As Nevada’s prized National Historic Landmark, it should come as no surprise that the sky’s the limit when basking in the storied glory of historic Virginia City. From the minute you cruise into town, everything in front of you is immediately irresistible, pulling you in to every weathered crack and crevice of each 1870s-era edifice. But what about those places just beyond main street who have stood quietly, holding a different echelon of unexposed magic for over 150 years? As Virginia City’s premier art gallery and creative space, the St. Mary’s Art Center has effortlessly done just that since 1875, and is yours for the taking on your next trip to the Comstock.
Historic Saint Mary’s
Anyone who makes their way down the long driveway leading to St. Mary’s Art Center gets it: the place has a magnificent presence, like you discovered a portal to another era. By the early 1870s, the Comstock Lode was in full swing, drawing thousands of new people to the area. A massive population spike, combined with a handful of deadly mining accidents meant Virginia City was overdue for a hospital. The striking four-story building you see before you was built in 1875 after the land was donated by Comstock millionaire John Mackay and his wife, Marie Louise. Fittingly so, the hospital was first named the St. Mary Louise Hospital, and served Virginia City for decades.
Operated by the Daughters of Charity, the hospital quickly became a renowned institution. Like many other fixtures throughout Virginia City, was nothing short of opulent, implementing the finest and most modern features and amenities to deliver top notch medical care and an expedited recovery. The hospital could accommodate more than 70 patients in its 36 room layout, and luxuries many other places in the state only dreamt of, like hot and cold running water in each room. Perhaps most interesting, the hospital was in its heyday during a time when fresh air and sunlight were believed to be some of the best remedies. Every room in the hospital has a window view, and two of the stories have elaborate porches, both of which were part of the recovery plan for each patient.
The hospital was in use until a lot of silver mines became less and less profitable in the late 1800s, and many of Virginia City residents moved on to the next big boom. The final blow occured in 1897 when the Daughters of Charity left the Comstock. By 1940, the hospital closed altogether due to lack of resources and funding and sat abandoned until the 1960s when a Catholic Priest from Saint Mary in the Mountains had uncanny foresight to save the building from further disrepair. Best yet, he partnered with local artist Louise Curran, who together, saved this historic building. In fact, the historic hospital was on the chopping block, about to be demolished when he decided to save this piece of Comstock History and turn it into a local arts center.
Visiting Saint Mary’s Art Center Today
Since Father Meinecke and Louise Curran saved this local resource from demolition in 1964, Saint Mary’s Art Center has offered both lodging and art instruction to and from some very well-known artists and earned its ranking as a National Historic Landmark. Alterations and restorations began in the 1960s and continue today, keeping the center constantly evolving to accommodate its artists.By 1973, Saint Mary’s Art Center became incorporated as a 501(c)3. Visitors can expect to peruse seven rotating galleries featuring artworks by established and emerging local, regional, national and international artists. A permanent collection is housed throughout guest rooms available by reservation throughout the property, too.
Available for rent year round, Saint Mary’s Art Center is an ideal space for creative workshops, artist retreats, functions, events and groups, business meetings, family reunions, weddings, writer’s workshops, church groups, yoga retreats, meditation and more. The array of classes offered at St. Mary’s includes acrylic, oil, pastel, watercolor, sculpture, photography, etching and other artistic media. The center’s yearly schedule of workshops and retreats offers both new and returning students a fantastic array of artistic pursuits. The expansive building affords students a range of spaces in which to create, including a large upstairs studio, the rolling lawn, the historic town of Virginia City and the surrounding hillside. Before hitting the road, be sure to swing through the artisan gallery, which is loaded with impressive hand made finds from local artists, too.
The Saint Mary’s Art Center is typically open to the public Friday thru Sunday from 11:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m. Considering the Saint Mary’s Art Center hosts a variety of closed classes and special events, the best way to check hours of operation and availability is by calling the director at (775) 440-0992, or email at [email protected]
Admission is $5 for adults, $3.50 for seniors and children ages 12 and under. The price to enter to St. Mary's Art Center is minimal, though this enriching cultural center depends on donations. Visitors are encouraged to make an additional donation, which helps with establishing and preservation of museum exhibits, and supports future additions to the property. When visiting this valuable historic resource, please consider making a donation!