Junk or treasure – Heritage Commission moves forward with sale of property and real estate

VIRGINIA CITY – The Montana Heritage Commission is moving forward with a proposal to sell real estate and other personal items around Virginia and Nevada Cities, despite objections from some local residents.

The proposal to sell the real estate and personal items began last year and the public process to gather comments specific to the proposal concluded Jan. 28, said Marilyn Ross, Montana Heritage Commission board member and interim executive director.

Ross took over the executive director job on an interim basis in January after former director Paul Reichert resigned.

The main goal of the project is simple, Ross said.

“We need to make the resource more manageable and … work toward economic self sufficiency,” she said. “One of the things we know needed to be done was a real clean up of those items that have no clear connection to Alder Gulch and our interpretive plan or have deteriorated to the point that they clearly cannot be restored or saved.”

The money from the sales will be put in a trust and used for restoration of other Heritage Commission property in the two towns.

The Montana Heritage Commission was formed in the late 1990s when the state purchased properties in the Nevada and Virginia Cities formerly owned by the Bovy family.

According to their website: “The Montana Heritage Commission owns a total of 160 acres in 42 unconnected parcels. Besides lots in the town of Virginia City, the state owns approximately ten acres in the Nevada City townsite and approximately ninety acres of mining claims between the two sites. The Commission also owns most of the artifacts acquired from Bovey Restorations, and any artifacts acquired since 1997.”

But what gets lost in the discussion about how to clean up Nevada and Virginia Cities is a consideration of what are actually historic artifacts and what are trash, said Toni James, business owner in Virginia City.

“I feel that they are selling things that shouldn’t be sold that have some historical value to Virginia City,” James said. “I think the tidying up is fine but what they’re doing is selling things that should be kept here and throwing things away that they could sell.”

The method of determining what is garbage and what are treasures is flawed, she said. That simple process should involve local residents who are passionate and knowledgeable about the town’s history, James said.

“We’ve had very little say in it,” she said. “I think they’ve made up their minds and they know what they’re going to do and that’s the way it’s going to be.”

The Heritage Commission’s next meeting is Feb. 24 in Helena, Ross said. The commission will make a recommendation on the proposal and then forward it to the Montana Land Board, which has final say over all state-owned land sales.

“All that the Heritage Commission can do is recommend this real estate for sale to the land board, it’s the state land board that will ultimately make that decision,” she said.

Ross is concerned that people in the community are confused about why the Heritage Commission is selling the items and property.

“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding that we are desperate for money and therefore selling off historic artifacts,” Ross said.

What is motivating the commission is safety and better management of their assets in both Virginia and Nevada Cities, she said.

“It was motivated by the need to clean up and deal with life safety issues to make the resource more attractive, more family friendly and to get it to a size more manageable for us,” Ross said.

But in an attempt to focus on safety, the Heritage Commission may be harming the very thing they’re mandate to conserve, said Roger Williams, a Virginia City resident whose roots go back generations.

Williams is concerned the Heritage Commission may not really know the value of the things they’re selling.

“You sanitize this place and you’re going to have nothing left here,” he said. “We value what’s here because we understand the value of this historic stuff.”

Part of the personal items the Heritage Commission is planning to sell is old machinery in Nevada City. These items the Commission sees as trash actually get a lot of people to stop, Williams said. People don’t just want to see a bunch of empty buildings, they want to see the vestiges of the way things were and how life used to be. It’s all part of the story Nevada and Virginia Cities have to tell.

“To us it’s part of our heritage and it means something to us and it means something to a great many number of people or they wouldn’t come here,” he said. The closer you get to just a collection of old buildings the less people are going to be interested in it.”

But the story of the two towns must be told in a safe way and management of the state’s assets need to be done with the greater Montana population in mind along with the input of the local community, Ross said.

“Nevada City and Virginia City belong to the people of Montana and we have an obligation to make this site as safe and as pleasant of an educational experience for the families of Montana that we can,” she said. “It’s all part and parcel of a smart management approach.”

3 Responses to Junk or treasure – Heritage Commission moves forward with sale of property and real estate

  1. Cyndy Mozley says:

    I have visited Alder Gulch 2 times. I bought the book from the author there in Virginia City. Please realize that those big machines are amazing and part of history that will never return. THe town is fortunate to have them and visitors do enjoy seeing them there. Why would you want to remove anything that is original there,,,, nothing will replace it when it is gone.

  2. Daniel Highley says:

    The train cars in question are falling apart and beyond repair. The neglect of them and some of the items in question has gone on for so long, that the cost to repair and save them would drain funds that are being used to save other parts of Nevada City and Virginia City. The steam train that used to run from Virginia to Nevada City is currently awaiting funds to have the boiler inspected so that it may resume it’s 3 mile rout. so wouldn’t it be better to sell unusable items, to get usable items up and running again. As far as the old Dredges,go, well they are the reason that about 20 blocks of Nevada City is gone forever. Besides that, the Nevada City Interpretive sight revolves around the Gold rush Era of Montana’s Past, 1862-1865. By the time the the trains came it was all but a ghost town, and the dredges did in the what was left of it and the owner previous to the Bovey’s burnt down a lot of what was left going up the hill behind town, about 16 blocks. There was no train even there in the 1860’s, but we have one now. So lets do what we can to get it running again and get rid of some junk.
    As far as artifacts go there are repairable items there that need a lot of TLC and can be saved.Marilyn Ross sees this. Since Montana purchased Nevada City it has been neglected, not as bad as it was before they bought it, but still neglected. Marilyn and others are just trying to save what they can. Take a look the next time you drive by Nevada City, the junk heaps of rotting lumber out front and behind town is gone and have been cleaned up, come down this summer for a living History event, who knows you might find that things are getting better there, thanks to the Montana Heritage Commission since she took over, and a whole lot of other folks.
    As far as it goes for saying that I’m vested into Nevada City, well I and my entire family are Living History Volunteers,this will be our 4th year to spend our summer there. I have relatives in the Virgina City 1870’s census records, my wife is a native Montanan, and her Great Grandpa was Art Brown, local Virgina City Artist, So I would say that we have an investment and a say so in it too.
    As far as visitors go, I hear a lot saying that we need to clean up the junk, and fix some the buildings. that if we did that we would have a nice place.

  3. Sue says:

    My great grandfather came to Alder Gulch in 1863 in search of the gold in those mountains. I’ve never been to Alder Gulch and hope, someday, to make the trip (although with only retirement income it may never happen and that makes me sad) to see the place that my great-grandfather lived and worked in. Recognition of his presence in Alder Gulch in 1863 was in the newspaper article announcing his passing. I am fervently hoping that when, and if, I can ever make it to Montana for my dream-trip, that what can be saved is saved, and what cannot be saved is sold off or discarded. All I ask is that very careful and thoughtful discretion be given to what is considered “junk”…some things can never be replaced and once lost, will be lost forever.

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