Magazine article Sunset

The Treasure of Virginia City

Magazine article Sunset

The Treasure of Virginia City

Article excerpt

Discover the authentic riches of Montana's best Gold Rush town

Lying in the scrubby foothills of southwest Montana like a nugget in a grit-filled pan, Virginia City is the best-preserved 19th-century Gold Rush town you're likely to find anywhere in the West.

It's not to be confused with Virginia City, Nevada, which staked its claim to fame on the enormous silver deposits of the Comstock Lode. This Virginia City burst on the scene in the spring of 1863, when, in a classic strike-it-rich scenario, a roving party of six itinerant prospectors just happened to stumble onto the world's richest deposit of placer gold (found in gravel creek beds). After the discovery, at Alder Gulch, the rush was on: within months, some 10,000 gold-seekers, merchants, road agents, card sharks; .and dance-hall ladies jammed the town.

After the rush ended a year later, the town still managed to eke out a living on mining until World War II. But by 1945 plans were brewing to tear the town down and sell it for firewood.

In rode Charles and Sue Bovey on white horses. Wealthy ranchers from Great Falls, Montana, with a fondness for history, they bought up much of the town and set about restoring the entire business district.

For more than 50 years, until their deaths, the Boveys continued to restore and maintain Virginia City. In addition, they bought and worked on a neighboring historic town, Nevada City, in the 1950s. It was a love affair with history that eventually took its toll on the family's fortune.

In 1997, unable to maintain the two historic complexes any longer, the Boveys' heirs deeded the sites to Montana for $6.5 million.

The Bovey legacy is remarkable. When you visit Virginia City, it doesn't take long to discover what sets it apart from other old mining towns. Wallace Street, the main drag, looks so authentic to the period as to seem. almost contrived, like Old Tucson Studios or even Knott's Berry Farm.

The town's business district includes more than 50 original buildings erected in the 1860s and '70s. You can see where the state's first newspaper, the Montana Post, was printed in 1864; across the street is the 1866 Wells, Fargo and Company Express Office.

Just down the street, Kiskadden Barn and Blacksmith, the "vigilante barn," has a solid place in Virginia City's long and colorful history. Every Gold Rush town had its crooks, but from the start Virginia City found itself at the mercy of the ruthless and highly organized Plummer Gang. Honest miners soon took matters into their own hands; legend has it they met in December 1863 in the loft of Kiskadden Barn to form a vigilante committee. …

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