Many first time visitors to the historic mining town of Virginia City rarely explore much beyond the historic saloons, antique shops and candy stores lining C Street.
And that’s a mistake. Off the main street, up and down the slopes of Mount Davidson, which old timers insist on calling Sun Mountain, are reminders of the city’s rich and glorious past.
Both along B Street (one block up the hill from C Street) and on other avenues, you can find plenty of striking 19th century mansions and homes. Most of these homes are privately owned so respect the owners’ privacy.
For example, B Street offers perhaps the most splendid assortment of these magnificent survivors of a more opulent era. A few, in fact, predate the Great Fire of 1875, which destroyed nearly all of Virginia City.
The best place to start a B Street tour is from the south end of Virginia City, where B Street merges with C Street.
The first place you pass is the Edith Palmer house, a quaint two-story whitewashed home that was formerly a popular bed and breakfast. Built in 1862, the home, which includes a stone wine cellar, was owned for many generations by the Kent family, involved in a wholesale wine business.
Up the street from Edith Palmer’s is the Captain Pooley home (384 South B), a modest whitewashed New England style house built by an early Virginia City mining superintendent.
A bit farther is “The Castle,” an impressive Empire-style mansion notable for its central three-story tower. Robert Greaves, superintendent of the Empire Mine, one of the Comstock’s most productive mines, built the marvelous home.
Greaves started work on his masterpiece in 1863 but it wasn’t completed until 1868. He spared little expense in its construction, installing black walnut trim, Italian marble, silver doorknobs and an Italian “hanging” staircase.
Fortunately, nearly all of the original furnishings and architectural flourishes remain intact.
Just beyond the Castle is a beautiful white Victorian (158 South B), once owned by banker William Sharon. Along with William Ralston, Sharon was part of the infamous “Bank Crowd” that during the 1860s ruled most of Virginia City’s mining interests (until being deposed by the “Bonanza Kings,” John Mackay, James Fair, James Flood and William O’Brien, in the 1870s).
Directly north is the A.M. Cole home (158 South B), a fabulous two-story brown and white Victorian mansion. Built in 1887, the structure was built by Cole, a wealthy Virginia City pharmacist. Later it was purchased by David Crosby, owner of a successful dry goods, lumber and coal company.
Next door to the Cole house is the Water Company Building (130 South B), constructed in 1874 for the Virginia City and Gold Hill Water Company.
Nearby is the Storey County Courthouse, built in 1877 on the site of an earlier courthouse that burned in the 1875 fire. This marvelous Victorian building remains in use and is notable for the large bronze figure of Justice, on the second floor, which is not blindfolded.
A bit up the hill is Piper’s Opera House, constructed in 1885, and host to many name performers in the 19th and early 20th century. This massive, gray wooden theater, open for tours, boasts many of its original furnishings, including a hand-painted canvas stage curtain.
Adjacent is a tight row of Victorian storefronts that include the Miners Union Hall, Moran Building and the Knights of Pythias Hall, all of which have been maintained or restored over the years.
A good source of information about the community’s historic places can be found on the Virginia City Tourism Commission web site, http://www.visitvirginiacitynv.com/attractions/popular-itineraries-aamp-tours/historic-walking-tours.html.
I’ll have more about historic Virginia City next week.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.