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Email Author: Ellen Hopkins
Story Posted: 2/4/2005 07:08 pm

Wild West weddings

Ghost towns. Steam engines. Wagon tracks, indelibly stamped into the vast, dusty playa. Mustangs running free through oceans of sage. These things and more allude to Northern Nevada’s rich Wild West history and impart a unique flavor to the Reno/Tahoe area. What better way to flavor your perfectly planned wedding?

The obvious place to start is Virginia City. Once a thriving town of 30,000, the sleepy little ghost town today is home to only a few hundred intrepid citizens. VC perches at about 6,000 feet on Mt. Davidson, overlooking a sweeping vista, all the way to the Sierra. Juniper and pinion dot the hills, where you’ll often glimpse mustangs. Saloons and mercantiles line the boardwalks, along with gift shops and museums. It’s quaint, steeped in history, and a sensational place to say your Wild West “I do’s.”

The most popular venues book out, so contact them early if you’re interested. These include the beautiful St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church. The original Catholic church burned to the ground in 1885, one ultimate result of a barroom brawl. Silver baron John Mackay rebuilt the church, all in brick with a silver steeple and bell tower. Today, St. Mary’s looks much as it did at the turn of the 20th century. The massive organ pipes and intricately carved interior make a splendid backdrop for your denominational wedding. (Information: 775-847-7500)

Speaking of John Mackay, his personal residence was built by George Hearst in 1859. The Mackay Mansion served as the mining office for the lucrative Gould & Curry mine. Hearst served as superintendent and it was here, with $400 of borrowed money, that he began to build his fortune. Though he only stayed a few years, he amassed several million dollars. Mackay took the helm in the early 1870s.

Today, his three-story mansion hosts many weddings every year. Ceremonies for up to 35 people can take place in the parlor, while larger weddings move outside to the gorgeous wedding pavilion. Surrounded by lawns, gardens and a brick patio, this venue can comfortably accommodate 200 guests. (Information:

Just down the hill, the Gold Hill Hotel bears the distinction of the oldest continuously operating hotel in Nevada. Some say it’s haunted, but the ghosts seem friendly enough to those who “know” them. Smaller weddings can take place in the old hotel itself, which has been restored and refurbished with lovely Victorian era accoutrement. A steep staircase from the upstairs rooms leads down into the parlor, with its massive stone fireplace — a fabulous place to say, “I do.”

Larger weddings can be accommodated in the gazebo, which was constructed especially for such occasions. The patio and gazebo have a view down Gold Canyon that will take your breath away. (Information:

For a truly grand wedding, in the style of Comstock elite, consider Piper’s Opera House. Rebuilt in 1885, after burning to the ground, the existing building has suspended balconies and a floor mounted on springs. Once the hub of Comstock society, Piper’s Opera House was the setting for traveling Shakespeare companies, circuses, concerts, wrestling matches and political rallies. Today, the stage hosts more modern concerts and theatrical productions, as well as the occasional wedding. (Information: 775-847-0433)

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The beautiful St. Mary's in the Mountains Catholic Church is a popular tourist attraction in Virginia City, Nev. In the 19th century, Virginia City was Nevada's crown jewel, the biggest city and focal point of the state. Its Comstock Lode of silver and gold made instant millionaires out of grubby miners. The 150 saloons were crowded with the newly rich who sometimes lost their fortunes on games of faro and monte. Today only a few players sit in front of slot machines in the Bucket of Blood, Bonanza andDelta saloons. - Cathleen AllisonAP Photo/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison / AP Photo/Nevada Appeal

Western Wedding Attire

What to wear to your Wild West affair? The options are limitless. The bride may go as formal or casual as suits her fancy. Many beautiful brides have arrived at the ceremony on horseback, six-foot trains draped across their steeds’ tail end. If a flounced skirt and Juliet sleeves belong on your dream dress, go for it. But if you want true western flair, you can still be a stunning bride.

Check out Sat’n Spurs Western Bridal Wear ( or Cultured Cowboy ( for a variety of western-themed wedding gowns. In lace or satin, with or without bustles and trains, all are quite reasonably priced. Another idea is to design your gown in denim, with lace or fringe touches. Romancing The West ( is the place to shop for these.

Both sites offer bridesmaids’ dresses and formal wear for the groom and groomsmen. Dark tuxes look great, topped off with cowboy hats, but you can also go more casual with simple silk vests and black jeans.

Cultured Cowboy also offers an Old West collection for both women and men, with clothing straight from the rough-and-ready days. You’ll even find old-time undergarments — camisoles and cotton petticoats.

Bridal footwear often consists of boots, either standard western style, or a chic Victorian button-up style. These come in solid leather, or with lace inserts, tall or ankle length. For headwear, hats in several styles come with or without simple or elegant veils, flowers, beads or sequins.

Accessories include short gloves and chokers for the ladies; big belt buckles, string ties and cummerbunds for the gents. The women, especially your flower girl, also might carry parasols rather than bouquets. For jewelry, choose silver and turquoise, or gold and pearls.

Bright flowers such as daisies, zinnias and sunflowers might complement roses in your bouquets. Consider big bunches, loosely tied with cotton twine or rawhide, rather than more formal cascades.