Storey County

A Home In The Hills

The Markers Statistics Related Links

"The Rush Is On!"
Everything ... and we mean everything ... changed in 1859. Silver was found in an immense vein on the foot of Sun Mountain just east of Eagle Valley. Men discovered that the vein was rather a massive payload containing gold and silver - deeper and richer beyond anyone's imagining. "The Lode" (as it soon came to be called) was actually secretly discovered two years earlier by Hosiah and Allen Grosch. Before exposing the lode's location, the brothers wanted to make sure it was everything expected but both men died before their names could be tied to it. In January of 1859 the ore body was "found" again by James "Old Virginny" Fennimore. Upon his "discovery," several prospectors questioned the validity of the old drunk thinking the lode was merely a campfire's tale, yet the men staked their claim after hearing of the find. One of the men (by the name of Henry Comstock) claimed Finney was "on his land," but at the risk of word spreading, he went "in business" by promising to share the wealth. The men worked at the earth for months but were quickly losing patience with the obnoxious quagmires of sticky "blue mud" they prevented them from getting very far. Several samples of the ore arrived in Nevada City for assaying, but the rock itself assayed hardly anything. It turns out the blue muck assayed at an unbelievable value of $5,000 a ton. By spring of 1860, the "Rush to Washoe" was on! It was then that hopefuls arrived by the thousands - most of them from California who had, ironically past up this region entirely and arrived too late in the goldfields. "Gold Hill," "Silver City," and the "Queen of the Comstock" earned their place on maps across the nation. Within a few months mining companies from all over the world took over individual mining claims, creating steady jobs for every healthy man who was able to work. The name "Washoe" was born. And the name "Washoe" meant the world.

Virginia City became the first (and largest) community of size in this unpopulated territory. Amidst the prosperity there was a problem. The Comstock's mines required an enormous amount of timber to shore up its shafts and to quench a growing population. It didn't take long for an imbalance to form among the newcomers, the environment, and the largely impacted native peoples and their delicate niches with the land. Lumber mills were constructed in the Tahoe Basin to feed the hungry mines and in twenty short years, over eighty percent of the forest was cleared to nothing. "The Lode" became both a blessing and a curse for Nevada.

Visit today and it is hard to imagine all of this taking center stage. Aside from its flamboyancy and bawdy souvenir shops, Virginia City was the "Richest Place on Earth." Ponder this ...

The growth of San Francisco is largely due to the Comstock. Shipping docks, assay offices, and enterprises - including three of its five super banks - were owned and paid for by Virginia City stock.

In 1864, Comstock silver funded the last months of the Civil War ultimately leading the Union to victory. Could be this be partly why America is a free nation?

And finally, Virginia City might be why Nevada is its own state and not just a part of Utah or California. In 1864 President Lincoln admitted Nevada into the Union as the 36th state. Why? You're right on the money if you guessed silver. The reverberating effect nationwide is nothing short of amazing. Mt. Davidson's Comstock Lode is the largest silver strike in American history and quite possibly - the largest the world has ever known.

Today, Virginia City is still the heart and soul of Storey County, but "the Hill" has traded silver for a new source of wealth: tourist money. Comstockers are quite proud of this. The arrival of winter brings tourism to a crawl and a bittersweet air taps the mountain side. Things sit in patiently, but locals breathe relief from the otherwise aggressive push of tourism. Despite western Nevada's rapid growth, VC manages to retain its rustic charm. Just below "the bend" you'll find Gold Hill - a little sister town that's mostly passed up by tourists. Gold Hill was to the Comstock as the engine is to the auto. Unbreakable. There simply wouldn't be a VC without it. When you drive up and around Greiner's Bend on 342 there's no ignoring the gigantic gash on the mountain's back. This is a stark reminder of the great mining legacy that led to our statehood.

The Markers
The markers. Storey might be the greatest jip of them all. Despite its huge importance, the SHPO went in the way of the tourist and bypassed Gold Hill completely, locating all eight markers within the limits of VC. Gold Hill is a post card for Nevada's mining heritage - adorned with plaques, A-frames, mill workings, and original buildings that still stand as they are. Nevada's oldest hotel was established in 1859 and still pours drinks, serves delicious meals, and books nights its haunted rooms. The Virginia & Truckee Depot stands as a nifty nostalgia for any railroad buff. The mountaineous terrain of Storey County locks many secrets that are far from the main highway that you must discover on your own or through word of mouth. The vibrant wildflower stands on Geiger Grade, ghostly ruins, and quite possibly one of the greatest stands of petroglyph art in the west. Lock all this in before your call to conquer Storey County.

Hunters are in for a pretty easy conquering. The markers here will require you to use your own two feet. Park on C Street (good luck in the summer!) and use the entire day to stroll the main drag. A good percentage of visitors to the Hill never leave C Street. Don't fall into this trap. With the exception of (28) and (266), Storey's six markers are set well away from the beaten path to keep things interesting. You'll also notice other markers here which are mostly older plaques that were previously-numbered registered landmarks and dozens of interesting newer interpretive signs put in place by the Storey Chamber of Commerce. Drown out the touristy fluff find your own plaque and make interpretation of it however you like! A hundred and fifty years can't be wrong.

Markers of Storey County

It's no question what the eight markers of Storey represent. This isn't just the Comstock. The birth of Virginia City represents purpose in this unsettled area of 19th-century western America. The wealth produced beneath Virginia City resonated far and wide and it's here the name "Nevada" was born. Each marker catalogs this rich history as well as the city's triumphs and tribulations!

[13] -- The Comstock Lode

39.31668, -119.64736

"After the discovery in 1859, Virginia City boomed for 20 years, helped bring Nevada into the Union in 1864 and helped build San Francisco."

[28] -- Mark Twain

39.31021, -119.64966

"100 years ago, in 1864, Samuel Clemens left the Terretorial Enterprise, moving on to California and worldwide fame."

[87] -- Savage Mansion (c.1863)

39.30537, -119.65106

"This elegant mansion, designed in a French Second Empire style, served as a residence for the superintendent, as well as a mine office for the Savage Mining Company."

[132] -- Mackay Mansion

39.30661, -119.65019

"The Gould & Curry Mining Co. Office escaped the 1875 fire to also become the home of John Mackay ..."

[185] -- McCone's Foundries

39.29923, -119.65462

"Messers, Mead, McCone and Tascar first established a foundry in this area in 1862 at Johntown two miles southeast of here in Gold Canyon."

[209] -- Chollar Mine

39.30188, -119.6512

"As the Chollar-Potosi, it was one of the leading producers on the Comstock."

[228] -- The Great Fire of 1875

39.31056, -119.65095

"Early on the morning of October 26, 1875, a coal oil lamp was knocked over in a location in a nearby boarding house and burst into flames."

[236] -- Piper's Opera House

39.31094, -119.65016

"Many popular nineteenth-century touring stars and concert artists appeared here."

[266] -- African Americans and the Boston Saloon

39.31054, -119.64942 Missing

"Free-born William A.G. Brown operated his Boston Saloon, serving Virginia City's African Americans."