Column: Virginia City survives beyond the railroad

By the mid-1900s, the embattled V&T Railroad was fighting for its life as it struggled to compete with changing economic times and the innovations of a modern era. Following is the next segment in our series of articles reproduced from the Sacramento Bee's 1950 tribute to the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

"During the years that followed (the curtailment of operations) the V&T's ledgers showed an increasing amount of red ink until on Feb. 2, 1950, the Nevada Public Service Commission granted it permission to go out of business. Action by the Inter-State Commerce Commission was the only bar to abandonment. In the months which followed, the V&T became a rolling ghost.

"Meanwhile, Virginia City, Queen of the Comstock, stands in immediate danger of following the historic short line into oblivion. The timeworn buildings of the old town are creaking and sagging under the weight of years and the ever shifting slopes of the hollow mountain which supports it.

"Each year the restless earth of Mount Davidson presses closer against the rear of Piper's Opera House, threatening the proud old structure with immediate collapse. Ed Zimmer, grandson of the man who built it, orders a crew of men in to remove the earth and relieve the pressure so the onetime center of Comstock social life can stand alone on shrunken timbers, twisted and warped, awaiting the day when it will be adequately braced and reinforced, or a Washoe Zephyr blows it into Six Mile Canyon.

"Union Hall where miners of past decades met to discuss their grievances slants precariously to the north. The old Masonic Hall, focal point of Comstock fraternal life, has been condemned while three sagging structures nearby lean against it for support.

"A few buildings on C Street seem intact and strong, but a close look shows sloping, untenable balconies and rotting timbers, unmistakable signs of untended decay which spells eventual doom of the entire town. Those who know her well predict the day is coming when Virginia City will slide down Mount Davidson into eternity along with her silver mines and the V&T.

"As the city declined, a new bonanza moved into the fading streets. History conscious Americans, realizing Virginia City is one of the nation's last remnants of the colorful days when the West was young and inhibited, have flocked to the Comstock capital for a fleeting peek at the past. And with them a new menace has arrived.

"Virginia City stands in danger of being either a desert Coney Island where hot dogs are prepared in futuristic diners and streamlined cowgirls serve sodas at the glass walled drive-ins, or a comic opera, motion picture version of the city which lived with the Comstock Lode.

"Aware that their town can live through the ages on tourist trade, the townspeople have moved to revive and restore Virginia City. Others, interested in reviving the Queen of the Comstock as a living monument to the Comstock Lode, have joined the restoration movement and formed the Virginia City Foundation Trust with the intention of raising a sufficient amount of money to take care of the job properly."


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