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The entirety of Virginia City, the county seat of Madison County, Montana, is designated a National Historic Landmark District, including some of the surrounding region. Virginia City is a well preserved gold mining town situated about twenty miles west of Yellowstone National Park, although the distance is ninety miles by road. Both Virginia City and Nevada City are within Alder Gulch, the site of the richest placer gold strike in the Rocky Mountains, active throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. The western gold rushes of the 1860s prompted Congress to create five new territories, and Alder Gulch was in Idaho Territory until Montana Territory was created in 1864. Interestingly, Virginia City was first known as Varina City, after Confederate President Jefferson Davis’ wife, but when the official documents were submitted by Dr. G.G. Bissell, the newly elected miners’ court judge, and a Unionist, he submitted the name Virginia instead. Virginia City was named the territorial capital of Montana in 1865 and, at one time, had a population of more than 10,000 people, and more than 1,200 buildings. The discovery of gold in Last Chance Gulch (Helena) began the decline of Virginia City, as many of its residents soon moved. Its population declined to only a few hundred by the early 1870s and never recovered. Today, the city and surrounding region are among the best preserved examples of the placer mining camps that once flourished throughout the western Rocky Mountains. Virginia City is accessed by Montana Highway 287, southwest of Ennis, east of Alder, northwest of Varney, and north of Summit. The Beaverhead National Forest is to the north and south of the town.


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