With the gold all played out, the town was in serious decline by the 1940s, including Main Street. That’s when Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town and putting much needed maintenance into failing structures to save this unique window into Montana’s past. By the 50’s it was turning around again and becoming a ghost town tourist destination. It has since been designated a National Historic Landmark and most of “downtown” is now owned by the Montana state government. Currently, the Montana Heritage Commission oversees the Historic District of Virginia City and Nevada City. The Commission operates gold panning, the Nevada City Music Hall and Museum, and the Alder Gulch Railroad, a narrow gauge passenger line that runs between the two “cities”.
Times were lively in old Virginia City. Apart from the hangings, it boasted the first newspaper and public school in Montana Territory. Several “interesting” figures have graced its streets, including a young Calamity Jane, who would later return to Montana after the death of Wild Bill Hickok.
There was also the iconic Montana businesswoman, Sarah Bickford. She was born a slave in Jonesborough, Tennessee in 1852. At the age of 20, she moved to Virginia City. By the time she died in 1931, 2 husbands and 7 children later, she owned the water company, the New York City bakery and restaurant in town, several city lots, mining claims, and a small farm. Her inspiring life has left an indelible mark on Montana History. More information on this remarkable woman can be found at: www.sarahbickford.org/
Stroll down the boardwalks of Main Street at your own pace – there is much to see and imagine here. When open, you can step inside many of the restored buildings and see how life was. Stores like the barber shop, pharmacy, general store, livery stable, millinery shop, cobbler, etc., often with manikins dressed in period clothes and the shops stocked with authentic period merchandise. Along the river are huge piles of riverbed, evidence of the massive dredging that took place there. One of these dredges, now a rusting ghost itself, can be seen in neighboring Nevada City. Yes, in Virginia City, its easy to step back in time and see how “Montana History Lives”. Slow down and take some time to wander through, pardner – you’ll be glad you did!
More information can be found on the city’s website.