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Exploring Montana: Virginia City

Updated: Nov 8, 2020

Virginia City, Montana is easily one of those places that if you have studied the United States’ history may be vaguely familiar to you. Being the childhood home of Calamity Jane, the richest gold strike in the Rocky Mountains and the capital of Montana Territory the vibrant history of this once booming mining town is the epitome of the westerns we watched when we were kids.

Located along Alder Gulch just a few miles from Nevada City and 50 miles from Yellowstone National Park, Virginia City seems to be a place frozen in time. The modern cars parked along the business section of town seem wildly out of place!

According to the 2010 census, the town is still occupied by about 190 people. The owner of the Fairweather Inn actually gave us quite the history lesson on the hotel and the home she occupies in town. Living in this historic gem, she has an absolute passion for the stories of the people who lived here from the time of the gold strike in 1863 through the mid-1900s when mining operations in the town slowed to a tourist attraction.

Visitors to this day can pan for gold, ride the train between Virginia City and Nevada City, and walk through the town peering in windows and doorways to see wild west life depicted through artifacts and mannequins. The mannequins to me are very creepy, but they probably add some drama to the ghost tours you can take of the town if you stay overnight.

The main street of town is lined with unique businesses with every kind of souvenir a visitor could hope to buy: replica period-appropriate clothing, stickers, books, coffee mugs, postcards, yard decorations, and more. There are also a few restaurants including the historic saloon, a homemade ice cream shop, and a fine dining steakhouse. I can’t vouch for the saloon or the steakhouse but my Prickly Pear ice cream was absolutely delicious along with my Montana made Huckleberry soda!

Further up toward the cemetery, you get to a part of town that hasn’t been maintained as significantly and is for all intents and purposes blocked off from the public but I think this is where I got my favorite picture of the whole trip looking down the boardwalk of these dilapidated buildings that once represented the red light district of one of the wildest towns in the west!

Call me morbid but my favorite thing to do after wandering through these ghost towns is to visit the cemetery up on the hill. Interestingly enough Virginia City has two cemeteries one on boot hill where four notorious criminals were buried, then the town cemetery where even those who had been buried on boot hill before the criminals were moved to because no one wanted their loved ones resting alongside those evil men!

“Why?” you ask, “is this my favorite thing….” Because each tombstone gives not only the date of birth and death as well as sweet things like loving mother and daughter… these wild west cemetery tombstones are almost always marked with how the person died. As a writer, there is nothing that makes the imagination run more rampant than the accomplishments and cause of death notes left on a hundred plus-year-old tombstones!!!

What can be even more interesting are those who aren’t given a tombstone. The Fairweather Inn proprietor told us of one unfortunate woman who took her own life in one of the bathtubs in the hotel… her room is haunted by the way… and how in those days you weren’t given a tombstone if you took your own life but town records show where she is buried. So the kindly innkeeper takes flowers to put on her grave as well anytime she makes the trip up the hill.

Notably buried in this cemetery are several Montana history makers from the author of the first novel published in Montana that was printed in Virginia City to an African American female abolitionist and business owner who lived in Virginia City.

I could have spent hours there soaking in the stories of people who came and went long before I was born but it was dinner time and my traveling companions were getting anxious to be back on the road.

I’m hoping to go back there again sometime this summer to explore Virginia City’s neighboring town, Nevada City. Stay tuned for that adventure and more!

Have you ever visited a ghost town? What is your favorite part of visiting a ghost town? How are gravestones marked you come from? Do they tell interesting stories?

Thank you, fellow adventurers! You can follow the lilmissbearpaw blog page on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @lilmissbearpaw for sneak peeks into upcoming posts and my adventures. This will also be a great place to share your own adventures!

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