Virginia City celebrates 150th anniversary, prepares for big weekend

From Gay Rossow, Vice President, Virginia City Area Chamber of Commerce

The summer of 2013 is filled with fun events celebrating the sesquicentennial of finding gold in Alder Gulch and the cultural heritage of Virginia City, Montana.  Festivities begin Memorial Day weekend, with events planned every weekend through Labor Day and activities every day in between, there are opportunities for fun and learning throughout the season.

On May 26, 1863, around four in the afternoon, a trail-weary party of six men decided to make camp beside a mountain stream whose course they had been following since early morning. After having left the gold camp of Bannack in early February, they had a series of difficult adventures, and were grateful to be nearing home. Four of the party went to prospect up the creek before dinner, and two stayed behind to picket the horses and do camp duty, and ended up prospecting a piece of exposed bedrock… and what they found would prove to be one of the richest gold deposits in North America, and would be one of the greatest events in the history of Montana.

The history of Virginia City and the area is long and rich, and features many cultures and characters.  The Virginia City Area Chamber of Commerce website gives a detailed account of the evolution of the area, which is still living, thriving and will be celebrated throughout the summer of 2013.  The complete calendar of events is available under the events tab on the Virginia City Area Chamber of Commerce website at

Memorial Day weekend kicks off the festivities from May 24 – 26, 2013.  Friday, May 24 at 5:30pm the Elling House in Virginia City will host the winning 150th Commemorative poster art winner for a poster signing and art show. Kathleen Arvila-Scott of Butte, MT was selected as the winner. The original poster art created for this event will be on display (to be auctioned off at the Chamber Dinner and auction on June 15) and posters will be available for sale and signing by the artist as well as a collection of her work.  Following the artist’s reception, the Virginia City Preservation Alliance (VCPA) will present their book titled “Nuggets in Time” at 7pm. This is an anthology of photographs and articles on the history of Virginia City, some of which are previously unpublished. This is a limited edition and available to the public for the first time at this event. All proceeds with go to the VCPA. Refreshments will be served.

Saturday, May 25, the annual Spring Horseback Poker ride registration is at the Bale of Hay Saloon from 8:30am to 10am. Take a 2.5-hour ride in the hills around Virginia City while gathering poker cards. There are prizes for the top three hands. Come back to the Bale for lunch and get ready for the parade! Poker riders can participate in the parade or sit back and enjoy it. Call the Bale for more information 406-843-5700.

The Virginia City Season Opening Parade, starting at 1:30 pm on Saturday, will celebrate the year of 1863. All entries must be non-motorized and participants are encouraged to dress in period clothing. There are prizes for the top three entries and the first 50 children who participate will receive train tickets. In the spirit of the 1863 gold rush, gold coin candy will be distributed during the parade. Parade entry applications can be found on the Virginia City website at or call Debbie Rogers at 406-843-5425.

Sunday May 26, at 2 p.m. at Elks Park in Virginia City (near the back of the Depot Pond) there will be a historical performance of the discovery of gold in Alder Gulch by the Nevada City Living History performers.  John Ellingsen will provide historical background on the discovery of gold in Virginia City after the living history performance.  Learn about the events leading up to the discovery, travels by Fairweather and his party looking for gold on the Yellowstone, their encounter with the rattlesnake and the Crow Indians, the retreat back to Bannack and the discovery of gold. The event will wrap up with cake and refreshments.  If weather is bad, celebrations will be moved to the community center. This event is presented by the 150th Celebration Committee of the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce.

The Virginia City Area Chamber of Commerce has led a partnership to plan and support the events of the summer including a team of volunteers and financial supporters too numerous to mention, and numerous agencies and organizations including the Montana Heritage Commission, Virginia City Preservation Alliance, Elling House Arts and Humanities Center, the Town of Virginia City, Madison County, Montana History Foundation, Humanities Montana and many more.

For more information visit the website at, email, call the Chamber at 800-829-2969 or Rebecca at 406-539-5683.

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