Virginia City, Nevada

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Virginia City, Nevada
Census-designated place
As seen from the Mason's cemetery - 22 May 2010
As seen from the Mason's cemetery - 22 May 2010
Motto: "Step Back in Time"[1]
Virginia City is located in Nevada
Virginia City
Virginia City
Location within the state of Nevada
Coordinates: 39°18′37″N 119°38′58″W / 39.31028°N 119.64944°W / 39.31028; -119.64944Coordinates: 39°18′37″N 119°38′58″W / 39.31028°N 119.64944°W / 39.31028; -119.64944
Country United States
State Nevada
County Storey
 • Total 0.8 sq mi (2.2 km2)
 • Land 0.8 sq mi (2.2 km2)
 • Water 0 sq mi (0 km2)
Elevation 6,150 ft (1,874 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 855
 • Density 1,000/sq mi (390/km2)
Time zone Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)
 • Summer (DST) PDT (UTC-7)
FIPS code 32-80000
GNIS feature ID 0856420

Virginia City is a census-designated place (CDP) that is the county seat of Storey County, Nevada.[2] It is part of the RenoSparks Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Virginia City sprang up as a boomtown on top of the Comstock Lode, the first major silver deposit discovered in the United States, in 1859. Though at its peak in the late 19th century it had over 15,000 residents, the mines' output declined after 1874, and as of 2010 Census the population of Virginia City was about 855,[3] with 4,000 living in Storey County.


View of Virginia City, Nevada, from a nearby hillside, 1867–68
Aerial map of Virginia City, c. 1875

Folklore indicates that the town got its name from a man named James Finney who was nicknamed "Old Virginy".[4] Finney was credited with discovering the Comstock Lode. His real name was James Fennimore, and he had fled his home state of Virginia after killing a man.[citation needed]

Like many cities and towns in the state, Virginia City was a mining boomtown; it appeared virtually overnight as a result of the Comstock Lode silver strike of 1859. At its peak, Virginia City had a population of over 15,000 residents and was called the richest city in America.[5] During the 20 years following the Comstock success "about $400 million was taken out of the ground."[6] Most of the miners who came to the city were Cornish or Irish.[7] In 1870, Asians were 7.6% of the population.[8] When the Comstock Lode ran out in 1898, the city's population declined sharply.[citation needed]

Mining operations were hindered by extreme temperatures in the mines caused by natural hot springs. The miners would snowshoe to work and then descend into the high temperatures. This contributed to a low life expectancy. Adolph Sutro built the Sutro Tunnel in support of the mining operations. The tunnel drained the water to the valley below (Dayton). Conceived in 1860, it was not completed until many years later, after much of the silver had been mined.

Great Fire of 1875[edit]

Between 1859 and 1875, Virginia City experienced five serious fires. The 1875 fire, dubbed the "Great Fire of 1875", in October, 1875, caused $12 million in damage.[9] In ensuing months the city was rebuilt, better, and majority of the National Historic Landmark historic district area was then built, in 1875, 1876, and later years.

Virginia City and Mark Twain[edit]

Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 2,345
1870 7,048 200.6%
1880 10,917 54.9%
1890 6,433 −41.1%
1900 2,695 −58.1%
1910 2,244 −16.7%
1920 1,200 −46.5%
1930 590 −50.8%
1940 500 −15.3%
1950 500 0.0%
1960 610 22.0%
1970 600 −1.6%
1980 600 0.0%
1990 920 53.3%
2010 855
View of Virginia City from Boot Hill

Virginia City could be considered the "birthplace" of Mark Twain, as it was here in February 1863[11] that writer Samuel Clemens, then a reporter on the local Territorial Enterprise newspaper, first used his famous pen name.[12] Virginia City historical documents state that Clemens was mugged on November 10, 1863, as he walked over the hill from the south while returning to Virginia City. The muggers relieved Clemens of his watch and his money. The robbery turns out to have been a practical joke played on Clemens by his friends, to give him material to write about. He did not appreciate the joke, but he did retrieve his belongings—particularly his gold watch (worth $300), which had great sentimental value.[13] Clemens mentions the incident in his book Roughing It (published Feb. 1872), apparently still sore about it.


Many locals work at the shops in town that cater to tourists, while others seek jobs in the surrounding cities. Virginia City draws over 2 million visitors per year and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Arts and culture[edit]

Virginia City Hillclimb[edit]

There is an annual hillclimb that runs from Silver City to Virginia City via Highway 341 (a truck route) that is put on jointly between the Ferrari Club of America Pacific Region and the Northern California Shelby Club. The event is officially open to performance vehicles of all makes as of 2013.[14] The event was put on first by Road & Track and the Aston Martin Club, the following year the SCCA took the same route, and later it was picked up by the Ferrari Owners Club.[15] Highway 342 is now the return route for cars that have completed their runs up Highway 341. The hillclimb covers 5.2 miles (8.4 km), climbing 1,260 feet (380 m) and passing through 21 corners.

Museums and other points of interest[edit]

Virginia City is home to several buildings and artifacts that remain from the time it was a boom town. Among them are the Bucket of Blood Saloon, the Old Globe, the Silver Queen, and the Suicide Table. Occasionally a gunfight is acted out.

The Red Dog Saloon, originally the 1875 Comstock House, is located at 76 North C Street. The Red Dog Saloon gave many San Francisco rock musicians their start during the summer of 1965.[16]

Virginia City was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1961.[17][18] This in effect created a Virginia City Historic District.


Virginia City has one elementary school (Hugh Gallagher Elementary School), one middle school (Virginia City Middle School) and one high school (Virginia City High School).



Main street view, October 2009

The Virginia & Truckee Railroad's northern terminus is located at Virginia City. A project was started in 1977 to begin rebuilding one of the nation's "crookedest railroads". The portion of line that has been rebuilt so far stretches south to Carson City and through Gold Hill. The project ran the first steam engine from Carson City on September 5, 2009. Meanwhile, other trains are pulled by historic locomotives between Virginia City and Gold Hill, attracting thousands of tourists each year.

Notable people[edit]

In popular culture[edit]

Many tons of rich gold and silver ore such as the example shown here, built and supported Virginia City

"Darcy Farrow", a folk song written by Steve Gillette and Tom Campbell, mentions Virginia City and other places and landmarks in the area (including Yerington, the Carson Valley, and the Truckee River).[22] The most popular version was performed by John Denver.

Virginia City's Red Dog Saloon was where Janis Joplin, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Charlatans, the Grateful Dead and others got their start during the summer of 1965. Happenings at the Red Dog, including a house light show, underpinned the beginning of West Coast hippie culture.[16][23]


  1. ^ "Virginia City Nevada". Virginia City Nevada. Retrieved October 6, 2012. 
  2. ^ "Profile for Virginia City, Nevada, NV". ePodunk. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Virginia City CDP, Nevada". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved January 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ "Profile for Virginia City, Nevada, NV". ePodunk. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  5. ^ Rinella, p. 73
  6. ^ Thomson, p.26
  7. ^ Payton, Philip, Making Moonta: The Invention of Australia's Little Cornwall
  8. ^ "Historical Census Statistics on Population". U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 2011-12-24. 
  9. ^ Snell and Larew, pg.2, 8, 9
  10. ^ Moffatt, Riley. Population History of Western U.S. Cities & Towns, 1850-1990. Lanham: Scarecrow, 1996, 159.
  11. ^ Thomson, p. 35
  12. ^ Rinella, p. 78
  13. ^ Powers, Ron, Mark Twain: A Life. Free Press, 2005, p. 167. ISBN
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b
  17. ^ "Virginia City Historic District". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2008-01-23. 
  18. ^ Charles Snell and Marilynn Larew (April 21, 1978). National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: Virginia City Historic District (PDF). National Park Service. Retrieved 2009-06-22.  and Accompanying 50 or so photos from 1968, 1971, 1978 and other dates.  PDF (8.81 MB)
  19. ^ "Piper-Beebe House". National Park Servicet. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  20. ^ "Nevada Governor Richard Kirman". National Governors association. Retrieved October 4, 2012. 
  21. ^ On Arte-TV, May 26th, 2007, in German. Retrieved 18 November 2009
  22. ^ Gillette, Steve. "Darcy Farrow Lyrics". Steve Gillette & Cindy Mangsen website. 
  23. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • James, Ronald M. Virginia City: Secrets of a Western Past (University of Nebraska Press; 2012) 176 pages; historical archaeology
  • Rinella, Heidi Knapp, Off The Beaten Path: Nevada, Guildford, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 2007 ISBN 978-0-7627-4204-2
  • Thomson, David, In Nevada: The Land, The People, God, and Chance, New York: Vintage Books, 2000. ISBN 0-679-77758-X

External links[edit]