Tuesday, August 30, 2011

"Gold in Every Hill"

"At the peak of its glory, Virginia City (NV) was a boisterous town. There was gold in every hill and millions of dollars were being made. Men came from everywhere. The spirits of these Comstock characters still inhabit the places they built, and 150 years later romance still thrives in the wondrous place in the shadow of Sun Mountain" (virginiacity-nv.org).

Whenever I read about "gold in every hill," I imagine myself joining the hordes struck with gold fever, but in reality (if indeed I had even headed west during those years), I probably would have taken a less risky path and opened a hardware store.

Virginia City is about 23 miles southeast of Reno (upper right quadrant, right) and about half of that distance is driven on Highway 431, a winding road that took us from an elevation of 4500' to one of about 6200'. This route becomes C Street, the main street through town.

We began our visit began one block north up a steep hill on B Street. While reviewing some photos of homes and businesses built a hundred years ago along this street, we continue with a summary of Virginia City history.

"Virginia City holds a special place in the history of the West and America. The first truly industrial city in the West began in the late 1850's. Gold was found at the head of Six-Mile Canyon in 1859 by two miners named Pat McLaughlin and Peter O'Reilly. A fellow miner, Henry Comstock, stumbled upon their find and claimed it was on his property. The gullible McLaughlin and O'Reilly believed him and assured Comstock a place in history when the giant lode was named. Following the gold up the canyon an outcropping of gold in quartz was found. Another miner, James Finney, nicknamed "Old Virginny" from his birthplace, is reported to have named the town during a drunken celebration. He dropped a bottle of whiskey on the ground and christened the newly-founded tent-and-dugout town on the slopes of Mt. Davidson "Old Virginny Town," in honor of himself.

"The biggest problem in this grubstake paradise was the sticky blue-gray mud that clung to picks and shovels. When the mud was assayed, it proved to be silver ore worth over $2,000 a ton--in 1859 dollars! Gold mixed with high quality silver ore was recovered in quantities large enough to catch the eye of President Abe Lincoln. He needed the gold and silver to keep the Union solvent during the Civil War. On October 31, 1864 Lincoln made Nevada a state although it did not contain enough people to constitutionally authorize statehood" (vcnevada.com/history).

Nevada's importance in the Civil War was just the most recent history lesson covered in our travels. Another lesson is contained in the photo of the Silver Dollar Hotel (below). The slight tilt of the hotel is characteristic of almost every building in Virginia City.
The roughly 9-inch lean is due to the Washoe Zephyr.

The following description by a former reporter for the Territorial Enterprise seemed to give us a good idea of the zephyr's effect: "The 'Washoe Zephyr' (Washoe is a pet nickname for Nevada) is a peculiarly Scriptural wind, in that no man knoweth "whence it cometh." That is to say, where it originates. It comes right over the mountains from the West, but when one crosses the ridge he does not find any of it on the other side! It probably is manufactured on the mountaintop for the occasion, and starts from there. It is a pretty regular wind, in the summer-time. Its office-hours are from two in the afternoon till two the next morning; and anybody venturing abroad during those twelve hours needs to allow for the wind or he will bring up a mile or two to leeward of the point he is aiming at.

That reporter was Mark Twain, and his description appeared in Roughing It.

Virtually all of the town's older buildings have a lean to them. Shown here is the courthouse.

Half a block away is the Opera House with its own history.

So, as they say in the travel shows, "Let's go inside the Opera House to learn about this historic structure."

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