Virginia City, Territorial Capital of Montana

This past Memorial Day weekend we traveled to Virginia City, Montana. It’s 168 miles from Idaho Falls, about a three hour drive. We hit the the road late Saturday morning, May 28, on Highway 20 north toward Island Park. But hey, we have to check out Mesa Falls on the way! So an hour into our drive, at Ashton, we hang a right onto Highway 32. Here we are now at Upper Mesa Falls. Beautiful!

Upper Mesa Falls

Upper Mesa Falls

Especially with the spring run-off.


We pose for a family photo:

Jody, Eric, Megan, David, Ben, Rhonda

Jody, Eric, Megan, David, Ben, Rhonda

Our son, Ben, and girlfriend Rhonda flew up from Boulder, CO, to be with us (David, Megan and I). Plus my brother Eric, a.k.a. ‘Cuddles Cutes,’ and his friend Scott came along too. (Scott took the family photo…)

We just can’t do a trip without inviting Eric along. He plans the itinerary and knows every lake, fishing hole, historical site, ghost town, mountain peak, hike, hot springs, dirt road, campground, monument, and antique store within every 250-mile radius of Idaho Falls.

Plus his t-shirts are great conversation starters …

Lunch at the Trout Slayer in Island Park.

Lunch at the Trout Slayer in Island Park.

As in, “Where in the freak did you get that shirt, Eric?” or “So, uh, exactly what’s the scene with that cat on your shirt?”

Grey tabby cat riding a Bengal tiger with  x-ray vision handling a two-headed axe leaping away from a raging forest fire under snow covered peaks .... Wuh?

Grey tabby cat riding a Bengal tiger with x-ray vision handling a two-headed axe leaping away from a raging forest fire under snow covered peaks …. Wuh?

We have arrived in Virginia City. Checked into five rooms at the Fairweather Inn.

David's truck adds so much charm and authenticity to the photo

David’s truck adds so much charm and authenticity to the photo


That’s us hanging out on the front porch.

Check out this link for some history of Virginia City. Also this wikipedia link on Virginia City.

Perched high in the Rocky Mountains in a bowl along Alder Gulch, Virginia City got its start when gold was discovered in Alder Gulch in 1863.

We drove to the spot where gold was initially discovered – about 1/4 mile from Virginia City Center:


On May 26, 1863, Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar discovered gold near Alder Creek.

They wanted to keep their discovery secret. However, when they traveled 60 miles southwest to Bannack to purchase supplies, sharp-eyed prospectors spotted their bags of gold. 200 prospectors followed them back to Alder Gulch. News spread quickly and before long the area was flooded with prospectors living in makeshift shacks, tents, caves, or simply sleeping beneath the trees. Within a year, some 10,000 people were living in a number of mining camps lining the gulch.

In 1864 Congress created the new territory of Montana, separating it from Idaho Territory. Bannack, the site of the first gold strike in the area, became the territory’s first capital. However, just a year later, because of its bustling prosperity, the territorial capital was moved to Virginia City. Virginia City remained the capital for about ten years, until April 19, 1875, when it moved to Helena, Montana (Montana’s current capital). Virginia City was home to Montana’s first public school, newspaper, and telegraph.

The Montana gold mining days lasted from 1863 to 1935. The buildings were abandoned and people were dismantling them for firewood. In the 1940s, Charles and Sue Bovey began buying the town, putting much needed maintenance into failing structures. The ghost town of Virginia City began to be restored for tourism in the 1950s.

The population of Virginia City today is about 200 people, by definition, a ghost town. Most of the city is now owned by the state government and is a National Historic Landmark operated as an open-air museum. Of the nearly three hundred structures in town, almost half were built prior to 1900.

We ate dinner across the street from the Fairweather Inn at the Wells Fargo Restaurant.


The food was delicious. Great atmosphere. Eric appreciated the ceiling tin:

Ceiling and crown moulding made of tin

Ceiling and crown moulding made of tin

While Scott (in light blue shirt) hammed it up with a complete stranger on the piano:

Scott plays the blues

Scott plays the blues

Virginia City is hoppin’ with afternoon and evening entertainment. Check out the live music at the Bale of Hay Saloon! The Opera House, with the Virginia City Players, offers the longest continuously operating live summer theater company in the western United States. Also, all summer long the Brewery Follies offer 2 hilarious adult live comedy shows a day. (We attended the 8PM show Saturday night.) We also heard during our visit that the Rock musician Dave Walker (a singer and guitarist for a number of bands; notably Savoy Brown and Fleetwood Mac) will be playing at the Wells Fargo Restaurant on Friday nights through this summer.

Here are my photos of town, which consists of about 2 blocks:




We explored the Gypsy Arcade across the street from our motel.


The Gypsy Arcade contains all kinds of crazy old machines – fortune teller machines, music machines, adult flip movie machines…

For a quarter you can find out your fortune by the color of your eyes!

For a quarter you can find out your fortune by the color of your eyes!


Get a palm reading!


Watch a movie for 5 cents! A double row of flip movie machines were stationed in the center of the arcade:

Adult entertainment at its best!

Adult entertainment at its best!

I put my nickel in to watch an adult flip movie, OMG! The women exposed their petticoats, calves and ANKLES!

Music: The other Non-addictive, Mood-altering Non-substance … (sign hanging by the music machines)


Ask your Doctor if music is right for you.

I inserted a quarter into this music machine:


Took a video of the musical performance from beginning to end. Almost 2 minutes! You can watch the whole thing for free! Are you ready??? Here goes: (you’ve just put your quarter in…)

Waltz, anyone?

And to think you have to pay i-tunes a full 99 cents to download a song!

Well, crap. I still have lots more to tell you about our trip this past weekend. We also visited Bannack, the first territorial capital of Montana. We dug for crystals at Crystal Park. Then there’s Quake Lake … and the Grizzly Bear…

Uh, Part 2? ….

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