Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Town That Funded A Country

  The moment a boom town springs up from the hardened soil of the Earth the clock starts ticking on it's life span. Whether mines held gold or silver has never made a difference because sooner or later the ore would dry up and the miners that brought that ore to the surface would have to move to the next town to find work. Some towns only lasted a year or two, others would last for ten or more but for the most part these towns would fade into history and were forgotten. There is one town however that has survived it's own successes and failures for almost 160 years and that town is Virginia City, Nevada.
  Silver was discovered in the hills above what is now Virginia City in 1859 and almost overnight the town grew. At it's peak in the 1870's there were an estimated 25,000 people living here which is a stark contrast to today's population of  just over 850. The strike would be the first substantial silver discovery in the United States and would be forever known as the Comstock Lode.
  There were plenty of mines surrounding town but the Ophir, Gould, Curry, and Consolidated Virginia mines were responsible for bringing $300 million at a minimum into the U.S. economy. These mines were part of what is known as the Big Bonanza. People like John Mackay, William Sharon and John Hearst became millionaires and the money from the Comstock Lode helped build San Francisco and even helped fund the Union Army during the Civil War.
   Of course with every success story there were a thousand failures and as I stated before Virginia City's mines eventually dried up from mining or from becoming victims of their own success as the silver market became saturated and no longer in demand. In 1875 a large fire roared through the city consuming mining equipment and homes that would leave around 2000 families homeless and caused approximately $12 million dollars in damages. I've learned that this is a pretty common occurrence in mining towns throughout history. I guess it makes sense that stuffing thousands of wooden buildings in a dry desert is going to lead to disaster.
  Money wasn't the only valuable contribution Virginia City offered to the world. Some would argue that Virginia City is the birth place of the famous Mark Twain. Okay, so Samuel Clemens was born in Missouri in 1835 but it was in Virginia City where Clemens, a reporter at the Territorial Enterprise newspaper, honed his craft as a writer when his campaign to become a rich prospector fell apart. His sometimes controversial stories about people and events around town caused some irritation to the people of Virginia City to the point that he basically was run out of town. Of course after leaving Virginia City the world was introduced to good ol Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. I guess every good author has a few demons that need to be exorcised.
  Many of Virginia City's buildings still stand and welcome people with open arms but today these walls are filled with restaurants, candy and other trinkets rather than tycoons and treasure seekers. The history and crazy events like camel races and the Hot August Nights car show bring folks in every year to experience this little gem. We spent a day and a half in town and unfortunately we were too early for the car show and the camel races which I plan to return for because why not? Where else can you find such spectacular entertainment?
  There are old homes, churches and mines available to tour like the Mackay mansion where you can see how the big dogs lived or for the morbid one in the group, you can visit the Red Dog Saloon and see the "Suicide Table." Many of the owners of this table met an untimely end by their own hand. Coincidence? A curse maybe? That's up to you to decide.
  Of course I can't delve into Virginia City history without mentioning the ghosts. I have a strange fascination with things that go bump in the night and I often will seek out a so called haunted locations while I'm on vacation just to say that I've been there. Is there anything unusual or special about these locations? Eh, that's a point of view matter that is best left to the individual. Well if haunted locations are your thing then Virginia City is the place for you. They have completely embraced there spirits here, maybe for some too much but none the less they are more than happy to share their ghost stories with you . Probably the most famous haunted building in Virginia City is the Washoe Club which we toured during our visit. I would love to get into our Washoe story but I think we'll save that for an October post since it fits in with our month long Halloween theme.  Come back for that story later and we'll see you on Friday.


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