Virginia City became the capital of Montana Territory in 1865 after the gold strike at nearby Alder Gulch. The boomtown almost died out, until Montana rancher and state legislator Charlie Bovey and his wife Sue formed a preservation program in 1944. Their efforts helped the town gain National Historic Landmark status in 1961. By 1978, the Boveys owned one-third of Virginia City. After they died, the state finally purchased the Bovey structures in 1997. The Montana Heritage Commission maintains the site, including more than 50 buildings dating to the gold rush era of 1863-65 (below).
Must-see attraction: The 19th-century Landmark District on Wallace Street.
What historic site do most of the schoolchildren visit?: Cousin’s Candy Store (217 Wallace St.).
What’s the latest story everyone’s gossiping about?: The proposed 100-plus bed jail expansion at the Madison County Courthouse and how it will impact this historic community of roughly 100 people.
Who’s the person in Virginia City everyone knows?: Pigger—once you meet him, you’ll know why.
Who knows Virginia City’s history best?: John Ellingsen, who has maintained a residence here for about 35 years and is presently the curator of history for the Montana Heritage Commission.
Best Route to Historic Downtown: Montana Highway 287.
Old West Attractions: The entire town, but noteworthy sites include: Hangman’s building, Boot Hill, Alder Gulch Shortline Railroad, Thompson-Hickman Museum (217 Idaho St.) and the Madison County Memorial Museum (217 Wallace St.).
Best Cowboy Bar: The Pioneer Bar (210 Wallace St.).
Favorite Local Cuisine: Local fish and game dishes at Bandito’s (300 Wallace St.), an 1880s Wells Fargo coffeehouse.
Best Vintage Clothing Store: Rank’s Mercantile (411 Wallace St., above).
Best Western Art Gallery: Metropolitan Market (213 Wallace St.).
Upcoming Local Events: Dog and Grog Microbrew Festival at the Bale of Hay Saloon (344 Wallace St., July 20-21) and Virginia City Cowboy Gathering (Aug. 3-5).
Best Place to Buy Land: The Greater Madison Valley.
Average (Avg.) House Cost: $250,000.
Avg. Temperature: May-September, from 50s to 70s; October-April is unpredictable, fluctuates from 80s to 30 below.