Roughly 20 miles southeast of Reno lies a little nugget of history in Virginia City, Nevada. Most famous for the Comstock Lode, this historic town was a booming mining establishment for several decades in the mid-1800s. Jump back in time by taking a stroll down the wooden sidewalks, quenching your thirst at one the unique saloons, riding on a steam engine or taking a haunted ghost tour in what was once the most important industrial city between Denver and San Francisco.
Virginia City has been attracting visitors to the area with arts and culture for more than 150 years with art centers and museums scattered throughout the area. Historic Piper’s Opera House, located on a hillside overlooking C street, is considered one of the nation’s most famous performance venues and one of the most significant vintage theatres in America. Built in 1885, and still in use, the stage has hosted President Grant, Buffalo Bill, Al Jolson and Mark Twain over the years.
Another piece of Virginia City arts history is the Fourth Ward School. Built as a state-of-the-art school in 1876, the Fourth Ward now serves as a museum to commemorate the American West. Permanent exhibits include the Fourth Ward School building with an 1870’s classroom, a historic overview of the Comstock, as well as Virginia City alumni photographs and memorabilia. With more than 15 museums, you may have to visit multiple times to see them all!
The Virginia & Truckee Railroad is, by far, the most famous of all American short-line railroads. In its heyday, as many as 45 trains a day arrived and departed Virginia City. President Ulysses S. Grant and dignitaries the world overrode in the ornate coaches of the Virginia & Truckee. Completed in 1869, these trains hauled millions of dollars of gold and silver ore from the rich mines of Virginia City.
Take a 35-minute excursion back into the Old West with a journey on the V&T Railroad from Virginia City, through tunnel 4 to Gold Hill, Nevada. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride while taking in the spectacular mountain scenery. Hear the conductor narrate the amazing history of the Comstock while the train chuffs past the famous Comstock Bonanza mine ruins.
Well known for its rich mining history, Virginia City is self-proclaimed as one of the most haunted towns in America. If you like to dabble in the paranormal or are looking to try something new and a little spooky, Virginia City offers many haunted locations, as well as guided ghost tours.
Built in 1876, the Silver Queen Hotel has many reported accounts of paranormal activity by guests over the years. If you choose to brave the night, you may encounter tapping on the walls, loud banging and possibly the sound of footsteps said to be coming from a woman who took her own life in Room 11. Another hotel said to be haunted is located right down the street in front of the old Yellowjacket mine, The Gold Hill Hotel and Miner’s Cabin. Home to two well-known spirits, this hotel draws visitors each year looking to stay in Rosie’s or William’s rooms and have their own encounter with the inhabitants.
Said to be the most haunted building in Virginia City and recently featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures, The Washoe Club is known for its history dating back to the Old West and its’ trio of ghosts that reside within the brick walls. If you want to take your chance at seeing one of their ghostly residents, the Washoe Club offers a bar, a museum, and a crypt for visitors to explore.
On the list of most haunted locations in Virginia City is the Silver Terrace Cemetery. This cemetery is the final resting place to many lost in deadly mining accidents during the era of the gold and silver rush. If you venture here, you will be greeted by an eerie scene of gated Victorian-style headstones along the hillside. This is a popular place for ghost hunters, especially around Halloween, with many claims of glowing headstones and floating blue lights throughout the cemetery.
You can see all the haunted locations as well as hear the chilling stories on Virginia City’s Bats in the Belfry tour; specializing in the paranormal and providing guided ghost tours to those who dare! This walking tour will take you through the Silver Queen Hotel, Mackay Mansion, the Washoe Club and more, while the costumed guide tells historical and paranormal stories of the Virginia City locations. Be prepared for anything to happen on the Bats in the Belfry tour!
Shopping in Virginia City will feel like you are stepping back in time with their selection of mercantile, antique stores and specialty shops. Inside the Pioneer Emporium, you will find Virginia City Hat Maker, a shop owned by a French custom hat maker. Here you will find everything from souvenirs to leather goods, and if you are lucky, you may see a custom hat being crafted right in front of your eyes. Right down the street you will find the Virginia City Mall, an eclectic shopping center that offers unique trinkets and vintage treasures. It is the perfect place to pick up something special to remember your visit!
A favorite activity for locals and visitors alike is taking an old-time photo. Channel your inner cowhand or saloon girl with a stop at one of the multiple photo shops on C Street for this one-of-a-kind souvenir.
A day of adventuring in Virginia City is sure to work up an appetite, but you will not go hungry with their choice of restaurants, saloons and candy shops. Check out Café Del Rio for a delicious selection of Tex-Mex, or stop by Red Dog Saloon for some great pizza in a saloon atmosphere. End your day with a stop at the historic Bucket of Blood Saloon for drinks, live music and fun!
From the International Camel and Ostrich Races to saloon crawls, Virginia City is known for its quirky charm and one-of-a-kind events. One event that is a must-see in October is the Annual World Championship Outhouse Races, where three-person teams race decorated outhouses through downtown Virginia City. It is sure to be a hilarious afternoon!
Have a taste for something out of the ordinary? During the town’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities is the Rocky Mountain Oyster Fry. Each year, cooks from across the West Coast grill, fry and smoke their own creative versions of these delicacies for event goers. Throw on your green gear and join the crowds on C Street for a lively Virginia City event!
In 1859, placer miners and prospectors in the western Great Basin made two amazing strikes of gold and silver ore near Virginia City. The Comstock Lode, as people soon called the ore body, resulted in what would today be billions of dollars in riches. Virginia City became a highly urbanized, industrial setting and by the early 1870s, together with its smaller neighbor, Gold Hill, reached a population of nearly 25,000, becoming one of the nation’s larger communities.
Mining camps are known to pass through an evolution of boom, dramatic growth and excitement and then decline — Virginia City certainly followed that pattern. By the early 1880s, it was becoming clear that the good times were over. It had been years since miners had discovered any new bonanzas, and thousands of people were leaving for better opportunities. By the Great Depression, Virginia City had declined, shrinking into a town of only several hundred people.
Interestingly, the NBC television Western, Bonanza, that ran from 1959 to 1973, brought a declining Virginia City back to life. Due to the enormous popularity of the show, visitors from around the world began to seek out and discover this famous Western city, previously known only through the chronicled, weekly adventures of the Cartwright family. Bonanza’s pop culture standing influenced the city’s offerings to also include amenities for travelers, such as restaurants, saloons and shops along the main strip.
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