7 Gems That’ll Leave You Rich, Part 1
Cash in on the Comstock
From small-town jokesters becoming one of the most storied writers of all time, to the most famous gunslingers and ladies of the night in the world, to the first black owned saloon in the West, possibility knows no limit in a place like Virginia City, Nevada . It’s where rich business tycoons could become even richer, and the most skilled miners on the planet could come to, then leave as a whole different person. But silver always has, and always will be the main character in the Virginia City story.
In what was first described as a mysterious bluish clay that only got in the way as California-bound prospectors searched for gold, the world’s largest silver discovery was realized and has remained legendary ever since. Named after Henry Comstock, a Canadian prospector who helped unearth this fabulous claim, this 1859 silver strike heard round the world brought all walks of life from all corners of the globe to Virginia City’s rugged, high desert hills to find their own American Dream.
And from some of the most perfectly picturesque Old West street scenes filled with enough 19th-century structures to fill the largest National Historic Landmark in the country, to old world artisans and top-tier galleries, spending the night in restored train cabooses, haunted hotels, and other Victorian-era dreams, embarking on ghost tours, mine tours, and celebrating history so authentic it never left the building, there are plenty of ways to be part of the Comstock’s sterling story. While the silver strike bonanza days are long gone, read on for 7 Virginia City gems that’ll surely leave you rich, both in mind and spirit.
Say Hello to a Historic District So Big It Blankets the Whole Damn Town
A program that’s spearheaded by the National Parks Service, there are more than 2,600 National Historic Landmarks in America that range from as little as a historic object or structure, site, or building to entire towns. In San Francisco this could be something as small and mobile as a cable car, or in New York something as large and stationary as Grand Central Station, for instance. As long as the landmark in question represents an exceptional aspect of American history and culture, it can be considered for this esteemed designation. And in Virginia City, what’s happening here is so remarkable that the National Historic District designation protects so many sites and structures it spans nearly the entire town, protecting more than 400 buildings.
There are only 8 National Historic Districts in Nevada borders, and Virginia City’s designation is unquestionably the largest and most prolific, showcasing the Silver State’s most intact (and definitely most impressive) frontier silver mining town, including all that adits and mine shafts that propelled it there. Most other Nevada boomtowns suffered devastating fires, and with not enough mineral prosperities to encourage the townspeople to rebuild and stay, they simply picked up and moved on to the next big boom. Virginia City was no exception and didn’t manage to escape catastrophic fire, in fact a town-razing blaze happened here in 1875, but unlike most other Nevada mining camps, the silver bonanzas were still a-boomin’ in such a way it enticed the population to stay, and rebuild. And rebuild they did.
From the “most beautiful main streets in America”, to the “most beautiful towns in America”, to the “most nostalgic”—well, you get the idea. Virginia City’s Historic C Street is constantly praised as one of the most stunning street scenes out there and it’s all thanks to the Victorian-era titans towering over the downtown area. While some of the occupants may have changed throughout the years, others many have not, operating now as they always have, including beauties like the Storey County Courthouse, Silver Queen Hotel, Bucket of Blood Saloon, and Piper’s Opera House—which beholds the stage where Mark Twain’s very first live performance went down—to name a few. The good news is this: whether you’re on an agenda or casually strolling, you can feel the depth of Virginia City histories no matter where you end up. Just be sure to bring your camera and sense of adventure, then hit the streets. There’s no place else in Nevada (or the country!) quite like it.
Go Below the Surface at Unforgettable Museums and History Centers
As you get to know Historic C Street one fascinating edifice at a time, keep the history vibes going at more than a dozen museums and history centers across town. But here’s where Virginia City stands out in a crowd, differing from most other historic mining towns. What you won’t find here are freshly built museums retelling Virginia City’s story. Instead, discover Virginia City histories so pure and alive they never even left the building they were born from.
No matter which side of C Street you start with, you’re sure to find a handful of museums that tell the complete Comstock story, while many others that focus on specific threads of Virginia City history that helped put the Silver State on the map all those years ago. To get the full picture, head for the Courthouse Slammer and County Museum, which is located inside the original 1875 Storey County Courthouse and features a complete Virginia City historical rundown told through fascinating exhibits from inside historic jail cells. From the discovery of the Comstock Lode, to the melting pot of cultures who came here to mine it, learn it all from the Courthouse Slammer.
Head across town to the towering four-story Historic Fourth Ward School & Archives to admire one of the last standing examples of 1876 Second Empire architecture in the country, which was built to accommodate the thousands of children who grew up on the Comstock. Explore the original classrooms with original desks, maps, and books, and exhibits filled with stories of teachers, alumni, and more. And of course your trip to Virginia City would be incomplete without learning the dangers and histories of fighting fire in an arid desert town filled with gas lamps, crude liquor making still setups, and more. At the free Comstock Firemen’s Museum, explore antique fire engines, old school firefighting equipment, and endless tales of the men who spent their lives protecting the community from ravaging fires.
Dig Into Rock Shops, Nevada Turquoise Shopping, and Authentic Mine Tours
In a place that was founded by its bountiful mineral diversities, would you expect anything less than a whole bunch of incredibly curated silver stores and rock shops? Nestled in the heart of Historic C Street, shop hop your way through all kinds of rock shops, mine museums and more, each anchoring their own piece of the Comstock story. Start at a couple of shops that are crowd pleasers among visitors and locals alike at the Stone Age Quarry and Comstock Rock Shop, which are sister properties and each offer many kinds of rings, bracelets, earrings, talismans, and a crystal sure to cure whatever ails you. Better yet, all the new and collectors-style Nevada turquoise you can dream up awaits in shops all over town, at the Jewelry House, Silver Stope, and Turquoise Kiva, to name a few.
Keep Virginia City’s riches flowing with all kinds of mine tours across town, where you can see what that mysterious blue clay those prospectors discovered more than 160 years ago is all about. If you don’t want to stray far from C Street, the Ponderosa Saloon & Mine Tour has gotcha covered with a real mine adit (tunnel) in the back of the bar that burrows deep within the high desert hills behind the bar. Or, crank up the adventure and get in on the Chollar Mine Tours, which delves deep into one of the most famously profitable mines in all of Virginia City, explains how these world-famous mines were constructed, and their geological significance. And to check out the most photogenic mine tour with a fully operable two-stamp gold mill, make sure to get yourself signed up for a tour through the Comstock Gold Mill, which is open (and stampin!) all through the summer months.