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Virginia City (Montana)

Every place has an essence of its own, each building has a story to tell, and all the roads have witnessed history come into action. The modern-day ghost town of Virginia City is the perfect place for those who like to dwell in the unknown.

Virginia City in Madison County, southwestern Montana, U.S. has been designated a National Historic Landmark District. The town, home to 207 people (2019), is rich in its history and culture.

Referring to Virginia City as a ghost town is a mischaracterization, considering that the city is alive with tourists. The city is an extraordinary example of the well-preserved history of the mining camps of America.

Not only is it an attraction for those who love adventure, but Virginia City also holds charisma for artists, historians, and people who like the different.

This city has the most fascinating stories among all the southwestern towns in Montana. Transitioning from the gold-rush days of Montana to becoming a ghost town, Virginia City has an ancient demeanor that snatches attention and demands respect.


The discovery of gold in Alder Gulch gave birth to Virginia City in 1863. The prospectors who stumbled upon the gold deposit failed to keep things secret, and this gold-bearing land attracted the attention of authorities and miners alike.

Therefore, mining grounds were created for proper regulation. Moreover, a mile south of these fields, a town was erected. The intended name of the town was Verina, in honor of the First Lady of the Confederate States of America.

On June 16, 1863, when the town name was in the process of registration, a Connecticut judge who ultimatley named the town “Virginia City” rejected the name “Verina.”

The town became a metropolis and became a home to thousands of miners and feverish fortune hunters. Concerning its prime locality, Virginia City went on to become the territorial capital of Montana in 1865 as the town gathered most of Montana’s population.

In its early days, the city had no law, no justice system or security, thus Virginia City became a prime area for criminal activity. Between the years 1863 and 1864, roughly 100 murders and numerous robberies took place at the hands of road agents (outlaws).

The potential amount of wealth, lawlessness, and lack of accountability aided in this unlawful behavior.

As a consequence, the Vigilance committee came into being. The Vigilantes imposed effective measures that demanded justice – they were quick in scouting and hanging 24 suspects within four months.

In its early days, the community thrived. The city grew immensely in wealth and cultural refinement. However, with time, the ‘easy’ gold was consummated. With its end, obscurity befell the ghost town and it remained just a shadow of its past glory.

Although its gold mines are no longer productive, it is still a live, accessible, and preserved way of glimpsing into the past – the days when the city was alive and thriving.

Present Day Virginia City—Its Preservation

In the 1940s, when the town had lost its glamour and all the miners and fortune seekers had moved on to their next target, Charles and Sue Bovey took up the task of buying and restoring the buildings of Virginia City.

The couple raised money for the city’s preservations and gathered historic artifacts. By the late 1970s, the Bovey’s owned more than one-third of the town that they ran as an open-air museum from days gone by.

Considering that the buildings in Virginia City dated almost 100 years back, the Bovey couple preserved them as Western America history.

In 1962, the area received status of a National Historic Landmark.

Later, Montana bought most of Bovey’s properties, and with financial aid from the National Park Services (NPS), the Montana Heritage Commission now runs the city.

The ‘Open-Museum’— What Does It Offer?

Virginia City has largely been restored and preserved as living proof of history. Original buildings of the Old West stand today allowing tourists glimpses of life in the 1800s.

The Montana Heritage Commission has displayed artifacts and instruments used in those days in the historic buildings for everyone to enjoy. Moreover, the city has preserved the ancient culture.

Events such as the Grand Victorian Ball for Peace 1865 have been kept alive to date, and the Opera House exhibits 19th-century style productions of Virginia City.

The town offers an insight into life in the 1800s and collections of irreplaceable houses, and the diverse collection of old music and arcade machines may seem of meager importance but are beyond monetary equivalence.

The Nymphs and Satyr painting is of great historic significance and hangs on the back wall of the Bay of Hay Saloon.

Other historic sites in Virginia City include Governor Meaghan’s Cabin, the Harding House, Grace Methodist Episcopal Church, and Sarah Bickford House.

The city also features the Montana Picture Gallery, Ghost Walk Tour, the train ride between Virginia City and Nevada City, and Vigilante Carriages making your trip a package of adventure, mystery, and an old-time charm.

What’s awe-inspiring is the way that these ancient buildings are surrounded by modern-day saloons, restaurants, and hotels – it is a place where old meets new.

The Ghost Town’s Tourist Favorites

Rich in culture and history and bursting with life, music, and dance events, Virginia City is a popular attraction for tourists.

Its reference as a ghost town is in itself, mysterious.

A few destinations that every tourist visiting the old town should visit include:

1-   The First-hand Experience of Virginia City Players

Consider your trip to Virginia City wasted if you skip going to the Virginia City Opera House and miss the chance to experience an authentic performance from the Virginia City Players. Apart from the performance, the Opera house features the only remaining Cremona pianos.

2-   Virginia City National Historic Landmark

Undoubtedly a tourist favorite – you can go about walking in the streets, looking into the shops, reading the land markings, and truly experience the open-museum atmosphere that is both informative and captivating.

3-   J. Spencer Watkins Memorial Museum

Brimming with significant historic displays, the J. Spencer Watkins Memorial Museum includes an ancient print shop, a pharmacy, clothes, guns, and the first soda fountain in Montana, not to mention historic references to pioneers, miners, ranchers and farmers.

4-   Brewery Follies

The Brewery Follies is a modern comedy cabaret. A super fun, entertaining, and laid-back show tourists are welcome to enjoy with drinks.

5-   Boot Hill Cemetery

This site has historic significance – the hills overlook Virginia City and mark the graves of road agents who were hung by the vigilantes.


A city ripe with culture, artifacts, and history is not common, there are endless opportunities to stumble upon a new mystery and a pull to experience life as it was in olden times – welcome to Virginia City.