History comes alive at the Fourth Ward School

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VIRGINIA CITY -- Voices rang once again in the halls of Virginia City's Fourth Ward School as the vivid history of the Comstock Lode came alive through the eyes and memories of characters that lived during the 1870s.

Actors from the Living History Company of Nevada portrayed a range of characters for Saturday's event, one of many celebrating Comstock Historic Preservation Weekend.

A group of about 25 moved from one classroom to the next, the old wooden floors creaking underfoot. Huge windows and transoms over the doors give the school is open and airy feel. A lazy afternoon sun spilled onto the classroom floors, as actors from the Living History Company of Nevada slipped into their roles.

The son of Irish immigrants, James G. Fair was a dapper gentleman with graying hair who tapped his cane on the floor to make a point.

He remembered following the promise of gold in the California rush of 1849 and after trying placer and hard rock mining with little success, he wandered to the Comstock.

"I was the only one, who believed there was more ore here, at the deeper levels," he said. "John Mackay and I bought the Con Virginia and the California mines, plus a couple of mills in Gold Hill. Then we dug and at 1,200 feet, we found a thin layer of silver. It grew to 12 feet. I invited newspaper editor Dan DeQuille to visit the mine and see for himself. He estimated ore was worth $380 per ton, the wealth of the lode, $230 million."

Uriah Carbonneau sold shares of Fourth Ward School stock in the hall and Sarah Jameson told of her father's move here from Virginia.

"My mother died after the war and father came here from our home in Virginia. Father worked with John Mackay. He also invested in the V&T and made quite a lot of money," she said. "After that, he sent for me."

A schoolteacher, Jameson taught English to eighth and ninth graders and loved the work.

"It's been fun, the actors have done an excellent job," said Reno resident Elizabeth Howe. "They make you feel like that's who they really are."

"I liked it a lot, the actors were very knowledgeable," said Brian Wolf, a Shingle Springs, Calif., resident. "It's amazing, how they stayed in character."

More events are scheduled for today, starting with"Tom Sawyer," a musical performed by the Comstock Children's Chorus at 1 p.m. The Nevada State Historic Preservation Awards start at 1:45 p.m. and at 2 p.m., the Fourth Ward is hosting a historic costume fashion contest. The Silver Tea will be from 3-4 p.m.

Built in 1875-76, the four-story, 16-room school was designed to honor the nation's centennial and was given to the state of Nevada in celebration of the nation's 100th birthday.

Hard economic times plagued the Comstock for years before the school's closure in 1936 and it sat vacant for 60 years.

Listed on the National Register of Historic places, the building was recognized as the number-one preservation project by the Nevada Commission for Cultural Affairs and was one of 62 projects in 24 states to receive a grant award from the new millennium initiative, "Save America's Treasures."

Restoration of the school is administered by the Fourth ward School Board of Trustees under the auspices of the Storey County Board of Commissioners, which holds the title to the property.


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