About the Commission
On April 23, 1997, the Montana legislature passed House Bills 5 and 14 authorizing the purchase of the Bovey Restoration properties in Virginia City and Nevada City for $6.5 million ($5 million for the artifacts and $1.5 million for the buildings and land). The purchase was accomplished on May 16, 1997 and includes approximately half the historic structures in Virginia City (one-quarter or fewer of all the buildings in the town) and all of the historic community of Nevada City, plus buildings moved in or constructed at both sites by Charlie and Sue Bovey.
In doing so, the Legislature also created the Montana Heritage Commission to manage these properties in a manner that protects them and encourages economic independence. The Commission consists of fourteen members: nine appointed by the governor, one appointed by the president of the Senate, one appointed by the speaker of the House, and the remaining members broadly representing the state. The Commission's role includes ensuring that the treatment of all historic buildings meets the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Historic Preservation; that treatment of all artifacts meets treatment and curation standards established by the American Association of Museums; and that interpretation is conducted according to standards established by the National Association for Interpretation.
Currently, properties in Virginia City, Nevada City, and Reeder's Alley in Helena are managed by the Commission. Besides lots in the town of Virginia City, the state owns approximately ten acres in the Nevada City town site 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. Interpreting these valuable historic resources can offer the public insights into the local and regional consequences of the 1860s gold rushes. The Commission endeavors to tell the story of "the nation's best-preserved example of gold rush era architecture and history" and to reflect the changes and continuum of Montana's heritage.
The Commission can point to "brick and mortar" work as tangible accomplishments. Work has begun on the highest-priority stabilization needs for buildings in both communities, based on a professional analysis of those needs. The Commission has overseen repair work on 78 of the buildings it manages, and a number of sewer and water lines have been repaired. A $1.1 million curatorial center has been built, and the process of inventorying and accessioning artifacts has begun.
Since 1997, the Commission has administered Virginia City and Nevada City as public attractions for visitors, following the practices already established by Bovey Restorations. Several interpretive brochures keyed to historic buildings in Virginia City and Nevada City have been printed and distributed. A visitor center has been established in the Virginia City railroad depot, and a new entrance has been established at Nevada City. A restored steam locomotive is on display, and a small gasoline-powered locomotive carries visitors on a regular schedule between Virginia City and Nevada City during the summer season. The Commission oversees numerous concessions, including hotels in Virginia City and Nevada City, restaurants, two theaters, and multiple businesses. A thirteen-minute orientation video has been produced.
The Commission staff consists of an operations director, curators of history and of collections, a historic preservation and maintenance team, office personnel, and other seasonal staff. The Commission is a partner with the town of Virginia City, the Virginia City Preservation Alliance, and the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce.