Sunday, June 24, 2012

Queen of the Comstock Lode Virginia City, Nevada

                                           Downtown Virginia City

Location: Virginia City, Nevada, is located on State Route 17 eight miles north of Higway 50. The town is living history with many historic buildings and museums. The only downside is that most of the places cost money to visit. If you go, I would suggest seeing the The Way it Was Museum and The Ward School. Both places have a significant amount of information and historic photographs. The Chollar Mine and Ponderosa Mine also offer underground mine tours. Unlike most historic places featured on this blog, Virginia City is ultra touristy. It would be advisable to visit at offtimes of the week or year.

History: The most important discovery for Virginia City occurred in the Spring of 1859 by Peter O' Reily and Patrick Mclaughlin who uncovered the Ophir Bonanza at the base of Mountain Davidon. Within days a number of small mines were producing $50 to $100 in gold. In the later part of 1859, a rancher carried away a piece of ore from the area to be assayed at Grass Valley. The assayer discovered the ore contained $3,000 a ton in silver and $870 per ton in gold. The rush was on, emptying many California gold rush towns.

 Two special techniques were devised on the Comstock Lode. The first was a milling technique devised for the soft comstock silver ore. The second was a mining technique called square-set timbering. This technique made mining in soft soils possible.

Virginia City soon became the center of the Nevada Territory with a population of 15,000 by 1863. The town had public buildings, fraternal orders (including the Masons), shops, and newspapers. The discovery attracted every type of person from around the world including prostitutes, swindlers, and hired guns.

The years between 1864 and 1869 saw a recession with the mining activity in the area. Mining production ceased because investors from California refused to support the mining of low-grade ore. The population dwindled as residents left for other strikes elsewhere in the west. The Yellow-Jacket fire of 1866 further exasperated the situation.

In 1869 positive developments began to occurr which helped to end the recession. First, the newly formed Union Mining Company built the Virginia and Truckee Railroad to facilitate the transport of ore to mills on the Carson River. Second, workers built  the Sutro Tunnel to drain mines at a depth of 1,000 feet. The tunnel along with Cornish pumps helped to keep the tunnels free of water. In 1870 new discoveries at the Chollar mine and Crown Point brought miners back into the area. Finally, in 1873 a major discovery called the "Big Bonanza" ended the recession. (This discovery would ultimately lead to over $105 million in profits).

The new discoveries resulted in a resurgence for Virginia City.  By the mid 1870s, the population was over 25,000 people. The town had over 110 salloons, banks, laundries, churches and railroad with over 13 arrivals and departures. Disaster struck in 1875 when a fire destroyed 3/4 of the city, even though, Virginia City rebuilt it would never truly return to its heyday. By 1878 the mines in and around Virginia City had profited over $300 million.

From 1878 to 1941 mining in the district teetered up and down as miners worked low grade ores. Highest output occurred in 1876 with $38 million in output while the lowest output occurred in 1899 with production at $172,000. Pumping of hot water continued off and on through the beginning of World War II. Today, the price of metals has made the mining of even low-grade ore very profitable. As a result, there is an increased empasis to mine throughout the Comstock Lode. Virginia City itself is a National Historic Area so mining cannot occurr near town. (Information from Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Stanley Paher)

                               Virginia City covered walkway

                        Bucket of Blood Saloon

                      Interesting picture from town

                              Famous Washoe Club featured on many shows

                      Following pictures are from the Way It Was Museum. Bell signal used for the mines

               The Nevada Mill

Journey through the Comstock Lode Silver Terrace Cemetery Virginia City

The Silver Terrace Cemetery is located in the heart of Virgina City. It is easy to find by following signs from main street in town. In the 1800s Silver Terrace was one of the most beautiful cemeteries in the Comstock District with manicured landscapes, planted trees and flowers. It is organized into ten sections including the Catholic Section, Order of Oddfellows, Masons, Pacific Coast Pioneers, and Exempt Fireman.

 Since the early 1900s neglect started to take its toll. Today many parts are overgrown with weeds and headstones have fallen over. Presently, there is a foundation called the "Comstock Cemetery Association" which is restoring the cemetery back to former glory. The Cemetery is big so pace yourself and bring water to drink. The following pictures are some of my favorites from the visit.

                                  A headstone in the Mason's section


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Journey through the Comstock Lode Silver City, Nevada June 11, 2012

                                        One of the derelict mines in town

History: Prospectors discovered silver in Silver City in 1859. Later that year settlers created a camp in the district. Silver City never attracted the same interest from Comstock mining companies because the ore was low-grade. By 1861 the town survived as a boarding place for animals used in hauling ore wagons from Comstock mines to the mills in Carson River. Silver City also had Nevada's first iron works in the state along with 8 mills with a total of 95 stamps.

The town started to decline in 1869 but just like Dayton it has never become a true ghost town for a number of reasons. While the building of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad robbed Silver City of its freighting business, the town still had a number of important mills processing the ore. Also companies continued to mine silver in the district. In fact, the Silver City is the only Comstock town which has seen milling or mining continuously since 1860.

                           Pretty headframe directly outside of town

         Crumbling building in town
                       Picturesque crumbling building in town

                      Interesting pic
                      Below: Abandoned car

Journey through the Comstock Lode Gold Hill Cemetery

Directions: The cemetery is located a couple of miles to the south of town. There are signs showing the route. Inquire at local businesses to get directions.
Throughout the Comstock Lode are cemeteries which hold valuable information and insights into what life was life in the 1800s. First, immigrants from overseas played a critical role in the development of the American West. Second, accidents and deaths were common at turn of the century mining camps. Many miners died horrific deaths. Third, disease was rampant in these mining camos.   When I visited, the Gold Hill Cemetery was beautiful, sadly; it has been vandalized and left in a state of disrepair. There are pushes by local groups to repair the cemetery; however, people need to be respectful of our nation's heritage. The following are some of my favorite pictures I took in the Gold Hill Cemetery.

Journey through the Comstock Lode Gold Hill, Nevada June 11, 2012

                               Me and Nevada near Virginia and Truckee tracks at Gold Hill

Directions: I continue my journey through the Comstock Lode with a stop at Gold Hill.  Gold Hill is located 3/4 of a mile south of Virginia City in the Comstock Lode Historic District. The town is easy to get to from Highway 50.

History:  In 1859 as news of the discovery spread throughout the west, large groups of settlers arrived at Gold Hill to make money. At first the new arrivals lived in temporary shelters made from canvas tents, potato sacks and blankets. It wasn't until much later that Gold Hill had permanent structures.

Gold Hill soon rivaled Virginia City because of the construction of the Virginia and Truckee Railroad as well as the opening of more mines to the south. The construction of the railroad facilitated the transport of ore to mills along the Carson River. Ore no longer traveled by wagon trains. Increased mining activity directly to the south at  the Crown Point, Belcher and Yellow Jacket mines cemented Gold Hill's importance to the Comstock Lode. By 1873 Gold Hill had public and private schools, a town hall, banks, lodges and churches. These mines continued to produce until 1878 when production slowed and the town started a slow decline.

Today there is an increased push to mine in the area. In fact a strip mine is opening near Silver City, Nevada. Talking to folks in town it is widely known that there are still rich deposits left in the hills. The new mine has become a source of controversy to the area residents with some supporting it while other residents oppose strip mining. (Information from Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Stanley Paher).


                         Downtown Gold Hill today

                                             Historic structure in Gold Hill

                                          Mining remains in Gold Hill

                                   Gold Hill mercantile

                                          Mine hoist near Cabin 18; reportedly haunted

                                          Picturesque mining structure

                                Mine that you can walk up to. Respect property and do not climb on anything.
                                                    Below: Ladder to nowhere

Journey through the Comstock Lode Dayton, Nevada June 11, 2012

                                                           Restauarant in historic Dayton

Directions: Dayton, Nevada, is located on Highway 50 about 12 miles northeast of Carson City. It close to Virginia City and Gold Hill making it possible for a day excursion to all the historic towns.

History:  The discovery of gold in 1849 in Gold Canyon led to the creation of a tent trading post. For the first ten years of its existence Dayton was a struggling community known as Chinatown because of the large number of orientals in the area. Communities nearby attracted more residents for a long time.

By 1861 Chinatown, renamed Dayton, becamea  milling and shipping center for the Comstock Lode. the Pony Express had a station in town and many shippers had warehouses in the area. There were at least a dozen   prominent mills on the Carson River among them the Rock Point, Woodsworth and Douglass mills. At the heighth of milling in the area Dayton mills collectively had over 180 stamps to process ore.

The population dwindled in 1878 but a population managed to remain in town for a number of reasons. A decline in Comstock mining in 1878 led many residents to move to other strikes in the state. The town never attained ghost town status becuase of the Carson and Colorado Railroad which maintained Dayton as a shipping center. In 1929 a revival occurred with placer mining in 1929 formally ending in 1941. Today Dayton is a small community with historic buildings and interesting mill ruins along the Carson River.

 Historians have long argued whether Dayton or Genoa, Nevada, is the first settlement in the state. What the argument centers around is whether a lose group of tents or small group of prospectors can be considered a settlement. (Information from Nevada Ghost Towns and Mining Camps by Stanley Paher)

                                                         Dayton school house
                                             Headstone in Dayton's cemetery showing the importance of immigration to the Comstock lode

                                              Interesting headstone in the cemetery

                                             In mining camps throughout the west babies and small children died because of disease or lack of care.
                                           This cemetery had a large number of unknown graves.

                                 Commemeration to a serviceman

                                 Historic building in town   Below: Ruins of Rock Point Mill near Dayton                   

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Pony Express Reenactment at Mormon Station Genoa, Nevada June 14, 2012

                                         Riders at Mormon Station

Every year the Pony Express Association does an annual reride along the oringal Pony Express route from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacremento, California. On even years the ride travels east while on odd years it travels west. The reride is a ten day reenactment of the delivery of mail along the historic 1,966  mile route. During the reride over 500 horses and riders travel about two to three miles a piece while wearing traditional clothing. This is alot less than the 75-100 miles the horses rode during the orginal Pony Express days. For many communities along the Pony Express route this is a big summer event with parades and festivities. Supporting events like this keep our history alive for future generations. (Information from

On this particular day I am watching the exchanging of the mochilla at Mormon Station in Genoa, Nevada. Mormon Station was a stop between Friday Station at Lake Tahoe and Carson City, Nevada. The event started with riders carrying flags representing the eight states the Pony Express passed through followed by the rider carrying the mochilla.

                                               A rider carrying the United States flag
                                               Riders carrying flags representing some of the states
                                         Riders representing the Pony Epress at Mormon Station
                                 Pony Express rider coming in
                                         Exchanging of the mochilla; Below rider leaves for Carson City

Lake Tahoe Trail Hike Spooner Summit Trailhead June 12, 2012

                                                             Nevada with Lake Tahoe in background
Directions: Spooner Summit Trailhead is located approximately 30 minutes from Carson City, Nevada, on Highway 50. Highway 50 enters Lake Tahoe on the eastern side of the lake halfway between Incline Village and South Lake Tahoe.South Lake Tahoe is approximately 20 miles to the south. This is truly one of the splendid lakes in the United States.

Information on the hike: Spooner Lake Trailhead is one of the many access points for the Tahoe Rim Trail, a 165 mile backpacking trail which circles the lake. Marlette Lake and Spooner Lake are also popular destinations from this trailhead. Spooner Lake is the shortest destination at two miles. For my hike today I wanted to get a good view of Lake Tahoe from above to accomplish this I did not know how far I would have to hike. The trail started of in the pine trees moderately climbing toward Snow Lake Peak. Within the first three miles there were two or three overlook spots for Lake Tahoe or points east. After four miles the views of Lake Tahoe start to get very good. After five miles Nevada and I stopped at a rock outcrop where we ate some lunch and then hiked back to the car. Today I hiked over 10 miles on a moderately strenuos trail.

                             Great view of Lake Tahoe with mountains and trail in foreground

                                          Lake Tahoe
                                                Lake Tahoe with rocks in the foreground
                                                    Below dead tree with sky