All Montana Area Codes are 406
16. Food, Lodging
Virginia City 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 col- lected $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 that 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 is 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 collection of “boomtown” build- ings still standing on their original sites. Ranks Mercantile, established in 1864, is Montana’s old- est 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.virig- iniacity.com and www.virginiacitychamber.com.
Nevada City A celebrated ghost town, Nevada City recreates the mining era so authentically that it has been filmed in western movies such as Little Big Man and Return to Lonesome Dove. Buildings include five streets of shops, homes, a schoolhouse and Chinatown. The most popular exhibition is the Music Hall which contains one of the world’s largest collections of mechanical music machines.
H Nevada City Nevada City
A ghost town now, but once one of the hell roarin’ min- ing camps that lined Alder Gulch in the 1860s. It was a trading point where gold dust and nuggets were the medium of exchange: where men were men and women were scarce. A stack of whites cost twenty, the sky was the limit and everyone was heeled.
The first Vigilante execution took place here when George Ives, notorious road agent, was convicted of murder and hanged.
The gulch was once filled with romance, glam- ou , melodrama, comedy and tragedy. It’s plumb peaceful now.
H Virginia City Virginia City
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 diggin’s 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 freehanded miners. Virginia City, best known of these and the sole survivo , became the Capital of the Territory. Pioneers, who with their descendants were to mold the destinies of the state, were among its first citizens. If you like true stories more picturesque than fiction, Virginia City and Alder Gulch can furnish them in countless numbers.
NW of Virginia City
Placer riches in Alder Gulch spawned many colorful communities. Among them, Adobetown flourished briefly as the center of mining activity in 1864. In that year alone, miners extracted over $350,000 in gold from nearby streams.
Taking its name from the numerous adobe shacks the miners constructed in the vicinity Adobetown assumed permanence in the fall of 1865 when Nicholas Carey and David O’Brien erected a large log store. The building’s central location contributed to the growth of the settlement and the development of other businesses. Stages from Salt Lake City and later the Union Pacific Railroad at Corinne, Utah, made regular stops at the Adobetown store for passengers and mail.
The town received an official post office in 1875
with Carey as postmaster. He, and later his wife Mary, served as the community’s only postmasters until her retirement and the subsequent close of the office in the fall of 1907.
Once in lively rivalry with Virginia City for social and political leadership of Alder Gulch, Adobetown’s population and importance waned after 1865 as the placer gold gave out in the immediate area.
H Elling Bank Virginia City
Bankers Nowland and Weary set up business in this brick-veneered building, one of the town’s oldest stone structures, in 1864. Three well-proportioned gothic arches with elaborate tracery, removed during 1910 remodeling, originally graced its stone facade. In 1873, Henry Elling took over the banking business. His first fortune, made in merchandising, had disappeared along with his partne , but Elling quickly recouped his losses. The buying of gold dust proved a most profitable venture and Elling became an expert, able to determine the exact location of extraction from the texture and color of the dust. Under his shrewd direction, Elling’s tiny bank became the first financial capital of Montana. The ornate vault, still intact, always carried large amounts of the dust. The Elling State Bank was organized in 1899 and Elling died a millionaire the fol- lowing year. His family continued to operate the bank for another thirty years.
H Merk Building Virginia City
Gold dust was the common currency when George Higgins built this sturdy “fire-proof stone” business block circa 1866. F.R. Merk leased the new building for his mercantile advertising fancy and staple groceries, liquors, Queensware, woodenware household imple- ments and a tin shop with “prices to suit the times.” Merk bought the building for $1,800 in 1867, but soon went back to mining. Harrington, Baker & Company sold boots and shoes here during the 1870s and E.L. Smith located his department store on these premises in the late 1880s. At the start of Prohibition in 1918, this was the Little Club Saloon. Like other such businesses, the club switched to advertising soft drinks until saloons were again legal in 1933. The present Pioneer Bar has served as a popular watering hole and gathering place since 1947. Although its ground-floor window openings were “frontierized” inthe 1960s with rough boards and smaller panes, the impressive stone facade of this gold rush era landmark has changed little since the 1860s.
H Metropolitan Meat Market
George Gohn was one of the first to arrive at Alder Gulch in 1863 where he and Conrad Kohrs set up a meat market in a log cabin. Alkali dust sifted through the chinks and covered the meat prompting Gohn to experiment with various other locations until he settled on this site in 1880. When fire destroyed much of the block in 1888, only Gohn rebuilt. The present building, completed that yea , long stood solitary on this section of Wallace Street. Decorative pilasters, brackets and imitation quarried stone highlight the cast iron store- front manufactured by George Mesker of Evansville, Indiana. Recent interior renovation included restora- tion of the tin ceiling. In the process, owners discovered a hidden treasure behind a plastered drywall: Gohn’s
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Ultimate Montana Atlas and Travel Encyclopedia