Virginia City reaches height of prosperity

Although the meteoric rise of Mackay, Fair, Flood and O'Brien to the pinnacle of prominence and power was a spectacular episode in the history of the Comstock, the endurance and profitability of the V&T; is also a story of legendary proportion.

The Sacramento Bee revisits these and other events in the following excerpt from the newspaper's 1950 series of articles on the Virginia & Truckee Railroad.

"The rise of the Silver Kings to the top position in the Comstock is as spectacular a story as Sharon's and one which never ceased to gall the Bank Ring's dapper little tiger.

"It started when Mackay, the owner of a small Comstock mine, the Kentuck, and Fair, an even smaller operator, set out to gain control of the Hale and Norcross Mine - a property, seemingly defunct, for which Sharon had paid $7,100 a share in a battle for its control some time earlier.

"The two miners delegated Flood and O'Brien as their representatives on the San Francisco Stock Exchange and, with starting bids of $41.40 for share of stock, the quartet got controlling interest of Sharon's mine.

"Work on the shaft revealed new veins deeper in the mine and soon it was paying $200,000, then $500,000 dividends - a profit which did not help Sharon's blood pressure.

"Similar development and experiments on the California and Consolidated Virginia mines revealed the Big Bonanza at low levels and, according to Virginia City legends, the Bonanza Kings soon were taking dividends of $1,000,000 a month from their mines.

"One field remained to the Bank of California. Sharon's dream railroad, the V&T;, survived the wreckage. Thirty trains a day passed over the little line. At one time 52 trains passed over the Virginia and Truckee in a single day.

"The Central Pacific received $1,000 a day from the V&T; for through freight while the short line took in almost 10 times that amount. A quarter of a million tons of freight were hauled over the V&T; during the first six months of 1873 and the ratio picked up during the next two years.

"Passenger business was a thriving affair. In addition to the hundreds who arrived at the Comstock via emigrant tickets purchased in the East, a steady flow of people took the train from Virginia City to Reno and back.

"The road advertised its 'luxury cars' as having truly 'oriental splendor.' The oriental atmosphere of these cars was augmented some time later when, as the facilities improved, they were reserved for Chinese laborers.

Virginia City reached the height of her prosperity. Forty thousand people were perched on the mountainside which had been bare 20 years earlier. In contrast to her formative days, she was an orderly town, a model American city in an unlikely location, wealthier than most but not much more sinful."

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