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Day Trips: Historic Virginia City offers look at Nevada’s roofs

by Nancy Hamlett

In its heyday, over 20,000 people called Virginia City home, and the hard working and hard playing miners supported 110 saloons, plus numerous dry goods stores and laundries.

The Virginia &Truckee Railway operated 32 arrivals and departures daily, and five newspapers competed fiercely for readership. The silver and gold taken from the Virginia City hills financed the Civil War, built San Francisco, and transformed pick and shovel men into millionaires – some of them among with wealthiest in the world.

To many tourists, Virginia City is a stroll along the weathered and warped sidewalks of C Street, the main street through town, but for the experienced time traveler, Virginia City is a journey seeping with history. Although most of the town was destroyed by fire in 1875, Virginia City is still the largest federally designated historical district in the United States.

As with any exploration of an historic town, seeking out the unusual, often found off the beaten track, can provide the most memorable trip. Stop at the Chamber of Commerce on C Street (the yellow and green railroad car) for your copy of The Comstock Driving Tour/Virginia City Walking Tour pamphlet (at a minimal cost.) It is an excellent guide to many of the historic buildings and mine sites, as well as providing a brief history. Then delve into a trip back in time.

Some of the most memorable stops are The Castle on B Street, a three-story mansion built in 1863, and the Mackay Mansion on D Street. Both houses are decorated with original furnishings, and the view from The Castle’s tower is breathtaking.

The Fourth Ward School is a stunning example of the progressive ideals in Virginia City. Built to accommodate 1,025 students, the four-story structure housed a gymnasium on the top floor and incorporated modern day marvels of heating and piped water for students from grade school through high school.

Several churches stand tribute to the many nationalities that resided and prayed together in Virginia City. Fire destroyed St. Mary’s of the Mountains that was built in 1868, however the church was rebuilt in 1876 and still provides a place of worship. The Presbyterian Church survived the fire, but deteriorated over time. It has since been restored and is again open for services.

The Chollar Mine is a fascinating tour where you can experience the hardships faced by the miners. Owner and tour guide Chris Kiechler has owned the mine for over 20 years and is an authority on the mining processes used in the day.

The driving/walking tour can take a few hours or an entire day, depending on the territory you want to cover. Perhaps several day trips exploring different sections of Virginia City will work best, but one day or several, take time to stroll down C Street and visit the shops and eateries.

How to get there:

From the Carson Valley, travel north on U.S. 395 to Carson City and the intersection with U.S. 50 (East William Street.)

Turn right and pass through Mound House to S.R. 341.

Turn left and follow S.R. 341 to Virginia City. This is C Street.

Approximate driving time – 45 minutes.