Virginia City is Montana’s best-preserved ghost towns from the 1860’s. Walking along the same boardwalks that vigilantes actually walked allows a glimpse into a ear long gone. Tour more than 100 historic buildings, many with original artifacts and furnishings. Another highlight here is walking among the vigilante grave sites.
Much of the town has been refurbished and preserved by Charlie and Sue Bovey, ranchers from the Great Falls area. This project started a long-term relationship with Virginia City. Charlie and Sue’s project became the first major & privately funded) preservation program, not only in Montana, but in the nation. Their goal was to share an intimate view into the past. They were able to preserved the look of this 1860’s town and almost all of the buildings are original.
Today, you will be transported in time, watch a recreation of a street gunfight, ride in an authentic stagecoach, ride the fully-refurbished 1910 steam locomotive between Virginia City and Nevada City, and shop along main street. You will find one of the best candy shops in Montana (the other being in Philipsburg, Mt), enjoy fine dining and old fashioned baked goods.
The Virginia City Players, the oldest continuing summer-stock theater operating west of the Mississippi, continues to entertain visitors just as its predecessors’ performances for the miners did more than a hundred years ago.
The authentically restored 1910 No. 12 Baldwin steam locomotive trundles the scant 1.5 miles on the Alder Gulch Short Line to Nevada City. Operated on weekends by volunteer engineers, this mechanical work of art adds to the pioneer town atmosphere and attracts train buffs of all ages. The sound of the steam being released and the whistle blowing always causes excitement. During the week, a gasoline-powered engine moves the cars. Much of the credit for the success of the railroad goes to John Larkin of Michigan.
Nevada City, MT
Only a dozen or so of Nevada City’s original buildings remain. What prevails here now is also a result of the vision and work of the Boveys.
In the 1950s, in order to create the realistic look of an early-day Montana gold camp and save historic buildings, the Boveys had many period edifices from the late 1800s moved here from other parts of the state and Wyoming. The structures are so well laid out that to the uninitiated it appears that Nevada City is a town everyone exited at once, leaving the buildings behind in good standing.
The state of Montana, through the Heritage Commission, owns the Bovey assets in Virginia City and all of Nevada City — a total of 248 buildings. The job of preserving and continuing the restoration is now in the hands of the Montana Heritage Commission, a branch of the Montana Historical Society. The commission received a $1 million grant from the National Park Service for building stabilization. The first project, the Sauerbier Blacksmith Shop, recently was completed. Another million-dollar grant, this one from Ruth McFarland, built the McFarland Curatorial Center, a state-of-the-art preservation and restoration center.
The lure of exploring one of the cradles of Montana history makes Alder Gulch a place well worth spending several days in. Its physical setting between the Tobacco Root Mountains and Gravelly Range are an added attraction. Public roads approach scenic sites and signs of yesterday are everywhere.
The gulch and Virginia City come alive in the summer, but the quiet of fall, coupled with that season’s gold and orange, also makes it a good time to see this Montana treasure.