Twain expert raises money for historic Nevada school

VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. (AP) — A Mark Twain expert from Connecticut is making his first visit to Virginia City this week to help raise money to make needed repairs at the Comstock’s historic Fourth Ward School.

Steve Courtney is the publicist and publisher for the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Conn. He plans a lecture about Twain’s Connecticut home during Friday night’s fundraiser at the Gold Hill Hotel.

“This is a good opportunity to bring in a heavy hitter in Twain scholarship,” former Nevada historic preservation officer Ron James said.

The school that opened in 1876 has some major problems with water coming into the roof and foundation.

“Fourth Ward is open and rarin’ to go, but it always needs a shot in the arm, and expenses have always exceeded revenues,” James said. “This is an opportunity to help close the gap, when there are specific needs, like the water problem. That has to be addressed by next winter.”

Courtney’s visit coincides with the 150th anniversary of when Samuel Clemens first used the pen name Mark Twain in an article for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise in 1863, James said.

Built in the Second Empire architectural style, the school operated until 1936. It remained vacant for 50 years until community and preservation groups came together to rehabilitate and reopen the school with the help of several state grants. In 1986, a Nevada Humanities grant funded a museum, which houses galleries and exhibits.

Courtney will also lecture at University of California, Berkeley, which houses the Twain Archive, a collection of “all things Twain,” James said. He asked for a tour of the Virginia City area and agreed in exchange to give a free lecture in Gold Hill.

“He has never been to Virginia City,” James said. “This is his chance to see the Comstock.”

“There are three places that make Twain, Twain and they are Hannibal (Mo.), Hartford and Virginia City,” he said.

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