In his preface to Roughing It, published in 1880, Mark Twain “alludes to the rise, growth and culmination of silver-mining fever in Nevada”. Along the way he describes his adventures at Lake Tahoe, Carson City and Virginia. It is Virginia City today, but in Twain’s time it was simply Virginia. Actually, Virginia shows up as a name innumerable times in that part of Nevada. There are Virginia streets, avenues, saloons, bars, cafes, casinos, diners, and more in and around Washoe and Storey counties in western Nevada.
The Mensch is a Mark Twain fan and visiting Virginia City recently was an exercise in comparing Virginia City of 21st century with the silver mining town where Twain, S.L. Clemens, was a reporter and editor for the newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.
I can report that the sidewalks are still wooden planks. Indoor plumbing, electricity and paved streets have come to Virginia City but the buildings along Avenue C, the main drag, are the same wooden structures that were there in the 19th century.
One of the fun things to do in Virginia City is a mine tour that starts inside the Ponderosa Saloon. There is a grizzled, semi-toothless guide in a hard hat at the back of the saloon who sells the tickets, collects the tickets and gives the tour. After a little history of the Comstock Load and Virginia City, he describes the dangers of silver mining while leading you a few hundred feet into a mine tunnel. Hard hats are a must for the tour since even short people could bop their head on the timbers.
Down the road a piece from Virginia City is Gold Hill which still offers hotel rooms and dinner. You can drive to Gold Hill, but the Virginia and Truckee Railroad has an excursion train that makes the round trip from Virginia City to Gold Hill in 35 minutes. The Mensch shared the historic ride with several dozen middle school kids who behaved just as you would expect them to.
Twain traveled to Virginia City from Carson City by foot, by horse, and by wagon up and over the Sierra Nevada mountains. The Mensch had a Jeep Patriot with four-wheel drive.