Day Trips – October 2022

The Comstock Lode: Virginia City & Gold Hill

Virginia City

As Nevada prepares to celebrate the 158th anniversary of statehood on October 29th, it is worth remembering that Nevada’s admittance to the union in 1864 wouldn’t have been possible were it not for the wealth generated on the Comstock Lode.

The Comstock Lode refers to the enormous deposit of silver and gold ore discovered on the eastern slope of Mt. Davidson. Named after Henry Comstock, one of the first men to lay claim to this mineral wealth, this area soon saw the communities of Gold Hill and Virginia City spring up. At its peak in the mid-1870’s, this area was home to more than 25,000 people, making it one of the most populated areas west of the Mississippi River.

One of the area’s most famous residents got his start in Virginia City. A hopeful miner, Samuel Clemens, discovered his true talent as a writer, working for the Territorial Enterprise newspaper. Concerned that his tall tales might cause upset citizens to seek him out, this author took on the pen name of Mark Twain.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains

Much of present-day Virginia City is an imaginative re-creation of the past, complete with souvenir stores and staged gun fights. But much like the writings of Mark Twain, it is entertaining and has a charming appeal. However many of the area’s historic landmarks still remain.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains is Virginia City’s most prominent building. First erected in 1870, this church was destroyed by fire in 1875. It was rebuilt in 1877, and its opulent appearance is a reflection of the wealth the community had to offer. St. Mary’s is Nevada’s oldest active Catholic Church, but visitors are encouraged. The church has a gift shop, a museum and even the Mad Monk Wine Cellar in the basement, with proceeds going towards restoration and preservation.

Fourth Ward School

Education was taken seriously on the Comstock. The Fourth Ward School is a reminder of that. This four-story building was dedicated in 1876. It accommodated students from 1st through 9th grades. By the turn of the century, it expanded to offer classes through the 12th grade. These days, the school is a museum and archive, open daily (except Mondays) from May 1st through October 31st.

C Street is the commercial district of the Comstock. In its heyday, one could find all of the goods needed to live comfortably in the Victorian Age. There were milliners, haberdasheries and grocers. There were a plethora of hotels, restaurants, opera houses and “first class drinking parlors”.

For all of it’s refinement, the Comstock had varying levels of civility. Many of the saloons were classified as either 1 bit or 2 bit establishments. The higher class bars sold drinks for 2 bits, or 25 cents. The lower class places served drinks for half that price, 1 bit. On the south end of C Street, an area known as the Barbary Coast was particularly known for its vice. Named after the famed red light district of the San Francisco, this part of Virginia City catered to the area’s prurient interests. Although there is little remaining of the Barbary Coast, its legend adds to the character and lore of the Comstock.

C Street – Virginia City

Today, C Street is home to many businesses catering to visitors. Of course you can still play slot machines at the Bucket of Blood and Delta Saloons. You can also find craft candy at Red’s or Grandma’s Fudge Shops. You can enjoy a fine meal at several restaurants. There are plenty of small businesses offering unique products that really make Virginia City a fun place to explore.

Gold Hill

The community of Gold Hill isn’t as large and touristy, but it has its charms. Since 1992, the southern terminus of the restored V&T Railroad was Gold Hill. Now that service has been restored to Carson City, the Gold Hill station remains an important stop on the line. However, the most famous attraction has been in operation since 1861.

The Gold Hill Hotel claims to be the only full service hotel on the Comstock, meaning they offer lodging, dining and drinking on premises. This hotel is even more famous for some of its “guests.” The Gold Hill Hotel has been proclaimed the 8th most haunted location in Nevada, and has been featured on the TV show Ghost Hunters.

Gold Hill Hotel

For many, the holiday season is the best time to visit the Comstock. October has plenty of Halloween events, including a parade. The V&T railroad has special Pumpkin Express train rides. In November, the state’s best Veterans Day parade is in Virginia City. The entire month of December is known as Christmas on the Comstock, with parades, fireworks, faires and the Candy Cane Express.

Whether you’re looking for a unique place to take guests, or a fun family outing, a trip to the Comstock is great adventure.

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Angels Camp, California

Downtown Angel Camp

While Mark Twain got his start as a newspaper writer in Virginia City, it was a visit to Angels Camp California that helped him become a successful author.

Angels Camp is located in the Sierra Foothills of Calaveras County, some 50 miles east of Stockton. The town got its start in 1849, when brothers Henry and George Angel found a large amount of gold in the area. They used that wealth to set up a merchant tent on the bank of Dry Creek. Eventually the placer (loose) gold began to run out, and the population dwindled. By this time the community was a commercial hub for other mines in the area.

Angels Creek Trading Post

Although the “easy” placer gold dwindled, a large vein of gold-bearing quartz was discovered. By the 1880’s hard rock mining produced significant amounts of the precious metal. Angels Camp was home to several stamp mills which crushed the quartz, thus allowing the gold to recovered. Unlike many other mining towns in California, the mines around Angels Camp remained prosperous well into the early 20th century.

In December 1864, Mark Twain was passing through the area. He paid a visit to the Angels Hotel where he heard a story about an inveterate gambler who trained a frog for the purpose of betting. In the process, the gambler got swindled. The resulting short story The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County was published in 1865 in a collection of other short stories. It brought his work to a wider audience, and is considered to be his first great success.

A mural on the side of Angels Hotel

In honor of the city’s first paved road in May of 1928, the Booster Club held the first Frog Jumping Jubilee. The event has remained a tradition since. Also Angels Camp hosts the annual Mark Twain Wild West Fest on the third Saturday in October.

Angels Camp remained a vibrant community, well after other Gold Rush settlements faded away. The city’s historic business district on Main Street retains its 19th century charm. The area also serves as a nice jumping-off point for exploring the surrounding gold country. Other attractions include the nearby Moaning Caverns and New Melones Reservoir.

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