The Comstock Foundation for History and Culture encourages the preservation and promotion of historic and cultural resources within the Virginia City National Historic Landmark District.


The 19th century mining bonanza turned Virginia City into the most important industrial city between Denver and San Francisco, and it turned destitute prospectors from all over the world into instant millionaires.


In the late 1850s, silver and gold were discovered in this area and the resulting camp was little more than a few miners living in tents and crude shacks. By the early 1860s, however, the town of Gold Hill grew to rival Virginia City in size and population.


In 1861, Silver City featured boarding houses, saloons, hotels, and a population of about 1,200 people. The town became an important freighting center to serve travelers between the Comstock mines of Virginia City and the processing mills near Dayton and along the Carson River.


The Comstock was born in Gold Cañon, the site of Nevada’s first gold discovery. Nearby Dayton became Nevada’s first permanent settlement in 1851, and was also the site of the state’s first Chinatown, and home to Lyon County’s first courthouse.


Entrepreneur Adolph Sutro believed that a tunnel, excavated to intersect with the lower levels of the Comstock, would efficiently drain and ventilate the mines. Unfortunately, the Sutro Tunnel opened as the Comstock mines declined.

Restoring the Legacy of the Comstock.

The Comstock Historic District is one of the most important National Historic Landmarks in the
United States of America. At over fourteen thousand acres, it is also one of the largest.
The district includes Virginia City, Gold Hill, Silver City, the historic part of Dayton, and the historic site of Sutro.
The Landmark commemorates a long history of remarkable achievements in the field of mining.

The Donovan Mill



The impact of the Comstock Lode on the world in the mid 1800’s was immense in many ways. It literally was the richest place on earth, producing over $700,000,000.00 in the 1800’s, valued at over $19 billion today. The mines were producing thousands of tons of ore every day and it took over 263 mills to keep up with the process of milling/crushing the ore to recover the gold and silver.

The Donovan Mill was not only the longest operating mill on the Comstock, 1860 to 1959, it is only one of four mills remaining today. Opened in 1860, known as the Kelsey Mill, it was operated at different times by Comstock notables, William Sharon, John Mackay and James Fair until 1878. Following that it was known as the Dazet Mill and in the late 1890’s is the site where Professor Robert Jackson from UNR School of Mines, perfected the cyanide leaching process, still used around the world today, for recovering gold and silver from ore, replacing the use of the highly toxic mercury. In 1912 William Donovan Senior purchased the mill and enlarged it over time.

Today it is the largest historic stamp mill in the nation, with his family successfully operating until 1959 when the Donovan Mill shut down. In 2015 the Comstock Foundation for History and Culture purchased the mill for $195.000.00 and began restoration work that continues to this day. The Comstock Foundation is now able to open private tours to the public on a regular schedule. To schedule a tour visit our website at comstockfoundation.org / Tours.

Download Donovan Mill Brochure HERE




Steven Saylor and Tom Hayward

An Open Letter to Virginia City

Among the 200 Twain scholars I’ve communed with over the past 40 years, Virginia City has been their biggest disappointment.  Hannibal, Hartford and Elmira boast Mark Twain’s profile in grand style, and our Comstock Fathers & Mothers should visit there.

Mark Twain has a wider reputation, is better known nationally and world-wide than Virginia City, and many Comstock residents would be quite surprised to hear that.

It’s time we recognize and celebrate the literary birthplace of America’s best loved author, Mark Twain; time for Virginia City to take her rightful place of honor as the lodestone of the enduring literary compendium of one Samuel Langhorne Clemens.  Commemorate it and they will come.

Our intrepid Executive Director of the Comstock Foundation for History & Culture, Steven Saylor, along with the propitious new owner and renovator of the Territorial Enterprise Building, Tom Hayward, will be leading the way. 
I see a new dispensation dawning over Virginia City…

With great love for the Comstock Lode,

I remain your faithful servant and friend,

McAvoy Layne

Donovan Mill Preservation & Restoration – Brick Fundraiser

A fundraising brick campaign is now in progress. 4×8 bricks are $100 and 8×8 are $200. The bricks will form a patio in front of the Donovan Mill monument and extend, in a walkway, towards the Ingersol Rand pavilion and the newly restored old blacksmith shop.

Order your brick online HERE
For more information send an email to: comstockfoundation@gmail.com


The Comstock Foundation for History and Culture was the recipient of the Northern Nevada Development Authority’s Pioneer/Boundary Peak Award as best non profit in 2018. The Comstock Foundation has worked since 2014 to rebuild historic structures and encourage the preservation and promotion of the historic and cultural resources within the Virginia City National Landmark District.


Become involved and preserve history.
Are you interested in helping the Comstock Foundation with their efforts in preservation and promotion of historic and cultural resources within the Comstock Historic District? Support preservation and donate below. CLICK HERE to become a volunteer or below to donate:

This month’s feature videos present images of Donovan Mill.
To view the entire Comstock Historic District video collection, please visit our Youtube station:


The Comstock Foundation • PO Box 61 • 680 American Flat Road • Gold Hill • Nevada • 89440

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