Virginia City is an interesting destination, being one of the best preserved “Wild West” towns I’ve ever visited. Once a prosperous mining city, it was one of the largest communities in northwestern Nevada during the late 19th century. Thousands of people flocked here when silver and gold were discovered in the Comstock, including many Irish Catholic immigrants. Those of you who remember the popular television series, Bonanza, will remember that the Cartwrights frequently visited Virginia City to conduct their business. They were not alone, as Virginia City provided services to local miners, ranchers and timber men. There’s lots to see in this old town, still a center of commerce but now catering mostly to tourists rather than locals.
I thought the most interesting and lovely building we saw during our visit to Virginia City was St. Mary’s in the Mountains, a Roman Catholic church and one of the oldest buildings in Nevada. Originally built in 1868 by Father Patrick Manogue, the church grew rapidly as it served the local community, especially the Irish immigrants. Unfortunately a fire in 1875 destroyed the building, but it was rebuilt on the same site the following year.
The spire of the church measures almost 140 feet tall, with a bell weighing over a ton and having a 100 pound clapper. The interior is of beautiful Gothic style and has a choir loft and galleries built into the sides, with a Gothic style wooden altar. The rafters are built of redwood and the ceiling is supported by strong wooden columns.
While of modern design, the stained glass windows are lovely and added nicely to the atmosphere of the church.
When the mining boom ended, the population of Virginia City dwindled and the church fell into disrepair. Parts of the church were disassembled, but for the past decade restoration efforts have been underway and from what I could see, the church is largely repaired. It certainly is a beautiful structure and well worth visiting when in the Reno region.
The basement of the church contains a museum, admission to which is free (donations gratefully accepted). The museum contains numerous historic artifacts, photographs and old musical instruments. A sampling of these is outlined below.
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