Visiting Montana’s Virginia City

In the spring of 1863, a party of six prospectors took off from Bannack and headed to the Yellowstone Valley on a mission to find gold. Their trip was long and arduous and resulted in them being captured by the Crow Indians. As legend goes, and as you may hear on the Alder Gulch Shortline which runs between Virginia City and Nevada City, one of the men – Bill Fairweather – proved to have no fear and maybe even special powers after he survived a dance with rattlesnakes. Impressed, the native peoples let the men go with the condition that they would return from whence they came.

On their way back to Bannack, the men camped in what we now know as Virginia City and while two of them set up camp the others made their way down to the stream to see what they could find, hoping for nothing more than a little tobacco money. When their first pan turned up $2.40, they knew they had struck it rich. That was May 26, 1863.

Low on supplies, the men had to return to Bannack, but planned to leave under the cover of night and return to their claims shortly after. There was only one problem; the gold these men were spending frivolously in town looked a little different than the gold coming out of Bannack’s Grasshopper Creek. Whatever the case, the people of Bannack were watching and when Fairweather and his party made their move, they were followed.

The news of the claim spread like wildfire and soon miners and their crudely built shelters covered the hills around Virginia City. In fact, Virginia City became one of nine cities along the creek, a settlement that came to be known as the 14 Mile City.

PC: Sarah Bolt

The area was lucrative and quickly became a massive population hub in the state, making it the perfect location for Montana’s second territorial capital. It is estimated that nearly $90 million in gold came out of Virginia City (estimates actually range from 50-150 million). In today’s value, that would be $1.95 billion. As with any boom town, Virginia City experienced its share of lawlessness, was home to some colorful characters, and forever left its mark on the country.

As they say, “some folks made a fortune here, but what they left behind was priceless.”

And that brings us to today where visitors have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Montana’s history stepping to what life might have been like in the late 1800s when Virginia and Nevada Cities were in their prime.

A Trip to Virginia City, Montana

Something about Virginia City, Montana has caught your attention. Maybe it is the history, the live performances, the candy shop or the ghost stories. Whatever the case, you’ve decided that its worth the trip. From experience, a trip to Virginia City and Nevada City will not disappoint! (*As long as you plan your trip during their season Memorial Day – Labor Day).

If you make it to Virginia City, here’s some of our favorites!

1. Nevada City Living History Museum & the Virginia City Boardwalk

For Living History, the Nevada City Museum is the place to be! Nevada City is a known as a “building zoo” which is a collection of historic buildings that are brought together to tell a local history. The buildings came from across Montana and form the streets reminiscent of a 19th Century mining town. Every weekend during the summer season they have Living History events.

2. Old Time Photos – Montana Picture Gallery and the Wallace Street Photographic Emporium

Along the Virginia City boardwalk, you will find two old time photo studios where you can dress in period clothing and walk away with the perfect old west souvenir.

3. Live Performances: Brewery Follies and The Virginia City Players

Live performances are central to the Virginia City experience! There are two groups in town the Virginia City Players and the Brewery Follies. The Follies describe themselves as a show that is “risque, bawdy, and can involve social and political commentary. We don’t have any violence in the show, there’s no nudity, and we don’t use the most offensive “four letter words”. However, we don’t tell people that our show is squeaky clean. We don’t try to be “folksy” or family oriented. The Virginia City Players perform at the Opera House and were “founded in 1948, the Virginia City Players is the oldest continually operating professional summer theatre company in the Northwest! We perform 7 shows a week Memorial Day through Labor Day! Come play with us!!”

Virginia City Opera House
PC: Sarah Bolt

4. Lodging – Airbnb and the Fairweather Inn & Nevada City Cabins

Looking for lodging for your weekend away in Virginia City? Dig into the Alder Gulch Accommodations which includes the historic Fairweather Inn and Nevada City Cabins. Another option is the Airbnb’s hosted by the Montana Heritage Commission, check out these listings: The Governor Meagher Cabin, Daems and Corbett, and the Historic Bonanza Inn.

PC: Sarah Bolt

5. Cousins Candy Shop & the Ice Cream Creamery

Established in 1926, Cousin’s Candy Shop has been around for nearly a century, serving sweet treats to everyone who has walked through its doors. They make their chocolate and fudge onsite daily and offer a variety of other wrapped candies and delicacies.

6. Alder Gulch Shortline

In 1964, Charles Bovey built the Alder Gulch Shortline to connect Virginia City and Nevada City. Your conductor and guides will provide a short history of the area and explain some of the mining remnants present in the landscape. A mile and a half one way, the ride takes about 15 minutes one way and is the perfect addition to any afternoon!

7. Tours of Town: Firetruck Tour and Stage Coach Tours

Virginia City is packed full of history, much of which you would miss if attempting to explore the town by yourself. Whether you choose to explore the area by train, stage coach, firetruck or horseback you’ll be met by knowledgable guides and an unforgettable experience.

PC: Sarah Bolt

8. Ghost Tours Leave Nightly from the Bale of Hay

In a town with such a robust history, and one of immense lawlessness, the energy is undeniable. Each night at 9:00pm tours meet outside the Bale of Hay Saloon.