Saloon digs put Nevada at head of class |

Saloon digs put Nevada at head of class

Kelli Du Fresne
Photo by Bill HusaUniversity of Nevada, Reno archeology students along with volunteers awaited the removal of the blacktop behind the Bucket of Blood Saloon in this July 2000 photo. The group found remains of the Boston Saloon, an African American business that thrived in Virginia City.

Nevada has long been known for its vices, but this time they may land in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

State Historic Preservation Officer Ron James said he is working with the Smithsonian to develop and show an exhibit on saloon archaeology.

The exhibit will be based on four archaeological digs of former saloon sites in Virginia City done between 1993 and 2000.

James will give a lecture on the digs from 7:30-8:30 p.m. April 23 as part of the Nevada State Museum’s Frances Humphrey Lecture Series.

“There have been more saloons excavated here now than in the rest of the West put together,” James said. “We’ve become the saloon authority.

“At this point we’re hoping, and I’ve received positive feedback, from the Smithsonian,” James said Friday. “We’re hoping to develop an exhibit on saloon archeology. I’d like to have it open there. There is a lot of interest in the exhibit — in part because of the African American site and in general because the saloons of the Wild West are exciting.”

James said it will take at least until 2004 to put together an exhibit using some of the more than 250,000 artifacts.

“Pulling out the best ones and doing the work to get those out takes some effort,” James said. “I can’t imagine we will be able to think about it before 2004. We’re just now finishing up cataloging and analysis of the Boston site the fourth of the sites. There is a great deal of writing and comparative analysis for an exhibit of this caliber. When when you seek to put up an exhibit in the Smithsonian and hope for it to travel you have to spend more than a few weeks putting it together.”

James said the exhibit could travel from the Smithsonian to Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles and, of course, Nevada.

“It’s an important calling card for Nevada,” he said.

The four saloon digs on the Comstock include:

— The Boston Saloon on D Street in the parking lot of the Bucket of Blood Saloon. It was excavated in 2000.

Archaeologists here uncovered a location frequented mostly by African Americans that operated between 1866 and 1875.

The saloon was situated in the middle of the red light district.

“It was the entertainment district that allowed prostitution,” James said. “Kitty corner from the saloon was a two-bit (high priced) saloon. The Opera House was across the street, and the Theater of Comedy was up the street. Theaters, classy saloons and respectable centers of entertainment

were all in the district. “It’s a mix we don’t think of today.”

— John Piper’s, Old Corner Bar was excavated between 1998-99.

On the lower level of the historic opera house at the corner of B and Union streets, bar patrons toasted champagne flutes and drank filtered water. The bar operated from 1861-1883 when a fire destroyed the opera house. The house was rebuilt, but not the bar.

— At O’Callahan and O’Shanahan’s Hibernia Brewery and Saloon, on South C Street investigators discovered what turned out to be “a surprisingly low-rent” establishment. Located in what is now the historic district parking lot, the dig first began in 1993 and turned up evidence of women and children having frequented the saloon.

— At Costello and O’Brien’s Shooting Gallery and Saloon, excavation began about 1995. James said the establishment was located in a the middle of what was known as the Barberry Coast on South C Street. “It was probably a fairly rough place, frequented by just men. But they served a better class of food,” James said.


What: Archeology on the Comstock Lode lecture

When: 7:30-8:30 p.m. April 23

Where: Nevada State Museum

Information: 687-4810, ext. 239