Exploring beyond Virginia City’s main street
Perhaps the best thing about visiting Virginia City is realizing there’s always something more to learn about the place.
That’s particularly true if you wander off C Street and explore the rest of the community, which is filled with dozens of historic and picturesque homes and structures, each with a story to tell.
For instance, two blocks up Mount Davidson from C Street (to the west) is A Street. Here, you can stroll a narrow boulevard lined with quaint Victorians and soak up their mid-19th century ambiance.
Starting at the corner of A and Sutton streets, you wander past a magnificent brown, wooden Victorian (99 A St.) notable for its lovely copper trim atop the exaggerated windowsills and doorways. Right next door is a marvelous two-story blue-gray house with white trim.
Just up the street, directly behind the Piper’s Opera House, is a magnificent two-story Victorian (2 South A St.) owned in the 1950s by writers Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg. Built in the 1870s, the home’s previous occupants included Edward Piper, son of John Piper (proprietor of the Opera House).
Adjacent is another beautiful white, tree-shaded Victorian (6 South A St.), built about the same time. It was once the home of Ty Cobb, a longtime newspaper columnist and editor at the Reno Gazette-Journal. An early Virginia City merchant named George Hanning is believed to have built the house.
Across the street from the Hanning home is a Nevada Historical Marker relating the story of the Great Fire of 1875, which destroyed nearly all of Virginia City. The inferno was started about 50 feet from the marker site when a coal oil lamp was knocked over in a nearby boarding house and exploded in flames.
By the time the fire was extinguished, more than 33 city blocks had been destroyed, including the original St. Mary’s Church, the county courthouse, an earlier version of Piper’s Opera House and most of the business district.
Most of what can be found in Virginia City today dates to the immediate post-fire period, when the community rebuilt.
Farther up the street is the impressive, two-story green, tan and gray James Kenney home (66 South A St.), also built after the Great Fire. Kenney was a successful miner who operated the California Mine.
Opposite the Kenney place, on the southeast corner of Taylor and A streets is the Geary home, also built by a pioneering Virginia City family.
Of course, not all of Virginia City’s notable homes are found on A and B streets. A block up the hill, you’ll find a couple of other architectural gems, including the Morgan house (95 Taylor), built by an official of the California Bank (which once controlled nearly all of Virginia City’s mines).
A little higher up the hill, at 66 Howard St., is the still-fabulous King Mansion. Built in 1861 by George King, a collector for the Internal Revenue Service and later secretary of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, this elaborate white two-story castle was one of the few survivors of the 1875 fire.
From 1890 to the 1950s, the Catholic Church owned the elegant house, which boasts gold leaf trim and etched glass door windows.
Adjacent to the King Mansion is the Shields House (52 Howard), a more simple two-story brown home built in 1886. The structure was constructed on the site of a far more extravagant mansion that had been built by Charles Forman, a Wells Fargo agent in early Virginia City.
Apparently, Forman moved to Los Angeles in 1886 and had his home dismantled and shipped to Southern California, where it was reassembled.
An excellent 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.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.