Researchers are excavating the site of a former hospital in Virginia City for clues to what life was like in the mining town at the end of the 19th century.
Excavation work at the former St. Mary Louise Hospital began July 17 and is expected to continue through mid-August, according to Sarah Cowie, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno. Cowie is leading the excavation conducted by UNR students and volunteers.
(Above, the former St. Mary Louise Hospital, which today operates as the St. Mary's Art and Retreat Center.)
The Daughters of Charity ran the hospital from 1875 to 1897, according to Cowie.
“That was a pivotal time in the development of health care,” she said.
New ideas — such as the importance of diet, fresh air and sanitation — were emerging at that time, according to Cowie. Excavation of the site may indicate to what extent the hospital was on board with those practices.
“From the document record, it seems that they were very sophisticated for that time period,” Cowie said.
Artifacts gathered from the site, which today operates as the St. Mary’s Art and Retreat Center, will add to the understanding of early Virginia City.
(At left, Sarah Cowie, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Nevada, Reno, holds a pottery shard from the bottom of a bowl excavated at the site the week of July 16. After the excavation, the artifacts will be researched and documented, a process that can take up to a year, according to Cowie.)
Virginia City got its start in 1860, after gold was discovered the year before in nearby Six-Mile Canyon. Subsequent silver strikes made it one of the most important industrial cities between Denver and San Francisco, according to the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority. Although the city’s famous Comstock Lode — the silver deposit located under the city — was in decline by the 1880s, Virginia City continues to draw people with its historical buildings, wooden boardwalks and colorful special events.
To learn more about Virginia City or to plan a trip, visit the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority website, www.visitvirginiacitynv.com.