Project Rating:
Project Snapshot: A creaky, weathered step back in time to see what made main streets work in the nineteenth century.
Project History:

Established upon discovery of the famed Comstock Lode in 1861, Virginia City quickly grew to become the richest mining boomtown in the world. Like many mining towns, Virginia City was impossibly sited on the steep slopes of Mt. Davidson in Nevada's Washoe Mountains. The twisting roads to nearby Reno and Carson City are still spectacular trips through time and some of Nevada's most breathtaking country.

The wealth of Virginia City spread far in the late 1860s and 70s. More than $400 million in high-grade silver was mined during the 20-year boom that put Virginia City on the map, and helped make Nevada a state. The wealth of the Comstock Lode also built San Francisco, and provided a needed boost to the Union effort in the Civil War. During this period, Mark Twain also began his fabled writing career here more than 140 years ago, reporting for the Territorial Enterprise.

At its peak, Virginia City was a rollicking town of nearly 30,000 residents. There were visiting celebrities, Piper's Opera House, opium dens, competing fire companies, fraternal organizations, at least five police precincts, a thriving red-light district, and the first Miner's Union in the U.S. The International Hotel was six stories high and boasted the West's first elevator, called a "rising room.

After decades of hard times and decay in the mid-1900s, today's Virginia City is remarkably preserved. The wooden sidewalks and lively storefronts along 'C' Street giving a good glimpse into the past. Opulent casinos and saloons like the Delta and Bucket of Blood still draw patrons to a truly authentic taste of Old West history. Within walking distance of 'C' Street are fine old churches, lavish Victorian mansions, old mine structures and score of nineteenth century homes.

The city, with the surrounding Comstock Historic District, encompasses the Comstock mines, and the towns of Gold Hill and Silver City where it all began. The entire area is now a National Landmark and is easy to reach, just 23 miles southeast of Reno and 23 miles northeast of Carson City.

 Best Ideas:

Virginia City isn't really a main street "project", but rather, a wonderfully preserved bit of Americana. The City's historic designations help maintain the colorful architecture that lines 'C' Street, so it's easy to see how the old street features really work. Improvements to streets and sidewalks strive to maintain the historic authenticity, so it's often hard to know what is old and what has been restored. Instead, the town has simply let Virginia City keep its rough edges. This is a fine example of a district where more refined design details like curb extensions or special paving would detract from the historic feel.

The Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority is improving visitor facilities along 'C' Street, including new kiosks with town maps and information on historic sites within the district. The Authority also has a new home, the Crystal Visitor's Center on 'C' Street, in the historic Crystal Saloon building.

The best feature of the old street design are sidewalks covered with awnings and building overhangs that protect pedestrians from the often harsh weather, and allow for unique features like hanging shop signs and greater flexibility with outdoor merchandise displays.

The plank sidewalks on 'C' Street are also a fine design feature that perfectly retain the look, feel and sound of old Virginia City. Too few jurisdictions with similar history consider plank walkways for situations where they would be both authentic and practical.

Worst Ideas:

You can certainly make the case that the crazy tangle of utility wires along 'C' Street are an authentic reflection of Virginia City in the early 1900s, but it would be equally authentic to relocate these eyesores to the backsides of the main commercial row or bury them in the street.

Another odd deficiency is basic street lighting, which could be easily remedied with electrified replicas of the original gas lamps that once lined the street.

The street is badly in need of shared parking that doesn't consume prime property in the heart of the historic district, as one surface parking lot does. The only off-street public parking is located too far outside the district to be useful, though it does offer a (rather dilapidated) public restroom - another pressing need in this town of tourists.

Contact Information:
Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority
86 South "C" Street
P.O. Box 920
Virginia City, Nevada 89440
(775) 847-7500

Gallery of Virginia City's Best Lessons from the Past

Click any image or click here to view as a slide show...

History of Virginia City and the Comstock Lode
Map of Nineteenth Century Comstock Region
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