Stories of colorful mining-era boomtowns in the American West are abundant. But, few are quite as colorful as the story of Virginia City. On May 26, 1863, six frustrated prospectors set up a camp on the banks of a small creek in the Tobacco Root Mountains. All they wanted was to find enough gold to buy tobacco when they returned to Bannack. Within hours, they had collected $12.30 in gold, and that there might be more here than a few days worth of tobacco. The area was named Alder Gulch for the bushes that grew along the creek.
The town of Virginia City was born, and within a year grew to 10,000 people. Within two years almost 30,000 people lived within 20 miles of the town. Within three years, Alder Gulch coughed up more than $30 million in gold, and to this day is the richest placer gold discovery in history yielding over $130 million in flakes, nuggets, and gold dust.
The stories that go with this town are just as rich. Henry Plummer, the criminal sheriff who plundered the area for years. The Montana Vigilante movement finally hung the crooked sheriff and contributed numerous graves on the local Boot Hill. And, of course, the political intrigue and wrangling when the town served as Montana’s Territorial Capital.
Probably the most unique thing about Virginia City is that most of it are still standing today—intact and preserved. Most of the buildings here have stood in the same spot for more than 130 years. The “downtown” of Virginia City is arguably one of the best collections of “boomtown” buildings still standing on their original sites. Ranks Mercantile, established in 1864, is Montana’s oldest continuously operating general store.
Charles and Sue Bovey visited Virginia City in 1944 and immediately recognized its historic value. Their efforts to restore and preserve the town lasted for years until the Bovey estate sold the town to the State of Montana. Today, you can shop, dine, and sleep in a town so authentic you’ll feel you’ve stepped back in time. Learn more about this rare historical treasure at www.viriginiacity.com and www.virginiacitychamber.com.
Photo Gallery Butte Area