History of Virginia City, Nevada and the Comstock LodeVirginia 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.
Introduction to The Roar and The Silence - A History of Virginia City and The Comstock Lode, By Ronald M. James
The resulting boom turned Virginny Town into Virginia City, the most important settlement between Denver and San Francisco; and the grubby prospectors into instant millionaires who built mansions, imported furniture and fashions from Europe and the Orient, and financed the Civil War. With the gold and silver came the building of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, which ran from Reno to Carson City to Virginia City and later to Minden. The investments made in mining on the Comstock in the 1860's, 1870's and 1880's fueled the building of San Francisco. Wm. Ralston and Crocker, founders of the Bank of California made their money in Virginia City. Names like Leland Stanford, George Hearst, John Mackay, Wm. Flood and many others made their fortunes in Comstock mining.
At the peak of its glory, Virginia City was a boisterous town with something going on 24 hours a day both above and below ground for its nearly 30,000 residents. There were visiting celebrities, Shakespeare plays, opium dens, newspapers, competing fire companies, fraternal organizations, at least five police precincts, a thriving red-light district, and the first Miner's Union in the U.S. The International Hotel was six stories high and boasted the West's first elevator, called a "rising room.
Today, many mansions such as the Castle, the Mackay and the Savage stand as monuments to the opulence of life on the Comstock. The Virginia & Truckee Railroad runs again from Virginia City to Gold Hill. The largest federally designated Historical District in America is maintained in its original condition. "C" Street, the main business street, is lined with 1860's and 1870's buildings housing specialty shops of all kinds.