We made a day trip out to the old historic mining town of Virginia City. It is not only famous for being the site of the Comstock Lode, the first major discovery of silver in the US, but also as the main town the Cartwrights would go to when they needed to “go to town” on the TV show, Bonanza. The city was founded in 1859 and at its peak, it had over 25,000 residents. But as with most “boom towns”, after the silver was mined out by 1874, the population declined greatly. Today there are fewer than 1,000 full time residents. It was a very rich city during the silver boom with an impressive Catholic Church, the first in the state of Nevada, homes, and an innovative school.
Virginia City attracted all kinds of people. John Mackay made his first fortune in silver mining in Virginia City. The school of mines at the University of Nevada-Reno is named after him (the location of the mineral museum we visited). Samuel Clemens was a reporter for the town newspaper and did his first writing under the name Mark Twain. And as with any boom town, there were a variety of gamblers, gunslingers and others of ill repute.
And just like Cripple Creek and Blackhawk/Central City in Colorado and Deadwood/Lead in South Dakota, Virginia City has casinos, albeit just a few smaller ones, to help sustain its heritage.
The “main drag” is bordered on both sides of the street by 1800s buildings with continuous covered boardwalks. Some are trying to cash in on that TV show we mentioned above.