Frozen in time, Virginia City, Montana is one of the best preserved examples of a gold mining city in the United States. Gold was once found here in abundance, ready to be mined by the brave souls who made the trip deep into the Rocky Mountains of what is now the state of Montana. On February 7, 1865, Virginia City was named the capitol of the Montana Territory. However, it was later moved to Helena due to the rapid migration out of that area when gold mining decreased.
Perched high in the Rocky Mountains in a bowl along the once great Alder Gulch, Virginia City got its start when gold was discovered there in 1863 by Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar. Both of these men had had it rough, including being captured by the Crow Nation prior to this discovery.In hopes of becoming rich, these two planned on keeping the mine a secret, however when they traveled to Blannack some 60 miles south west for supplies, some of the miners noticed their hidden gold sacks. Upon returning to the gold-filled Alder Gulch, some 200 miners followed them. News spread quickly and before long the area was flooded with prospectors living in makeshift shacks, tents, caves, or simply beneath trees.
In the meantime, the nation was in the midst of the Civil War. Though gold brought emigrants from all over the world, the influx of miners were mostly 'rebels' from the South. Just weeks later, on June 16th, 1863, a town company began to plan the settlement. They intended on naming the town 'Verona,' a misspelling of 'Varina,' the wife of Jefferson Davis (President of the Confederate States of America). However the newly appointed judge was an equally stubborn Unionist who submitted the name "Virginia" on the charter instead.
As soon as the Montana Territory was founded, the population of the city exploded. It is estimated that the Alder Gulch was home to between 8,000-10,000 people- an impressive number that would quickly deplete the gold in the area. However, during its prime, Virginia City became the Capitol of the territory and was home to many important groups and organizations. In 1866, Montana's first public school was founded here. Later on, the first branch of Montana's national guard would be housed in the city. Also, it was the base of a controversial group of "law-enforcers" known as the Montana Vigilantes; yet, they were able to take down the infamous Plummer's Gang that had been terrorizing the area.
Unfortunately, Virginia City's boom was short lived. When gold was discovered in Last Chance Gulch in modern day Helena, the miners rapidly began to move. By the 1870s, Virginia City's population had been reduced to only a few hundred people. In 1875, the territorial capitol was moved to Helena and Virginia City was on the way to becoming one of the most famous ghost towns in the United States.
However, hope for the town would arise again with the invention of the dredge. So in 1898, a new life was brought to Virginia City as more gold could be excavated. As a result, the gold was further depleted- and the landscape was permanently scarred. Despite this, according to the most recent census, the population holds steady at 132 people.