. Tunnels ran for miles and reached a depth of 3,200 feet. They had to be shored up by timbers and it was said that the forest that extended out to the West was cut down and "planted" underground.

When the silver and gold ran out by 1898, most people left for other strikes, but enough remained in the town to preserve and maintain many of the buildings that visitors can see today. They can still visit the many stores and the remaining saloons by strolling along board sidewalks. Historic churches, scores of 19th century homes and public buildings, and cemetery headstones tell the city's story.

Stagecoach rides and horse-drawn carriages keep alive the spirit of the Old West. A portion of track and a historic steam engine from the Virginia and Truckee Railroad still crosses the high desert providing plenty of photo opportunities for rail fans. Here and there on the hillsides are the head frames of old mines. If you head out to hike across the desert, it's wise to avoid any open pits or tunnels you come to. They can be treacherous reminders of the days when this was the scene of the legendary Comstock Lode strike.

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In those days, the community had its share of famous residents. Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, worked in Virginia City as a newspaper reporter for a brief period until he was "mugged" while walking there late one night. He mentions the incident in his book Roughing It. But according to some sources, some friends staged the event to give Clemens a good story to write about. It doesn't seem that he was much amused.

Another name associated with Virginia City was Adolph Sutro. Water flooding into the mines was a huge problem. Sutro conceived of a drainage tunnel that would extend some six miles and get rid of the water. Unfortunately it took so long to build that it wasn't completed until 1878. Sutro eventually left town and moved to San Francisco where he later became mayor; his name is associated with several landmarks in that city.

This year Virginia City celebrates 150 years of history and it's a great example of the New West preserving the Old. For information about visiting Virginia City check out the Web site
www.visitvirginiacitynv.com or send them an email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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