Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Virginia City, Nevada

Comstock Lode

Virginia City, Nevada is likely familiar with people because of the television show, Bonanza, or the Comstock Lode. As men made their way across the United States to San Francisco’s gold rush, many traipsed over Nevada’s mountains. Feint strains of gold were seen, but most men didn’t put much faith into the strains containing valuable ore and pressed on to California. But the boom of San Francisco’s gold rush fizzled in 1859 when Pat McLaughlin and Peter O’Reilly discovered gold at the head of Six-Mile Canyon in Nevada. Henry Comstock was a fellow prospector in the area and convinced the men the gold was on his property. McLaughlin and O’Reilly believed Comstock and assured him he would earn a place in history when the giant lode was named; hence the vein becoming known as the Comstock Lode. The gold was followed up the canyon where an outcropping of gold in quartz was found by another miner, James Finney, saddled with the nickname ‘Old Virginny’. It is believed Finney honored himself by christening a new town at the top of the gulch, Old Virginny Town, during a drunken celebration.

Early on the miners faced a problem when panning for the newly discovered gold. A sticky blue-grey mud clung to axes and shovels. The mud was assayed and found to be silver of exceptional purity, worth over $2,000 per ton. Miners swarmed the area and Nevada became a territory in 1861. Within two years, the population of Virginny Town soared from 4,000 to 25,000, as saloon, hotels and various businesses sprang quickly into existence. Miners struck it rich and built their own mansions, importing furniture and fashion from Europe and the Orient. In the mix of this, Virginny Town was renamed Virginia City and became as important as Denver and San Francisco, with a reputation similar to modern day New York City. It was the town that never slept. Morning, noon and night, something was always going on above and below ground.

Comstock Minors
The rapid growth spurt of Virginia City produced the building of the Virginia-Truckee Railroad, which shuttled folks from Reno to Carson City to Virginia City. Investments made in the Comstock ignited the building of San Francisco. Among those striking it rich were Ralston and Crocker, founders of the Bank of California, Leland Stanford and George Hearst. Eventually, the gold mixed with the high quality of silver caught President Lincoln’s interest. He needed both to keep the Union solvent and made Nevada a state even though the population wasn’t enough for the land to qualify as a state. By the 1870’s, the Comstock Lode had produced enough money to help finance the Civil War and bolster the value of the Union’s greenbacks.  

The MacKay--Present Day
Virginia City’s population began to decline in 1877. In 1930, about 500 people remained. The city remains in existence today and is one of the largest federally designated historical sites in America. Many of the original buildings and homes are intact, most notably the Castle, the MacKay and the Savage. The Virginia-Truckee Railroad once again runs from Virginia City to Gold Hill.

****While my teachers briefly touched on the Comstock Lode in history classes, I gained a better knowledge for the silver mines in Nevada while researching Lady Luck. William Larsen is the villain in Lady Luck. Having grown up in poverty, William is now a prominent San Francisco banker, having gained his riches by stealing from his late boss and from the customers at his bank. But the wealth and power he’s accumulated isn’t enough to satisfy the memory of his cruel beginnings. He wants more and hopes to gain it by joining forces with those backing the Comstock Lode. However, he needs more cash than he has on hand to throw in with them, hence his quest to take possession of Lady Luck, the notorious gaming ship permanently dry-docked along the Barbary Coast.     


Jacquie Rogers said...

I had a great time in Virginia City. We took a mine tour, watched the gunfight, and lost lots of quarters in the slot machines. I especially liked the prostitution museum, which contained items that are utterly baffling but fascinating, too.

Julie Lence said...

Hi Jacquie: Sadly, I've never visited most of the places I write or blog about. Would enjoy a trip to Virginia City to learn more about its history. I keep telling the hubby and kiddo next year we're going to Dodge. It's not too far from me, but they both look at me like I'm crazy.

Tanya Hanson said...

Jacquie, those are the very same reasons I love it...I also lit a candle and said a prayer for my twin brother...long story. Great post,

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks for the post, Julie. I want to travel there now. Great information.

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Really interesting, Julie. Thanks for the post. I like to travel to locales in my books as well. Have never been to Virginia City, but always wanted to. I'll have to get there now.

Julie Lence said...

Caroline and Kristy: Glad you both enjoyed the post. I had a great time researching the Comstock Lode many years ago. There is so much history that I need more than one blog to write everything.