Virginia City

Gold was discovered in 1849 in Gold Canyon, leading to the establishment of Dayton. In 1852, Hosea and Allen Grosh made the first silver discoveries in the region, but did little work before their deaths in 1857. As placer mining continued, miners were plagued by a heavy, blue substance, which was promptly discarded as mining continued. In January 1859, a rich discovery was made at the head of Gold Canyon by James Fennimore and Henry T.P. Comstock, which gave name to the Comstock Lode and started the town of Gold Hill. A subsequent discovery at the head of Six Mile Canyon in June by Peter O'Riley and Patrick McLaughlin which produced $500-$1000 per day in gold, and a small rush began.

In July 1859, a specimen of the aforementioned blue substance was taken to Grass Valley, California for assaying and it was discovered that the "worthless" material contained up to $3000 per ton of silver and $876 per ton of gold. News spread quickly, and the Rush to Washoe (as the area was then known) was on. Thousands soon arrived from California, and a new city named 'Virginia' sprang up, christened by James Fennimore after his home state.

Before long, it was realized that silver is not as easily recovered as gold. Some returned to California, while those that stayed devised new methods. Almirin B. Paul developed a form of pan amalgamation known as the 'Washoe process' to recover silver. Meanwhile, Philip Deidesheimer introduced square set timbering: an innovative system where wooden cubes were constructed to support large mining shafts and cavities, allowing for large-scale underground mining.

Through the early 1860s, Virginia City boomed. Over eighty mills were built by 1862, and the population exceeded 15,000 the following year, making Virginia City the second largest west of the Rocky Mountains. After the winter of 1864, however, ore began to dwindle and new discoveries ceased. Many moved on as production continued to decline to less than half by 1869. This, aided by the fire at the Yellow Jacket mine, brought recession to Virginia City; nevertheless, ground was broken that year on the new Virginia & Truckee Railroad, connecting the Comstock Lode to Carson City.

Interest was renewed the following year, when a new discovery was made at the Chollar-Potosi Mine. Additional discoveries quickly followed, including the deep Consolidated Virginia ore body, which went on to produce $105 million. By the mid-1870s, Virginia City had a population of 25,000 and over 100 saloons, fifty stores, four banks, six churches, and both public and private schools. In 1872, the Virginia & Truckee was completed to Reno, giving the mines a direct link to the Central Pacific Railroad. Unfortunately, much of Virginia City soon went up in smoke. On October 26, 1875, a conflagration dubbed the 'Great Fire' destroyed three quarters of the city, causing $12 million in damages. Like a phoenix, Virginia City quickly rose from the ashes and within a year most of the city was rebuilt, though it never regained its former prominence.

In 1879, Sutro Tunnel (started in 1869) was completed to aid in drainage of the mines' lower levels, however by this time many mines had reached depths lower than the tunnel, leaving the operation of pumps mandatory. Flows of hot water encountered at the lowest levels intermittently made mining impossible, ultimately leading to pumps being turned off in 1886. From 1899 until 1922, pumping resumed and another $18 million was produced during that time. By the 1940s, mining ceased completely. In 1950, the Virginia & Truckee saw its final train.

In the second half of the twentieth century, interest in Virginia City was renewed. Instead of mining, the city rebuilt itself as a popular tourist attraction. Dozens of historic buildings line the steep streets, most dating from just after the Great Fire of 1875. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad, extensively restored in sections since the 1970s, now carries passengers up and down the hill to Mound House, and numerous museums operate throughout the town, including two mines that are open for tours. The quintessential Nevada mining town, Virginia City is well worth a long visit, with time spent exploring both on and off historic C Street.

I Visited Virginia City
On Numerous Occasions

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