Travel Tips for Virginia City
Virginia City, MT
Virginia City is an old mining town that is now a tourist attraction. Most of the buildings in town are original—some now have gift shops in them; others are derelict. Two small hotels have been restored and are in operation. The theater has melodramas in the evening, but we couldn’t stay.
Gold was discovered in Alder Gulch, just outside of town, in1863. A year later, the population had reached 30,000. It was a pretty wild town. Road agents regularly held up the stagecoach and a number of miners were killed. The sheriff who was hired to clean it up turned out to be one of them, so the townspeople formed the Vigilantes. One of the many men they hung was the sheriff. We gathered these bits of history as we bounced around in a stagecoach pulled by a pair of horses.
Labor Day week in Virginia and Neveda City
Winter was coming and I wanted to get out! So I called a good friend and we chose to go to the Virginia City area. By looking at the small town web sites we were able to find a hotel room really cheap, which is what we could afford. The hotel was actually in Ennis, MT just a few miles from Virginia City. The two cities are old gold boom towns. I had visited them in my youth, but wanted to go back to see what was left. About 10 years ago there was a fire that took out most of the nickelodeons. There had been the greatest collection of nickelodeons in the world there when I was a kid and it was great fun to put the money in and see them, some were far too racy for children. But I always thought it a shame that they were now gone. Gratefully I did find that a few, very few had survived the fire.
The cities are located in the Tobacco Mountain range. These were the first cities in Montana to have telephones, but still have no cell phone coverage. There are zero bars, turn it off, they can't get you here.
"Streets of Virginia City"
The city has been brought back to much of it's original board walk. The store fronts are great. There is also a few buildings you might feel strange walking into. One in particular my friend and I had to walk back out of. We then read the history plaque and it stated that 5 outlaws had been hung from the rafters of the building. There is a spirit about the buildings and at night, there is a ghost story walk. I wish I could have taken the walk, but by the end of the day my feet and legs just said 'No'. It didn't help that we had gone to the Lewis and Clark Caverns - which I plan to write about separate.
Both cities were at one time Territorial Capitals. We were there for one of the two weekends that they do a re-enactment of a hanging. This one was of Jack Slade. Jack was part of the vigilantes who kept the law around there. But he had gone against this oath and gotten drunk again and shot up the town again. This time they had, had enough and they were hanging him for it. There was an impromptu trial and sentence given and carried out with very little expense! I don't think he even got a new rope. He was gone before his wife could even get there for him to say goodbye. These men did not mess around. If you got a notice on your door that said, "7-7-77" you wanted to get out of town yesterday. It was a notice that if you didn't you would be in a box seven feet long, seven feet deep and 77 inches wide very soon.
How the West was Once
"Cowboys and Boardwalks"
Virginia City is Montana 100+ years ago. I first visited it only a few weeks after moving to Montana in 2004 and return probably once a year. It seems like I'm always hosting extended family (many with children) and it's one of the first places I recommend. Yes, it's full of tourists, but with only 100 year-round residents, everyone's a tourist. Yes, it's slightly cliche. But there's something very cool about the whole place.
"A 3 hour tour...or less"
The main street is really only a few blocks long, but lined with shops and historical buildings. Many of the buildings (most, in fact) have been restored to their "original" condition from the late 1800s. In some cases, tourists peer through the windows to see restored interiors, but in many cases, there's the chance walk into a building and look around. Reserve your tickets for the night's show (there are two theatres in town) and buy a bag of taffy at the Cousin's Candy Store. . .then, spend a few hours browsing the stores and reading the historical listings. It makes for a nice afternoon.
Just a mile or so down the road is another "Old West" town - Nevada City. It is another "ghost" town from the 1800s but is set up more like a park than a town. VT doesn't have a listing for Nevada City, so I've put together a travelogue about it with this page.
Oh, and I posted a video of some of the area children dressed in 1800s clothing and playing games as a part of the rainy Memorial Day weekend. There were also a trail ride and other events.
The Wild Wild West
"An unexpected gem"
We stopped in Virginia City and Nevada City in August 2005 on our way back from Disneyland. We thought it would be a good rest stop for an hour or so. Boy, were we wrong! We ended up spending the whole day there!
Virginia City is a real town with original buildings. It is the original capital of Montana, and was founded during the gold rush. You can check out their website at www.virginiacity.com
The buildings are incredible, complete with employees in period costumes. You can take a stagecoach ride or a steam engine train ride. There are a great many gift shops to tour through, as well as 2 jewellery stores selling hand-made jewellery with locally mined gold and silver. We loved the Ellis Gold Exchange - thanks again to Mark for his friendly, expert service both during and after the sale - we'd buy jewellery from you again in a heartbeat! Our kids loved the rock shop, which featured everything from fossils to polished semi-precious stones.
The ice cream shop sells the best home-made ice cream I have ever tasted. The candy shop sells wonderful sweets. You can watch salt water taffy being made through the front window.
The opera house still has performances in the evenings. We stopped into the local pub briefly at the end of our tour. The children are allowed in the pubs in Montana, and ours had a great time playing pool and eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the floor! There are several b&b's in town, as well as a hotel.
If you take the train ride in Virginia City, it goes to Nevada City and back. I wasn't nearly as impressed with Nevada City - you pay a fee to enter the "town", and all of the buildings have been moved here from somewhere else. But the train yard and round house there were very interesting.
While you're in the vicinity of Virginia City you may want to check out the town of Ennis, about a 1/2 hour drive east, as well. We really enjoy the "wild west" look and feel of Ennis. And we always stop at the restaurant downtown on main street (I think its called the Ennis Cafe) for breakfast when we're in town. They have great food, huge portions and really good prices.
"The Bale of Hay Saloon"
Our kids thought this place was the greatest. After all, they live in Canada, where kids aren't even allowed to look into a tavern window, let alone walk into one!
This pub has a great atmosphere, the staff is friendly and so are the locals. The beer was cold, plentiful and relatively cheap. (for a tourist town) We enjoyed visiting with other tourists from all over the world.
Next time we'll go back without the kids, and take in the entertainment later in the evening!
"Shops on Main Street"
Here is another pic of some of the buildings on Main Street. This one is the old post office and the candy shop.
If you check out the travelogue section towards the bottom of this page, you will find more pictures of Virginia City.
Thanks for stopping by!
Memorial Day Weekend in Nevada City
"The Wild West that Was"
All these pictures are from Nevada City, Montana. It's just down the road from Virginia City.
Both of the towns were gold rush boomtowns of the 1860s. Virginia City became the first territorial capital during that time but the population quickly declined once gold was discovered elsewhere.
After moving to Montana in 2004, this became one of my favorite places to take visitors. Most are family from the Midwest with no idea what to expect from my new home. Not surprisingly, these two towns represent what everyone seems to expect from Montana from the beginning.
"Well-Kept Ghost Town"
Nevada City really is a ghost town. There are a few private residences but almost every building is now owned and maintained by the state. If you're looking for open stores and more people, head down the road to Virginia City. But, for me, it's nice to visit the always quiet, eerily empty Nevada City every so often.
"My Favorite House"
Maybe this picture doesn't do it justice but the Steadman house in Nevada City is one of my favorites in either town. It belonged to a wealthy rancher and politician from the area.
It's one of the few buildings you can enter and explore a bit. The rooms are still furnished and it seems easy to imagine that the family has only stepped out for a minute. . .
"Maybe it's my destiny..."
As a teacher, there is something really alluring about the one-room schoolhouse that is considered to be the first in the state. In the back is a tiny apartment where the teacher would have lived. And in the corner of the room is the pot-bellied stove she'd have lit every morning.
Maybe I read the Little House on the Prairie books too many times, but I love the thought of teaching in a time and place like this. Although, since it's not an option, I'll stick to my well-outfitted classroom that's NOT connected to my home.
""It's all so violent!""
Maybe I shouldn't title sections with obscure movie quotes, but I'm going to anyway.
This livery stable is one of the buildings in Nevada City that has been moved from elsewhere in the state to be preserved here. If I remember correctly, this was also one of the buildings with a slightly gruesome past - a long-ago hanging occured inside. Both Nevada and Virginia City are associated with hangings - both legal and not. One of the towns even re-enacts a significant trial based on old court manuscripts.
"Memorial Day Weekend..."
meant that there were a number of "Living History" events in both Virginia City and Nevada City. I couldn't quite decide - and still haven't - if I thought it was cool or creepy. It certainly added to the realistic feel of the place. It was almost eerie to be glancing into the rain from the shelter of a porch and see people that would better fit 100 years ago.
One of my videos is of some of the children teaching others to play games from the time period.
"It's almost mandatory..."
to post a picture of the "double-decker outhouse" attached to the Nevada City Hotel. There are any number of related postcards with witty sayings, but I'll spare you.
The hotel, by the way, still hosts guests in the main building as well as some cabins nearby.
Erica was a delightful companion on this rainy day adventure. She laughed at how much I enjoyed these ghost towns - and how many times I'd visited them!