Recently, I’ve been splitting my time between the beautiful shores of the San Francisco Bay Area and the caramel covered hills of Nevada’s Virginia City Highlands. My family bought a house in the Highlands and I love the area so much I find myself spending more and more time there. The city’s history is one of silver mining, penniless and millionaire miners, ghosts, violence, and destinies both built and lost.
The mining bonanza of the 19th century turned Virginia City into the most important industrial city between San Francisco and Denver, essentially turning destitute prospectors into millionaires virtually overnight. The riches found in the Nevada Hills of Virginia City helped found churches, build opera houses, mansions, hospitals and schools. It helped finance the Civil War and the great city on the bay, San Francisco, was built using Comstock silver. Overall, four mines (the Ophir, Gould, Curry, and Consolidated Virginia Mines – also known as the “Big Bonanza” of 1873), brought in at least $300 million in mineral deposits and made John Mackay, a telecommunications giant, an overnight millionaire. The other “Bonanza Kings” included Fair, Flood and O’Brien, as well as Comstock notables Adolph Sutro (engineer), William Sharon (banker), George Hearst (entrepreneur), and Julia Bulette (madam).
Today, Virginia City is more of a tourist town with a mining habit. You’ll find summer events like the International Camel Races, the World Championship Outhouse Races, Days of Thunder, shooting competitions, beard competitions for Nevada Day, chili cook offs, Halloween and Christmas on the Comstock, as well as ghost tours, mine tours, lots of saloons, and so much more. When it snows in the winter, the blanket of white covers the boardwalk and the old style streetlights leave a romantic and old world glow to C Street. To get to the antiquated town one must drive up Gieger Grade road from south Reno while enjoying views of wild horses. In the city, one might find a group of Clampers reenacting gunfights, or learn that Mark Twain rested his feet here while he worked for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.
For those looking to stay a few nights, I highly recommend the Gold Hill Hotel about a mile outside of town. It’s the oldest hotel in the state and boasts its own ghost stories, cozy bar, and five-star French chef. I like to grab a cup of coffee from the town’s local coffee shop, the Roasting House, and walk up and down the sidewalks while window-shopping. I’ll walk into an antique store or buy a pair of boots (my favorite are Corral’s) and some silver jewelry. Lunch is usually at the Virginia City Beef Jerky Company where everything is made to order and is so delicious it makes me want seconds and thirds. For those on the hunt for something else, the Bonanza has amazing sandwiches with Moose Drool in the bottle and a 10-mile canyon view. Ending the day at the Gold Hill Hotel bar, or by having dinner at their Crown Point Restaurant boasting a classically trained French Chef, is the only way to go.
Gold Hill Hotel
1540 Main Street
Gold Hill, Nevada 89440