The Way It Was Museum

For a town of less than 1,000 people, there is still much to see and do in Virginia City, but perhaps the best bang for your buck is The Way It Was Museum, which for a mere $4 (at the time of our visit) you can gaze upon a variety of artifacts focusing with the main focus being town’s mining history.

A large fake horse stands outside with a large yellow sign outside that reads "The Way It Was Museum of Great Interest to Adults & Children"

Wooden exterior of the Way it Was Museum, with a large sign reading "The Way It Was Virginia City" in red letters.

A faux donkey sits outside the museum near large pieces of mining equipment.

Overall view of the museum with a faux mine shaft with timbers, various framed photos and mining artifacts.

Close-up of a taxidermy rattlesnake.

I believe the museum opened in 1957 (based on an article posted outside the museum from 1958 that said the museum is “only a year old”) and houses the collection of Abraham Lincoln Kendall, which ranges from mining artifacts and general articles of the time to items of his and his family’s own creation. Perhaps the most fascinating item on display is one Kendall did indeed create, a model of the extensive mining operation that made Virginia City the boomtown it once was. The model, where one inch equals 40 feet, showcases about 250 miles of the roughly 800 miles of tunnels carved out to extract silver. Another unique homemade element is a series of paper mache dolls, each dressed in attire based on a catalog of the period.

Colorful model of the complex tunnels and shafts that were built to mine silver from the mountain.

Close-up of a paper mache doll wearing a green dress from the 1860s.

Close-up of a paper mache doll wearing a white and blue dress from the 1860s.

Overall view of several display cases with various antique glassware and medicine bottles.

A device for cheating at cards, which strapped to the wearer's arm, and allowed them to slip in an additional card.

Close-up of the wheel of a wood and metal stamp mill, made to crush quartz. In the distance the complex model of tunnels and shafts.

View of a wooden mine cart set within mine timbers and surrounded by various mining equipment.

Overall view of a mock blacksmith.

Overall view of a wooden stamp mill made for crushing quartz to get the ore out.

Two mannequins sit in a horse drawn surrey.

Various mining equipment.

A large wooden organ with a sign reading "Pump Organ This Cornish Co. Oregon is typical of the most popular form of home entertainment during the 1800s in Virginia City. Since radio, TV and movies were non existent, they family would usually sit around and sing while the lady of the house played."

A stuffed bobcat with a poster reading "Wildcat and Dog Fight" advertising for the location a local Virginia City theater.

A large wooden wagon with a sign that reads "Dump Wagon This old wagon was used to haul valuable ore from the smaller mines of the Comstock. The body of the wagon was raised to dump ore out of the back, similar to today's dump truck."

A Stamp Battery, with a sign reading "The quartz was crushed under the iron stamps lifted by the cams on the revolving shaft. 'Shoes' at the bottom of the mortars were readily removed and fitted when worn out. The stamps would run about 80 drops a minute. A battery like this would reduce about 10 tons a day. Dan DeQuille, the great Comstock writer and author, when describing a series of these batteries working together, wrote 'the roar of Niagara is a faint murmur compared with the deafening noise of these stamps in operation.'"

A wire bound wooden pipe, with a sign reading "The earliest pipes in use in Virginia City were made of wood & wrapped wire. These sections have been recovered from the early system. Many more sections while not in use still remain under the city's streets."

A carved wood minor sits outside the museum.

Myself standing inside a mine cart outside the museum.

Visit The Way It Was Museum at 113 C Street in Virginia City. For up to date hours, visit their website.

What’s Nearby?

The Mackay Mansion

Silver Queen Hotel & Saloon

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