Eighth graders from The Country School in Valley Village, California, came to Virginia City, Nevada for their class trip last month. They spent four days experiencing the richness of the community and immersing themselves in the past exploring the town and surrounding area, learning about the history of the Comstock as well as the current contributions of one local mines, Comstock Mining Inc.
Ten students, the entire eighth grade class of the small progressive school in North Hollywood next to Studio City, along with two of their teachers, Leon Martell and Mark Bell, and three other chaperones enjoyed a fun-filled trip to the historic town known by many for the opening scene of the television show Bonanza.
Their adventure began in Burbank, California, when they boarded their plane for Reno; they were met by their guides, representatives from Comstock Mining Inc., who led them up the meandering road Geiger Grade to the famed Virginia City and a step back in time.
The Gold Hill Hotel, known as Nevada’s oldest operating hotel, became home to the group for their stay. The Gold Hill Hotel, nestled in the hills just a mile south of Virginia City in Gold Hill, Nevada, overlooks some of the richest land in mining history. Rooms in the older portion of the hotel boast period furniture and are fabled to still house some of the original residents in ghostly form. Students and chaperones were treated to a lecture and slide show by a Comstock Mining Inc. geologist and were given a sample of gold ore.
Virginia City sites offered the students a chance to learn about history from a realistic view; they toured the Fourth Ward School, an authentically preserved 1876 Victorian school building. The school was built to commemorate the nation’s centennial and could accommodate over 1000 students. Originally anticipated to cost just $30,000 it cost $54,000 including furniture and land by the time it was completed.
Due to a declining population in the area coinciding with the diminishing fortunes of the miners in the Comstock, there were fewer students, eventually there were less than 200. By 1936, the school graduated the last of its seniors and closed their doors for the last time as a school. However, state grants allowed it to reopen as a museum in 1986 bringing the past to the present for those wishing to learn what it was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
A tour of Piper’s Opera House, the Washoe Club and Comstock Mine were also part of the activities. The students learned the process of “agglomeration”, the “leach field”, and the process where the gold and silver is poured into “doré bars”.
John Winfield, Chairman of the Board of Comstock Mining Inc., one of the chaperones, visited Fred’s Closet, along with other chaperones, to dress in period clothing and travel back in time to become part of the town’s authentic atmosphere. Period clothing expert and proprietor, Fred Dutton, authenticated chaperone Mark Bell’s own clothing as “spot on”.
On Friday, the last day of their visit, the group went to Horse Power’s rescue to see some of the wild mustangs and burros that have been rescued from going to slaughter or from people who could no longer take care of the animals. The group was met by Executive Director, Sally Summers, who educated them about the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and some of the misconceptions about wild horse and burro roundups in the state.
Summers talked to the students and chaperones about the importance of education of range management, wild equine and estray horses and burros, and about the importance of learning about peaceful co-existence of humans and animals.
A few of the students were able to ride on one of the Mustangs in a round pen, something they may not get a chance to do again in their lifetime. Winfield rode John Wayne (JW), a mustang save from slaughter by Horse Power. Horse Power is currently working on doing a charity fundraiser for a necessary surgery for John Wayne who needs approximately $3500 worth of care.
Horse Power is a Nevada non-profit organization focused on the preservation of wild mustangs and burros. They raise money primarily through the purchase of the Horse Power license plate program; money from the program is used to financially aid groups and organizations that care for wild, estray, and second chance horses, burros, and mules.
The students from The Country School in Valley California will likely not soon forget their visit to Virginia City very soon. Some rode a mustang, others touched snow for the first time in their lives, some of the adults dressed like cowboys… and some may have even seen a ghost or two in The Gold Hill Hotel.
By Dawn Cranfield
Senior Correspondent / Product Specialist