A Stroll through Historic Virginia City

Recently Patrick and I went on a road trip to visit my mom in Idaho, and anyone who knows me knows I love a road trip. While the route was somewhat familiar, as we had done it before, we made a few fresh stops, including spending some time in Virginia City.

Virginia City is similar to the gold rush towns of northern California, but instead of gold, it was silver discovered within the mountains. While the area had many names, legends has it that sometime in the 1850s a miner by the name of James Fenemore, fondly known as “Old Virginia” or “Old Virginny” by his friends, who drunkenly named the town after himself when he fell, breaking a bottle of whiskey, and said “I baptize this ground Virginia.” From then it was called Virginia Town, and later Virginia City.

It was the famous silver Comstock Lode, named after Henry Comstock, discovered in June of 1859 that changed the landscape forever. In the years the followed a classic boomtown was born. Miners poured in from all over, and at its peak, Virginia City had over 25,000 residents, including George Hearst (father to newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst of Hearst Castle fame) and Samuel Clemens, who would go on to use the moniker Mark Twain for the first time while in Virginia City.

While the literal rich history of Virginia City starts in 1859, most of the buildings you walk by date to sometime after 1875, as on October 26, 1875 a fire swept through the town. Lasting five hours, the fire leveled roughly three-quarters of the city, and left 8,000 to 10,000 residents without a home. However the town banded together and in less than a year it was rebuilt.

Angled view of some of the buildings of Virginia City, which include mostly two story buildings of wood facades in the "old west" style of square fronts.

A two story brick building with arched windows on the second story and a long balcony over. A hanging sign below the balcony reads "Old Red Garter Western Wear"

A mural painted on the side of a building features a metal bucket with blood pouring out, old western script reads "The Original Bucket of Blood Saloon Since 1876"

A large Victorian house with a central tower, painted cream with brown trim, rests on a hill overlooking the town.

A large red brick building with a long balcony across the front, and above reads "Old Washoe Club 1862" in white letters.

A metal sign reading "Sharon House" in bulb letters.

A small dilapidated Victorian home painted a dark brown with cream trim.

The streets are filled with a variety of tourist traps, saloons, and elegant homes, each with a story to tell. I was especially enchanted by the Savage Mansion, built in 1861. It is here on the second floor balcony that President Ulysses S. Grant spoke to the town, and afterward there was a parade in his honor.

An elegant three story Victorian house painted pale yellow with white trim.

An elegant three story Victorian house painted pale yellow with white trim.

A simple flat roof building painted white with a door in the middle and windows on either side.

A brick building with an arched top, and text that reads "Miner's Union Hall"

A small brown and cream Victorian with a cute bay window.

A small two story brick building with a white balcony.

A somewhat dilapidated Victorian home of three stories, painted red with white trim and two large brick chimneys.

The backside of one of the main buildings, faded crumbling brick gives way to falling timbers.

Close-up of the court house, which features Lady Justice int he center, the building is an ornate Victorian painted brown and white.

A pair of buildings, the one of the left features tall arched windows on its second floor, while the other is red brick and simpler but with a small white balcony out front.

Angled view down the main street of Virginia City.

Virginia City has a lot to offer the history buff as well as seekers of the supernatural, as many of the buildings are said to be haunted. Many spots have been featured on various ghost hunting shows.

Explore Virginia City

Mackay Mansion

Silver Queen Hotel

The Way It Was Museum

History” Virginia City.
Newton, Marylin. “It all started in Virginia City.” Reno Gazette Journal, 24 October 2014.

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