Alder Gulch was the scene of Montana's greatest placer gold rush, touched off by the discoveries of Bill Fairweather and Henry Edgar in the spring of 1863. By the fall of 1864, nearly ten thousand people crowded the surrounding hillsides. Small settlements were so numerous and so scattered that contemporaries called the area "Fourteen-mile City." Virginia City and its near neighbor, Nevada City, were the main centers of commerce.
The Nevada City Music Hall houses the largest public collection of automated music machines in North America. Charles and Sue Bovey began collecting the machines in the 1940's, bringing together a unique assortment of antiques like no other collection anywhere. Many of these machines are still in great working order, while others are being restored in partnership with AMICA's (Automated Musical Instrument Collector's Association) Adopt-A-Piano program.
Officially part of the Territory of Idaho in a region so remote, Nevada City had no courts or statutes, miners organized mining districts, passed their own laws and elected officials. Everything from mining titles to murder trials fell within the jurisdiction of the miners’ courts. Nevada City’s main street was the setting for the miners’ court trial of George Ives for the brutal murder of Nicholas Thiebalt. The trial was a dangerous undertaking because emotions ran high on both sides of the law. Wilbur Fisk Sanders carved an indelible place in Montana history for his role as Ives’ prosecutor. Judge Don Byam sat in a wagon and the jury made a half circle around a big log fire. One eyewitness estimated that nearly two thousand people from all over the region choked the thoroughfare. Ives was convicted and hanged. This momentous event, which concluded on December 21, 1863, was the catalyst for the forming of the Vigilance Committee, or Vigilantes, on December 23. The Vigilantes were key players in the turbulent times ahead. They would hang 24 men in the space of scarcely a month.
At its peak, Nevada City boasted dozens of stores and cabins that extended back about six blocks. By 1869, the population had fallen to one hundred ten, but there were still three general stores and two saloons. In 1872, the town had a miners’store, a brewery, a blacksmith, a butcher, livery stable and Masonic hall. By 1876, Nevada City was nearly a ghost town.
After the placer gold played out, dredges came through to find the precious metal that remained. As the first miners had cut trees for their cabins and changed the look of the landscape working their sluice boxes, the dredges continued this work, gnawing at the streambeds and leaving piles of tailings as big as barns. The dredges slowly worked their way toward Nevada City.
Gold dredging and highway construction ate up most of the original landmarks but the Finney children refused to sell out. Cora and Alfred Finney were the last residents in Nevada City. It is to their credit that the buildings on the their side of the highway were spared the fate of the buildings on the other side which were demolished. The Finney homestead is a tribute to its longtime caretakers who, in refusing to surrender their home, saved half the town.
The Bovey Collection
Charles and Sue Bovey began collecting buildings in the early 1940s. The Sullivan Saddlery, moved with its contents from Fort Benton to the Great Falls fairgrounds, became the first building of their “Old Town.” In 1959 Bovey was asked to remove his collection in Great Falls. Nevada City became a haven for those historic buildings and others acquired later. There are more than ninety buildings along Nevada City’s streets. A few are original, many have been carefully placed along the streets, and some are constructions. In 1997, the State of Montana purchased the Bovey properties in both Virginia City and Nevada City. But as you can discover, Nevada City is a treasure chest of gems from across Montana. Step into the past and enjoy this unique adventure!