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

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