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Photos by Joan and Mike Sinnwell September 2012

Virginia City MT Ghost Town

Virginia City and Nevada City lie along Alder Gulch, the site of the richest placer gold strike in the Rocky Mountains. During the first three seasons in the early 1860s, an estimated $30 million worth of gold was removed from the gulch, and during subsequent years gold has continued to be extracted from placer and lode mines.

On May 26, 1863, six prospectors found rich diggings at Alder Gulch. By the middle of the next year, about 10,000 people were living in a number of communities lining Alder Gulch, including Virginia City.

For the first several years of placer mining along Alder Gulch, miners used hand tools such as sluice boxes to separate the gold from the gravels. In 1867, hydraulic mining was introduced to the area. The timber on the surrounding hillsides was clear-cut to provide building materials, mine timber, and fuel. From 1898 through 1922, large floating dredges chewed up the ground, destroying several communities in their path and leaving behind distinctive tailings and dredge ponds as far upstream as Virginia City. Smaller dry land dredges returned to the gulch in the 1930s, after a rise in the price of gold. The town of Virginia City itself, unlike many other mining communities, was never dug up and destroyed because it had not been established on top of gold-bearing gravels. The entire original town of Nevada City west of the highway was eradicated by dredging operations in the early 1900s.

Virginia City served as the hub of a vast transportation network until 1875. The "Social City" was also the cultural focal point of the territory. The community remained a service center until the 1880s. In 1866, Virginia City became the first town in Montana to get a telegraph. In 1868, Virginia City had some 1,200 buildings, today it has 237 major structures.