Tourism industry helps spit-shine historic VC |

Tourism industry helps spit-shine historic VC

Jarid Shipley
Appeal Staff Writer
BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Charlie McIlvain, of Grandbury, Texas, left, and Keith Griffalt, of Salt Lake City, stain wood for stairs at Piper's Opera House on Friday as part of a citywide restoration project in Virginia City.

An army of volunteers, armed with paintbrushes, pick axes, drills and trash bags, descended on Virginia City on Friday morning.

They gathered from across the country to clean, polish and kick-start Virginia City through an organization called Tourism Cares.

Once a year for the last five years the nonprofit Tourism Cares organization has selected a historic tourism destination in need of cleaning or repair. The group recruits people in the tourism industry to help the area.

“There are things that need to be done here, and Virginia City doesn’t have the tax base to do it,” said Bruce Beckman, Tourism Cares executive director. “We can’t let a place like Virginia City just waste away. This is kind of a kick-start to help them get started.”

More than 300 volunteers, including 250 from outside Nevada, concentrated on seven historic areas.

The largest contingent was at Silver Terrace Cemetery, where more than 70 people were clearing brush and grasses from around the gravestones. Among them was a group from Collette Vacations, based in Rhode Island.

“It’s a lot more than we expected, when I was looking at it on the Internet, it seemed more like a ghost town,” said Caitlin Hawkins, of Pawtucket, R.I.

Most of the group was working in the firemen’s section of the cemetery.

“It’s not bad. It’s just a lot of manual labor, but it’s not difficult to get the brush out of here,” said Kathryn Pranic, of Pawtucket. “This place is like a Candyland.”

Tim Maland, Nevada Commission on Tourism director, was among those helping at the cemetery.

“It’s really important for Nevada to be able to show the benefits of this area, so this is a great thing for us. We get the immediate benefits of the cleanup, but also the change in perception in other parts of the country that wouldn’t normally sell us,” Maland said.

While crews were working at the cemetery, another 18 volunteers were doing something at St. Mary’s in the Mountains Church that hadn’t been done more than a century.

“They are cleaning and polishing the pews, which haven’t seen this kind of attention in 110 years,” said Nick Nicosia, church administrator. “As the oldest active Catholic church in Nevada, we are grateful for all the help we can get.”

Farther west, a crew of 32 was rebuilding John Piper’s staircase outside Piper’s Opera House.

“We got a grant for the materials and all these volunteers are going to get as much done today as they can. Our goal is to go all the way up to A Street, but the problem is that A Street used to be about 6 feet lower than it is now,” said Pauline Fitzpatrick, executive director of Piper’s.

The volunteers were also set to install a drain to better control runoff from A Street.

Crews were also doing archival work at the Fourth Ward School, cleaning at St. Mary’s Art Center, restoring the historic caboose, as well as painting and streetlight cleaning on C Street.

Virginia City is the first site selected by Tourism Cares located west of the Mississippi River, with the organization choosing Mount Vernon, Va.; Ellis Island, N.Y.; New Orleans and a historic cemetery in Mississippi in previous years.

“We removed 84 tons of wood out of the forests near Mount Vernon. At Ellis Island, we did in one day what their crew of 42 would have done in one and a half years,” Beckman said.

But Virginia City gave them a totally new experience.

“There’s something about Virginia City, it’s just the aura of the whole town. Many people said they feel like they are on a movie set. It’s just the history of this place.”

• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at or 881-1217.


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