Virginia City gearing up for 2009 sesquicentennial |

Virginia City gearing up for 2009 sesquicentennial

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer
Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal File Photo From left, Comstock Historic District administrator Bert Bedeau, Chic DiFrancia and Doug Klawsnik look at a historic Virginia City banner celebrating the city's 100th anniversary. Planning is under way for the city's 150th anniversary, which occurs in June 2009.

It’s never too early to start planning a birthday party, especially if it’s the 150th of a town that was one of the most important in the history of the West.

With that in mind, Joe Curtis and Chic DiFrancia, both longtime Virginia City residents, are heading up the Virginia City Sesquicentennial Celebration Committee, responsible for planning the town’s celebration in June 2009.

“Eighteen months away is not that far,” Curtis said. “We have to start our planning and fundraising now so we can have things in place to accomplish a nice celebration and have these historical signs.”

The signs he speaks of will be markers placed all over Virginia City from the north end of town south to Silver City, showing where the old mines and mills were once located, and including information and photographs. They also hope to put markers on historical buildings, telling visitors what activities or businesses the buildings once housed.

The exact date of the town’s incorporation is unclear, so Curtis is focusing on June 2009, and will pick an exact date for events as it gets closer.

“I’ve heard it was the 10th or 11th (of June),” he said. “I’ve also heard the 12th. There are different dates that are in controversy.”

Virginia City’s centennial celebration took place on June 12, 1959, when then-Vice President Richard Nixon visited the town.

Curtis and DiFrancia have already begun selling T-shirts to raise funds for the effort. The T-shirts are Nevada blue with a white logo patterned after the 1959 centennial logo recently discovered in the attic of the Storey County Senior Center. Eventually they plan to offer sweatshirts, jackets, tote bags and other items with the town’s sesquicentennial logo printed on them.

Another project for the sesquicentennial will be a commemorative cookbook with Virginia City recipes. It will be produced over the next year to be ready for 2009.

Virginia City began when, in 1859, the discovery of gold in the area brought miners from the California placer mines back over the Sierras to Nevada Territory to seek new fortunes. The town developed into a corporate environment of gold and silver mines richer than the young nation had before seen.

Curtis said more than $700 million was eventually taken out of the ground under Virginia City, which in today’s dollars would amount to about $16 billion, depending on the formula used to calculate it.

Many improvements to the nation and the world began in Virginia City, Curtis said.

“John Mackay went on to form the company that laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable,” he said. “(Adolph) Sutro used his money to beautify San Francisco and build it; so did (James) Fair and (James) Flood. William Ralston, who was 95 percent owner of all the mines before Mackey, went on to build the city of Belmont, Calif., and also to do big business with the Bank of California. George Hearst started his newspaper empire.”

The mining industry is still benefiting from innovations that took place during the Comstock era, Curtis said.

“Numerous inventions were created here, some of which are still in use in the mining industry today all over the world,” he added.

The committee is hoping for more volunteers, who should call the Mark Twain Bookstore, which Curtis owns, at 847-0454, to take part in the planning.

“We are but caretakers of our surroundings,” Curtis said. “We have a responsibility to preserve it for the future generations that they might understand the past.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-7351.