The Roundup -

Ancient Artifacts

 

I think I have moved to the right place. It seems in most parts of the country older people no longer receive the respect they deserve. We're often looked upon as a burden, as using up vanishing natural resources; younger people don't value our expertise nor do they want our advice. 'Old' often equates with relic, antique, artifact, shopworn, and used up.

However, in Virginia City people delight in old objects. Visitors come from all fifty states and around the world to view the dated treasures found in this town. Outside the Smithsonian, Virginia City has the largest collection of Americana found anywhere.

So, I moved to the right place. Although people don't come to see me, they do come to view and appreciate the artifacts found in this town. I started thinking about oldest and first, and decided that Virginia City has more than its fair share of relics from the past.

Virginia City has the oldest bar in Montana, the Bale of Hay Saloon, in operation since 1863. The establishment began as a retail liquor store but evolved into the saloon people frequent today. The Pioneer Bar isn't far behind in age, as proprietors established that watering hole in 1867.

The old stone barn, now the Opera House, sits adjacent to the Bale of Hay Saloon. The oldest professional summer theater company west of the Mississippi has called the Opera House home since 1949. The theater offers plays and vaudeville acts all summer long for the entertainment of both locals and tourists.

The Content Corner Building, constructed in 1864, while not the oldest building in Virginia City or Montana, proved to be a significant landmark in the early years of Virginia City history. Reports say it housed the entire Montana territorial government offices on the second floor, from 1865-1875 when Virginia City served as the capital of the Montana territory. The Stonewall Hall, sitting across the street from the Content Corner Building and also built in 1864, served as a place for the Montana territorial legislators to meet. Although decaying and badly in need of repair, the building is Montana's oldest territorial capitol. Converted to an auto garage in 1914, the structure will soon be lost to history as it is in the final stages of deterioration.

Virginia City had the first, and therefore the oldest, telegraph pole, placed at the corner of Wallace and Van Buren streets. The line kept the community in contact with the 'States' through communication with Salt Lake City.

For over a century, Montana's oldest continuously operated weekly newspaper was published in part of the Creighton Block. The newspaper, named the Madisonian, still publishes weekly but the offices are now located in Ennis.

The Allen and Millard Bank, which now houses Julie's Gems, sits next to the Creighton Block. The Allen and Millard Bank was the first permanent bank in the Montana territory. People who visit Julie's Gems will see on display the original vault used by the bank.

The Montana Post Building, located at the corner of Wallace and Jackson, was home to the Montana Territory's first newspaper, the Montana Post. Thomas Dimsdale, apologist for the antics of the Vigilantes, published his book 'Vigilantes of Montana', which also was Montana's first published book, in the print shop at the back of the building.

The area behind and to the right of the Dance and Stuart building depicts the 'oldest profession', which was well practiced in the town's early years. The buildings in this area locals call the cabbage patch, have stood there since the 1880s.

The Masonic Temple, built in 1867, holds the title of Montana's first established union Masonic lodge, which is still in use today. Nevada City had the second established lodge in Montana, although that lodge no longer exists.

The Bonanza Inn served as the area's first court house, used until 1876 when contractors finished the court house still in use today.

Virginia City has several outstanding women who helped build the community. Sarah Bickford, born a slave in North Carolina, journeyed to Virginia City as a servant of Judge Murphy. Bickford became the first career woman in Montana, an unprecedented feat for a black woman in post-civil war era. She owned and operated the Virginia City Water Company for many years.

Flora Mcnulty, born in 1865, became one of Montana's first women doctors. She and her husband practiced medicine in Virginia City for many years.

Virginia City has a marvelous history of old, oldest, or first. I certainly am not the oldest or first in anything, but I do fit in nicely here.

 

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