“a very much alive ghost town”
You can't say you've been to Montana unless you've stopped in one of their many ghost towns-- the state is chock full of 'em, and they're the coolest places to learn about their legendary and unique Wild West history. One of the best ghost towns to visit is Virginia City, Montana, which strikes a rare balance between the excitement of a tourist attraction and real authenticity. The reason it has managed to stay interesting without being cheesy is because it's in a unique situation, but it started off like your average boom town. Like all the others, Virginia City began with the discovery of gold-- in this town's case, in the Alder Gulch. As much as the men tried to hide their discovery when they brought their treasure back to Bannack, the only other town in the area, it was futile. Within a few days, makeshift tent cities had popped up along the banks of the creek. The men decided to call the town "Verina" in honor of Varina Howell Davis, the first and only First Lady of the Confederate States of America. The men were all Confederate sympathizers, but the newly-elected miners' court judge from Connecticut who was charged with registering the town's name was not, and instead, he dubbed the settlement "Virginia City". Now, most Wild West mining towns have a reputation for being lawless, but Virginia City was especially bad. Despite the fact that Montana's first newspaper and public school were in Virginia City, and that it was the first territorial capital, they didn't really seem to get around to building a court, or any kind of justice system. Add that to the fact that people are walking around town with straight up gold in their pockets, and you've got a recipe for a crime problem. Outlaws especially loved to stake out the trails into town and attack unsuspecting travelers. It wasn't until 1864 when a group of citizens, sick of the outlaws bullying them, banded together to form the Montana Vigilantes. Within a year, they had caught and lynched about 15 outlaws-- including the sheriff of Bannack, who ran a criminal gang of his own. As the 19th century wore on, other, more promising gold mines were established, and most of the miners were unable to resist the temptation of the next big gold strike. They headed off for Helena en masse, leaving behind the little town. Unlike many ghost towns, Virginia City never fully died. That's what makes Virginia City special: there was still enough gold to keep a few people around, but there was never quite enough time or money to remodel everything. In the 1940's, a man named Charles Bovey "re-discovered" Virginia City, and began to buy up the town to preserve it-- the fact that it's a quick drive from Yellowstone National Park meant that there would be plenty of tourists in the area. There are still about 130 people living in the town, and you can find modern restaurants, shops, and homes alongside rickety 1800's-era structures. Many of the original buildings have been well-preserved, and in the 1960's the town was dubbed a National Historic Landmark District. The historic district serves as an outdoor museum, housing one of the largest collections of 19th century Western artifacts outside of the Smithsonian. There's also a boot hill cemetery (that's how you know a town was lawless: boot hill cemeteries were called that because the men buried there died fighting, or, as they said back then, "with their boots on"). You can explore the city on your own, or take a ghost tour, stagecoach tour, or even hop on the railroad to nearby Nevada City, which is essentially Virginia City's twin. And, since the town is still very much alive, you'll be able to find saloons, shopping, museums, and even the occasional re-enactment! -Roadtrippers All of Montana has the deepest pride and affection for Virginia City. No more colorful pioneer mining camp ever existed. Dramatic tales of the early days in this vicinity are legion. Rich placer diggings were discovered in Alder Gulch in the spring of 1863 and the stampede of gold seekers and their parasites was on! Sluices soon lined the gulch and various "cities" blossomed forth as trading and amusement centers for free handed miners. Virginia City, the best known of these and the sole survivor, became the Capitol of the Territory. The very much alive ghost town, Virginia City, Montana, is frozen in time. It is a remarkably well preserved old west Victorian gold mining town just 20 miles west of Yellowstone National Park (90 miles by road). When the gold ran out, there was still enough left so that homes and businesses were occupied, but there was not enough wealth to remodel the buildings. So it froze, and now represents the whole Victorian era. It is the true and original Old West. It is a gem, held within an incredibly rich area of natural beauty, recreation and history.
Amazing town. It's not on private property, it's an entire town. Many original buildings still stand, several are occupied by great shops. Be sure to check out Boot Hill and its amazing view of the town.
Since 1863, Virginia City has not transformed much. The historic buildings have been preserved or restored. It's an amazing stepping stone into Montana's past. We even panned for garnets at the edge of town just like in the old days.
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Virginia City, Montana
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