Department of History

Public History Field School

About the Site

Virginia City, Montana, was platted on June 16, 1863, after the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch. Virginia City and surrounding communities served the needs of the miners and prospectors that rushed to the area. In May of 1864, Congress created Montana Territory, and Virginia City became the territorial capital. It was the seat of territorial government until 1875, when the capital was moved to Helena. By the 1880s, most of the independent miners had moved on, and work in the fields fell to mining corporations. By World War II, Virginia City had very few residents and was on the brink of becoming a ghost town. It averted this through the efforts of Charles and Sue Bovey. Charles Bovey bought the site, reconstructed many of its buildings, and amassed a huge collection of 19th-century material culture.

Virginia City was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961 and listed on the National Register in 1976. In 1997, the State of Montana purchased the site from the Bovey family and established the Montana Heritage Preservation and Development Commission to maintain and run the sites at Virginia City and Nevada City.

The Thompson-Hickman Memorial Library and Museum have been keepers of local history since 1917 when Mr. and Mrs. William B. Thompson donated land and funding for the construction of a library in Virginia City. The library offers all the services of a county library and is an excellent source of materials ranging from videos, DVD's, newspapers, audio book cassettes, and CD's. The library houses the Dick Pace archives, which is an excellent collection of primary source materials on the history of Madison County. A special Montana History sections complements the archives with a broad array of supporting material.

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Department of History, PO Box 644030, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-4030
301 Wilson-Short Hall, Pullman Campus • 509-335-5139 • Fax 509-335-4171 • Contact Us