Last updated: 4/3/2013
300 1/2 West Wallace
Virginia City, MT 59755
PO Box 338
Virginia City, MT 59755
Virginia CityNevada City
Mid May - Mid September
Nevada City Museum or Train Ride:
Any museum tickets sold after 4:30pm will be good for 2 days.
Groups of 6 or more people - $6.00 per person; Group Discounts are available, call for details. Tour operators call (406) 843-5247 for rates and details.
River of Gold: $10 per bucket
Family Day Pass: $69; Includes Train Ride, River of Gold (2 buckets) and entrance to the Nevada City Museum
Family Season Pass: $99; Includes Train Ride, River of Gold (2 buckets) and entrance to the Nevada City Museum
Senior Pass for Two: $35; Includes Train Ride, River of Gold (1 bucket) and entrance to the Nevada City Museum
Individual Senior Pass: $20; Includes Train Ride, River of Gold (1 bucket) and entrance to the Nevada City Museum
Our season pass is good for unlimited use from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and includes the Lantern Tours.
General Admission: $8
Youth (6-16): $6
Children under 5: Free
Elijah Allen, Business and Operations Manager
phone: 406-843-5247 x208
Dan Thyer, Curator of Living History
phone: 406-843-5247 x206
The Montana Heritage Commission manages the state-owned assets in Virginia City and Nevada City. Day-to-day and long-term decisions rest with the Commission. Its management role includes establishing policies, procedures, and parameters to protect the assets while at the same time operating the facilities in a manner that leads to economic self-sufficiency.
The key components of the Commission's mission were originally the twin goals of preserving the historic resources it manages and becoming self-sustaining financially. Since then, the goal of providing interpretation to visitors has been added to the mix. It is recognized that through interpretation, Virginia City and Nevada City can offer the public valuable insights into the local and regional consequences of the 1860s gold rushes.To summarize, the Commission manages 248 buildings, several dozen businesses, coordinates with 23 interest groups, and is a partner with the town of Virginia City, the Virginia City Preservation Alliance, and the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce.
Manage, develop and operate Heritage Commission properties by preserving, stabilizing, rehabilitating, interpreting and exhibiting buildings and artifacts; overseeing and encouraging profitable commercial enterprises while creating and maintaining credible relationships with all stakeholders and partners, and protecting these historic resources for the educational benefit and enjoyment of all.
History of Virginia City and Nevada City Up to 1997
Up to 1997
Virginia City and Nevada City lie along Alder Gulch, the site of the richest placer gold strike in the Rocky Mountains. During the first three seasons in the early 1860s, an estimated $30 million worth of gold was removed from the gulch, and during subsequent years gold has continued to be extracted from placer and lode mines.
Alder Gulch was part of a broad expansion of mining from California into many parts of the North American West that took place from 1848 through the 1860s. Experienced miners traveled to the successive mining frontiers, bringing with them mining technology and social traditions. Placer gold was discovered in 1862 in Bannack, and on May 26, 1863, six prospectors found rich diggings at Alder Gulch, some sixty miles northeast of Bannack. By the middle of the next year, about 10,000 people were living in a number of communities lining Alder Gulch, including Virginia City and Nevada City.
For the first several years of placer mining along Alder Gulch, miners used hand tools such as sluice boxes to separate the gold from the gravels. In 1867, hydraulicking was introduced to the area. Jets of pressurized water washed down the dirt, leaving behind piles of rocks and hydraulic cuts. The timber on the surrounding hillsides was clearcut to provide building materials, mine timber, and fuel. From 1898 through 1922, large floating dredges chewed up the ground, destroying several communities in their path and leaving behind distinctive tailings and dredge ponds as far upstream as Virginia City. Smaller dryland dredges returned to the gulch in the 1930s, after a rise in the price of gold. The town of Virginia City itself, unlike many other mining communities, was never dug up and destroyed because it had not been established on top of gold-bearing gravels. All of the original town of Nevada City west of the highway was eradicated by dredging operations in the early 1900s.
Lode mining in the upper section of Alder Gulch, although never as productive as placer mining, began at the community known as Summit. A number of mills concentrated ore from these mines in the 1860s and 1870s. Lode mining revitalized somewhat in the years following 1881, when the arrival of a railroad in Montana increased the demand for silver and when better milling processes were introduced, but by the 1910s most of the lode claims were being worked by small crews of leasers. A branch-line railroad reached Alder in 1901, but it did not extend the additional ten miles to Virginia City because the tracks would have interfered with the dredging operations underway at that time. Lode mining revived again in the 1930s when the price of gold rose significantly. All mining for gold in Alder Gulch closed down temporarily in 1942, however, because of a war-time prohibition on gold mining, although one silica mine had a relatively large payroll for a brief period during the war.
The mining activity along Alder Gulch had far-reaching effects. It stimulated the formation of government on all levels, the increase in settlement and use of the northern Rockies, and the evolution of regional transportation systems. Gold from Alder Gulch contributed to the national economy both during and after the Civil War. The town of Virginia City moved quickly through the phases of settlement, camp, and town, having at its peak some 5,000 inhabitants. These phases encompassed tents, log cabins, vernacular frame buildings, and commercial buildings with false fronts, plus (at least in Virginia City) high-style residences and commercial buildings. Substantial business blocks reflected the residents' belief in the permanence of the mining district and the towns along Alder Gulch. The layered remnants of each phase are evident in the buildings that remain today. Remodelings and additions and other modifications bear witness to the town's unfolding history
The western gold rushes of the 1860s led Congress to create five new territories. Alder Gulch was in Idaho Territory until May 1864, when Montana Territory was created. Bannack, site of the first gold strike within the territory, became the first capital, but one year later the first territorial legislature decided to move the capital to Virginia City. Bannack immediately declined, while Virginia City's star rose for a few more years. The discovery of gold in Last Chance Gulch (Helena) in the summer of 1864, however, foretold the coming decline of Virginia City. Many of her residents soon moved to Helena. Virginia City's population collapsed to only a few hundred in the early 1870s and never recovered. In 1875, the territorial capital was relocated to Helena. After 1900, few new buildings were constructed in Virginia City, and many old structures collapsed, were destroyed by fire, or were torn down.
Virginia City served as the hub of a vast transportation network until 1875, with supplies coming in from Salt Lake City, Portland, Omaha, and Fort Benton. The "Social City" was also the cultural focal point of the territory. The population of Alder Gulch was diverse in the early years, including Euroamericans, Chinese (in 1870, about one third of the residents of Virginia City were Chinese), Lemhi Shoshone Indians, Mexicans, and African Americans. The community remained a service center until the 1880s. While many of the miners may not have struck it rich, some of the merchants did attain financial rewards from their time at Alder Gulch. A wide variety of businesses clustered along lower Wallace Street and South Jackson Street, and residences were built along Idaho Street and on the south slopes. In 1868, Virginia City had some 1,200 buildings (it has 237 major structures today). Social organizations flourished. A number of newspapers were published out of Virginia City over the years, and several schools were established. In 1866, Virginia City became the first town in Montana to get a telegraph
Interest in preserving and memorializing the history of Virginia City solidified in 1899 at an annual meeting of the Montana Historical Society. Henry Edgar, one of the discoverers of gold at Alder Gulch, led a crowd to the site where the first gold had been found. In 1907, the graves of the five road agents buried on Boot Hill were exhumed, identified, and reburied, and new headboards were erected. More tourists began to make their way to Virginia City in the 1920s, as the popularity of automobiles grew. The Thompson-Hickman Museum was built in 1918 and the Vigilance Club, founded in 1938, maintains the collection. In 1928, a massive marble marker was placed at the discovery site. Rank's Drug in Virginia City housed a drugstore museum for many years. In 1937, just two years after Congress assigned the National Park Service responsibility for surveying historic properties of national significance, that agency prepared a report on Virginia City that concluded that the town warranted consideration of national recognition. At that time, some 6,500 visitors came to the community each summer.
Each artifact, of the more than 250,000 that are housed in the 248 historic buildings, is the responsibility of the Curatorial Staff. Collections management in Virginia and Nevada Cities involves the management and care concerning the objects long-term physical well-being and safety. It is a complex and time-consuming task that relates the artifacts not only to the general history of the sites, the Bovey family?s involvement, and the State of Montana?s current activities, but also their place in the national significance.
The objects in the VC and NC collections are irreplaceable. Even those that are less attractive to our modern eyes, or common in antique stores, have value in our collections because they were specifically collected for or used here. Historic value has no monetary equivalent, for example, a framed portrait is important not only for the image itself but also for the way it is stretched and tacked and the materials used in framing. Care is taken to preserve the artifacts in their current environment, if that is not possible, due to the work of the Preservation Team or security issues; the objects are removed to a secure, temporary storage area or the McFarland Curatorial Center.
Nevada City, Montana, houses one of the largest collections of old west artifacts outside the Smithsonian. The site consists of one hundred, 1863 to early 1900 buildings, and close to 40 Living History Interpreters. Living History weekends are held Memorial weekend through Labor Day weekend all summer long. The Montana Heritage Commission's Living History Program uses exhibits and artifacts to helps you experience the culture, time and place engaging all of your senses as you discover early Montana.
Events are historically researched, and accurately portrayed. In Nevada City, you will discover what it was like to live in a frontier mining town. Work with the blacksmith, visit with the sawyer, help with an old time recipe in one of the cabins, or just sample a taste of the past. Take time out of your fast paced life to "Step Into Montana's Past," and visit a town brought to life every weekend by our costumed interpreters. Let people representing the 1863 - 1865 territorial days help to guide your experience, and help you learn about Montana's heritage first hand.
We portray daily life and special events as they happened, in Alder Gulch, that lead to the development from Idaho to Montana Territory following the gold discovery. In Nevada City you can attend a miner's court trial, witness a vigilante hanging, or the murder of a local deputy. Join us in celebrations of our country's freedom on the 4th of July, play a game of grace's or try your hand at saloon games of the 1860's.
Located in the wilderness of Idaho Territory, Nevada City had no courts or statutes miners established mining districts, passed their own laws and elected officials. Everything from mining trials to murder trials fell within the jurisdiction of the miners' courts. Nevada City's main street was the setting for the Trial of George Ives for the brutal murder of the young Dutchman, Nicholas Thiebalt. Attend the colorful George Ives Trial and Hanging, where miners are judge, jury and executioners.
You can assist one of our historic trades people as you learn about the General Mercantile stores, do the laundry, attend school, work with the blacksmith, or help prepare a meal on a wood stove in one of the cabins. Our first person interpreters talk about their lives as they portray historic Alder Gulch characters, and discuss different aspects of their lives and roles in the area during our Past Meets Present programs. When you step into Nevada City, we want you to step into another era, the sights, sounds, and smells, of the past.
Governance and Internal Structure
The Heritage Commission model and statutes are understood and supported by all parties involved. The statute clarity facilitates efficient and creative use of resources strategically and operationally.
Governance and Internal Structure Goal #1:
Inefficiencies caused by external and internal confusion and ambiguity regarding the Heritage Commission model, statutes and operations have been clarified and resolved
- Within the next three months, conduct dialogue with relevant State Departments to explain the Heritage Commission model and statutes and define and resolve current problem areas including the hiring process, utilization of money, work flow and contract processes.
- Within three to six months, investigate wage exemption possibilities in State law and report back to the Commission for direction.
- Within three to six months, identify Commission-imposed reports/duties that are of questionable value and bring them to the Commission for review and direction.
- Within the next three months, appoint an Ad Hoc committee to research possible management structures to be presented and discussed at the March 2007
Heritage Commission meeting.
Responsibility - Executive Director, pertinent Staff and identified Commissions
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