The Werrin Building
The Werrin Building stands on the south end of Virginia City’s main street and dates to 1873. John Werrin was a grocer from Cornwall, and his business stood on the edge of what was a Cornish neighborhood. While the main floor provided space for his business, the upper story was a lodging house. Virginia City’s declining prosperity during the 1880s caused the boarding house to be abandoned while the main floor saw various uses over the subsequent decades.
Apartments consisted of one or two rooms. Some had windows while others did not. There is considerable variation in wallpapering, so presumably each tenant could decorate according to taste. Access to a communal privy in the back was down the central hallway.
Today the main floor serves as home for the popular restaurant “Café del Rio,” but the second-story lodging house remains largely as it was in the 1880s. Original room configurations, paint, and wall paper survive to convey the feeling of a domestic space in the nineteenth-century.
Perhaps as many as half of Virginia City’s residents in the 1870s rented apartments or rooms in houses. Up to 10,000 people lived in the core of town, tightly packed in an urban setting, contrary to the popular image of a spread-out, western mining boomtown. Many others, however, owned single-family houses. John Werrin, for example, lived with his wife and children in a home three blocks above his store and apartments.
The attached media gallery offers the opportunity to walk through the Werrin Lodging House and to step back into time.
Photographs and text by Ronald M. James.