Montana is rich in history. Places where you can reach out and touch the past, where history can be felt as you walk the floorboards of ghost town streets or step inside dance halls or school rooms.
As you walk through the now empty buildings it is easy to imagine cowboys enjoying a game of cards, miners coming into town from their claims, families attending church services or children rushing for the school room bell. The past comes alive in Southwest Montana Ghost Towns where evidence still exists of the rich heritage that is Montana.
The Montana Historical Society Museum traces 12,000 years of history under the Big Sky. Its Mackay Gallery has one of the premier Charles M. Russell art collections. The Native American collection (6,000 pieces) contains artifacts from each of the many tribes who have called Montana home.
For a glimpse into Montana’s past, take a tour of the Historical Society located at 225 N. Roberts in Helena.
The 33-acre World Museum of Mining in Butte, Montana, is on the site of the Orphan Girl Mine, which operated from 1875 to 1956. The World Museum of Mining incorporates hundreds of pieces of original mine equipment with an authentic reproduction of a mining town, Hell Roarin’ Gulch, constructed from historic materials and filled with thousands of artifacts dating to the 1890s.
Features include a new underground mining exhibit, extensive photo archives, guided tours for school groups, and many new educational programs for 2004, including lecture series, evening walks, and day trips.
Rock hounds of all ages will marvel at the rare crystal and rock formations displayed at the Mineral Museum in Butte. This is one of the finest collections in the world, with many of the pieces pulled from beneath Butte itself.
Virginia and Nevada City
Step back in time and relive the Montana frontier gold rush experience of the mid-to-late 1800s in Virginia City and Nevada City.
The historic buildings and landscape are colorful reminders of the way things used to be. Visit the theaters and ride the Alder Gulch Short Line steam train that runs between Virginia and Nevada City. View live demonstrations of heritage trades, i.e. blacksmithing, gold-panning, etc. Also in Virginia City you can visit one of the best candy shops in Montana.
The essence of the Virginia City and Nevada City experience is a fun setting for a relaxing family outing or fun-filled weekend retreat from the typical hustle and bustle of modern life.
Bannack State Park
Bannack State Park is a registered historic landmark and the site of Montana’s first major gold discovery on July 28, 1862. This strike set off a massive gold rush that swelled Bannack’s population to over 3,000 by 1863. As the value of gold steadily dwindled, Bannack’s bustling population was slowly snuffed out. There are over 50 buildings that line Main Street with their historic log and frame structures that recall Montana’s formative years.
Bannack Days, with historic displays, activities and events, is held the third weekend in July each year. The visitor center conducts tours and is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
Big Hole Battlefield
Big Hole Battlefield preserves the site of the pivotal battle in the Nez Perce War of 1877 between Colonel John Gibbon’s troops and five bands of the Nez Perce Indians, led by the famous Native American leader, Chief Joseph. On the morning of August 9th, about 750 non-treaty Nez Perce Indians were attacked here by the Seventh U. S. Infantry and civilian volunteers who had been ordered to place the Nez Perce on a small reservation in Idaho.
Trails on the battlefield and exhibits in the museum interpret the history of the conflict, the remarkable 1,300-mile journey of the Nez Perce people, and military practices of the late 19th century.
Original Governor’s Mansion
Take a guided tour through the Original Governor’s Mansion, where Montana’s governors resided in elegance for nearly half a century. Tours begin at 304 North Ewing Street, Tuesday - Sunday. For more details call the Montana Historical Society at (406) 444-4789. Admission is $4.00 for adults, $1.00 for children and max. $10.00 per family.
Last Chance Tour Train
For a wealth of knowledge about Helena, board the Last Chance Tour Train, a guided tour of historic Helena. The train begins operation on May 15 and runs through the summer. Catch the train at the Montana Historical Society. Call (406) 442-1023 for more information or visit their website.
Old No. 1 Trolley Tours
The fastest and most colorful way to learn about Butte is a Trolley Tour. In about two hours, you’ll see where the characters, famous folk, miners and scoundrels lived and worked. Plus, you’ll hear how they made Butte the lively, urban center it was.
Old Montana Prison
Guided and self-guided tours are available behind the gray stone walls and towers, through a massive cell block, gallows and guard turrets. While in Deer Lodge be sure to stop at the Old Montana Prison.