VIRGINIA CITY - For many months, "unofficial visitors" have peered into the windows of the Comstock History Center.
A paper sign is posted on the door, reading, "Not yet open to the public." A few times, Comstock Historic District Administrator Bert Bedeau has allowed visitors to look inside. Locals and tourists are curious, he said.
On Friday, the $830,000 center will have its first official visitors during a 1-3 p.m. open house. The major attraction is the Virginia & Truckee No. 18 Dayton steam locomotive, which was moved to 20 N. E St. on Sept. 15 with much fanfare. The 38-ton black, brown and scarlet engine sits atop rails and a bed of white rocks, in a display room built to suit it.
"People are coming to Virginia City for the history," Bedeau said. "Between all the displays we're going to have and the Dayton, we're going to have a very significant piece of the 19th century Comstock history here. That's what the visiting public is interested in."
Ron James, state historic preservation officer, said this attraction appeals to those who visit Carson City.
"We hope that the Comstock History Center will enrich the experience of the millions of tourists who make their way to the Comstock," James said. "Thanks to the great work of architect John Copoulos, Miles Brothers Construction and State Public Works, we have a remarkable addition to Virginia City."
Although the center only has 1,500 square feet for storage and another 1,500 square feet for the museum, officials are banking on the star power of the locomotive.
The Dayton may never again ride the rails under its own power - it would need a new boiler and possibly more parts to operate.
The Comstock Historic District Commission and its noncirculating reference library are in the center. The building takes its design from railroad and mining structures that once stood nearby.
The yellow-sided building is below Virginia City's main drag. At night, the building is lit up. Passers-by can see the steam engine through the large windows.
This is meant to attract tourists to the museum and prompt them to walk down the hill to visit, said Copoulos, an architect in Carson City.
Once completed, the wall space around the Dayton will be filled with historic photos, a map of the V&T route and narratives.
n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at email@example.com or 881-1212.
If you go
WHAT: The Comstock History Center open house
WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Friday
WHERE: 20 N. E St., on the corner of Union and E streets in Virginia City
FEATURES: The No. 18 steam locomotive; refreshments will be served
In April, the museum will open "Between Fences," a Smithsonian traveling exhibit; In May, it will host "Havens in a Heartless World: Virginia City's Saloons and the Archaeology of the Wild West."