virginia city montana living history

Living History in Virginia City!

May 24,2022read

Living History in Virginia City! Love history? Explore the incredible Virginia City in Montana with us, in our latest Family Days Out blog!

Nevada City is famous in Montana as being an incredibly eye-opening living history experience for the whole family, and rightly so! Open seasonally, this peak into the past is a must-visit for anyone in Montana featuring a collection of historic buildings from other ghost towns to re-create the past. 

However, should you be visiting the area out of season, or want to expand on your living history experience across the year, make sure you stop at the remarkable Virginia City - only a mile away from Nevada City.

Like many of the ghost towns found across the USA, Virginia City came to life after gold was discovered in Aldrer Gulch back in 1863.  The city was a boom town of the post Civil War era, and served as the Montana Territorial Capital for 10 years - that is, until the gold ran out.

Today, a visit to Virginia City will see you get to explore 150 buildings that have been certified authentic by the Montana Historical Society.

These original buildings date from the Territorial days, and are filled with merchandise and implements used when gold camps flourished in the West.

What we really loved about Virginia City is that it's a wonderful blend of museum and actual use shops. You might stop in to grab some lunch or an ice cream in one, then another you'll enter and it's decked out exactly how that shop or business would have been back in the 1800s.

The buildings have been beautifully preserved, and really make you feel like you're back in time!

A large part of Virginia City's story is thanks to Charlie and Sue Bovye - a couple who shared a vision of preserving Montana's history.

By 1940, Charlie began a quest to save some of the state's historic buildings, becoming what is now known as Nevada City which began to take form in 1958.

During the 1940s, Virginia City was slowing melting into the ground after years of neglect. Luckily for the town (and you!), the Bovey couple saw authentic lingering remnants of Montana's glorious frontier past.

They realised if someone didn't act quickly, these rare remaining fragments would be lost, as would the stories that still remain today in the walls and history.

Much of what you see today is the foresight of the Bovey's, who carefully restored and reconstructed the storefronts and wooden boardwalks, and interpretive exhibits.

There is even a fully functioning railroad!

Virginia City is a result of their dedication, and was recognised as a National Historic Landmark in 1961, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1876.

As you stroll around and look inside those historic displays, you can see fine examples of toy stores, a baber, even an authentic fire truck and stage coaches! 

Can you only imagine what it would have been like to travel in the Old West in one of these stage coaches? Pretty bumpy, we imagine!

Some of the displays are meticulously put together, and really allow you to imagine walking in and buying the latest sweets, or perhaps purchasing a new dress. Others give you a sense that you're laying eyes on a scene dramatically left as it stood over 150 years ago, with dust covered items all strewn in a hall.

Who were these people that used these tools and items? What were their names? What was their story?

Who might have been the children that played with these toys? Perhaps they were just like you! It's fun for kids to imagine how their lives might have been different all those years ago. 

Make sure you take a camera as there are certainly lots of photo opportunities to be had! The building facades are fascinating, just look at the detail on them!

Whether you just drive through Virginia City or spend a few hours, you will really get a sense of history, and it's remarkable. It's such a captivating city and offers a stunning backdrop too!

Don't forget to stop at the Virginia City Creamery and grab yourself a real homemade ice cream! The creamery is very much open for business today, and it's delicious!

A great place to stop is the Historical Musuem. It's free entry and also doubles as a shop too. The displays are really well put together, and filled with actual artifacts from the 19th century.

It's a great place to just spend some time looking at all the museum pieces, and seeing stories of the real people that lived in the town, building a picture of 19th century life.

Can you imagine if strollers still looked like this today?

Don't miss a visit to the Bale of Hay Saloon! We visited mid-May, so it wasn't quite open yet (however some other businesses are like the Pioneer Bar which offered delicious burgers - one of which even made our Top 6 Best Burgers in the USA list!)

The Bale of Hay Saloon is iconic as it's the OLDEST bar in the entire state! Pretty impressive!

Just think of all the stories that have been told within those walls!

Virginia City is such a special place to visit, and the drive to and from is spectacular. The vistas are incredible, and keep and eye out of some wildlife too! You might spot and eagle or too, or perhaps deer!

We travelled from Bozeman to Butte, with Virginia City lying on MT-287. Some of the towns you pass through too are fascinating, and if you love going through small town USA, then this route is for you!

So Virginia City - highly recommend by Family Days Out, and definitely a place to visit when in Montana! And if you're there in season (Memorial Day to Labor Day), make sure you take the time to stop and explore Nevada City too. 

It's living history at it's best!

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