In a community where just about everything is historic, Virginia City’s Mackay Mansion still has an impressive pedigree.
The three-story, brick building was erected in 1860 by George Hearst, a mining millionaire who made his fortune by being one of the first successful prospectors to begin working the Comstock Lode after the initial discovery in 1859.
Hearst, who went on to establish one of the world’s largest newspaper and magazine empires, constructed the impressive structure to serve as a combination office-private residence for his Gould & Savage Silver Mining Company.
After Hearst moved on to other endeavors, John Mackay acquired the mine as well as the home. Mackay was one of Virginia City’s so-called Silver Kings, a quartet of Irish-American investors who became extremely wealthy from investing in Comstock mines in the 1870s.
Mackay and partner James Fair moved into the house following the Great Fire of 1875, which destroyed nearly all of Virginia City including Mackay’s primary residence.
Fair soon relocated to other quarters but Mackay, who enjoyed Virginia City, lived in the house whenever he was in the community (his wife, who didn’t care much for life in a mining community, spent much of her time living in Europe).
Mackay, who earned an estimated $100 million from his mining properties in Virginia City, lived on and off in the house until the 1880s, when his mines began to play out. He eventually moved to England, where he pursued other business interests including laying the first transcontinental telegraph cable between Europe and America.
The Victorian mansion had several owners over the next few decades and, fortunately, has been fairly well maintained over the years. Even today, the home offers a remarkable glimpse into Virginia City’s rich and colorful past.
Inside, the mansion still has elegant crystal and silver chandeliers, French tapestries, Belgian carpets and mirrors sparkling with diamond dust—all appropriate for the home of a Silver King.
During one of the guided tours of the mansion, which are available throughout the year, visitors enter through the former mining office, which still has the original office vault—who knows how many ounces of silver and gold were once stored there—and displays of 19th century Comstock mining artifacts.
From the office, the tour passes through a small entryway and heads into the elegant Grand Parlor. This substantial room is filled with original Victorian furnishings such as an overstuffed sofa, marble tables and rich velvet draperies.
An ornate fireplace of English oak begs for a cozy fire, while a 19th century James Broadwood & Sons piano, imported from London, seems to be waiting for someone to sit and play.
From the parlor, the tour heads up unique Italian hanging stairs to the former bedrooms (since the house is built on a hill, you actually entered on the second floor).
The bedrooms are decorated in Victorian style, with Mackay’s mahogany desk, his marble-topped chest of drawers and simple but elegant bed. Adjacent is Fair’s former room, which contains elaborately carved marble and oak furnishings.
Perhaps the most interesting upstairs room is the commode, which still offers a lead tub, encased in carved mahogany.
The ground floor of the house contains the Silver Room, which is a dining area that contains a large silver chandelier as well as a massive carved English oak table and chairs (seating for at least a dozen people), an elegant fireplace and beautiful wooden trim.
Beyond the Silver Room is the kitchen and pantry, which are still filled with Mackay’s fine china, which dates to the 1870s.
In addition to the historic house visitors can wander the grounds of the mansion. Its lush, green gardens are popular for weddings.
The Mackay Mansion is located at 129 South D Street in Virginia City. Guided tours of the fabulous home are offered throughout the year. For more information, go to http://www.uniquitiesmackaymansion.com/.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.