Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana, USA
photos by Martin Schäfer
At the crest of a gold rush, a relatively anonymous oasis of unspoilt nature could grow into a chaos of pick-axes and pistols in a matter of weeks. Montana was no exception, rather, it was the rule. By the time the second half of the nineteenth century rolled around, it was known as the Treasure State, a fitting nickname covering what was the country’s largest stock of gold, silver and copper.
Virginia City and Nevada City are two of America’s finest preserved boomtowns, true historical highlights that should be the pride of Montana. Do not call them ghost towns or you will be firmly reprimanded. It is safe to say that their heydays are over, but the shops on Virginia City’s Main Street open every day, as does the local tavern.
While Virginia City is more of a whole – after all, until 1875 it was Montana’s official state capital – Nevada City offers an array of old buildings from all over the state, saved from demolition by former flour magnate Charles Bovey. A revered hero in these parts, Bovey spent the last thirty years of his life lovingly restoring both boom towns. Although fans of the genre will be relieved that fun-filled re-enactments with more than forty Living History Interpreters happen on summer weekends, the usual cheap tourist shots are refreshingly absent.
Want to walk the streets of an authentic boom town in peace and quiet? Do it here. And bring a burlap sack full of quarters while you are at it. The Nevada City Music Hall has the widest array of working mechanical music machines and arcade games on this side of Oz. Magical.
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