Madison County, Montana 1921

Madison County lies in Southwestern Montana and has a land area of 3,588 square miles. Its history dates back to the Civil War period, the early settlement of the region being due to the discovery of the placer gold at Alder Gulch, May 26, 1863. After that event the population increased so rapidly that in a short time county organization was found expedient and accordingly, on February 2, 1865, Madison County was created. The settlement established at the head of Alder Gulch, just below the spot where gold was first discovered, was named Virginia City. It was incorporated by a special act of the territorial legislature in the '60s and became the territorial capital. It lies on the west bank of the gulch, and about half way between its mouth and its source. The gulch is about ten miles in length and has been placer mined from end to end. Silver, copper and lead have been found in paying quantities, in addition to gold. During the past twenty years the ground that was mined in the '60s, from Virginia City to Ruby Valley in Alder Gulch, has been worked over by big dredges by the Conrey Placer Mining Company and a large amount of additional wealth secured. This company has kept from one to five of these dredges in operation, though only one is now in use, as nearly all the ground that could be worked at a profit in this manner has been exhausted. Two companies are engaged in quartz mining, the Greenback Mining Company and the Barton Gulch Mining Company. These companies, which are managed by Mr. A. H. Jones, employ approximately sixty men, and each mill has a capacity of fifty tons a day.

This region is marked by the rough but impressive scenery characteristic of the usual mining district. At the head of Alder Gulch stands Baldy Mountain, a considerable elevation with an extended summit constituting a geological ridge or backbone. Stretching away from it in a more or less irregular course, may be seen the gulch or narrow valley, its steep sides here and there forest-clad, but in many places devoid of vegetation and possessing interest chiefly for the geologist or miner. Similar scenes may be seen in other parts of the county, the chief mining districts, aside from Virginia City, being found near Twin Bridges, Rochester, Sheridan, Pony, Norris and Red Bluff.

The mountainous districts of Madison County occupy more than half its surface, and between the mountain ranges are some very good valleys in which agriculture and stock raising can be carried on successfully. North and south through the middle of the county, between the watersheds of the Madison and Jefferson rivers, stretches the Tobacco Root Range. Farther to the east is the Madison Range, while the Snow Crest, the Ruby and the McCarty ranges are found near the western side. The Madison and Jefferson rivers have cut out deep valleys connecting with those of their numerous tributaries on either side. The other important streams are the Beaverhead, Ruby, Big Hole and South Boulder rivers, each with its tributaries issuing from mountain sources, and providing a water supply probably equal to that of any county in the state. Between the mountain ranges and the valleys are benches and low lying foot hills, where some non-irrigated farming is practiced, though they are chiefly used for grazing purposes. On Madison River are two hydro-electric plants operated by the Montana Power Company and having a combined installed capacity of 12,000 kilowatts. The company has also two storage reservoirs on this stream covering 17,430 acres, with a combined storage capacity of 14,915,000,000 cubic feet.

The abundance of beautiful scenery in Madison County with the fine hunting and fishing, make it an attractive region to sportsmen, who come from all parts of the United States to fish on Madison River. Irrigated land in the valleys is worth from $40 to $125 an acre; grazing and non-irrigated land from $5 to $40 an acre. The Northern Pacific Railway has two branch lines in the county, one running from Whitehall to Alder through the Jefferson and Ruby valleys and the other from Sappington to Norris and Pony through the Madison Valley. The Vigilante Trail, a highway of great historical interest, and now a state road, connects with all transcontinental highways. It branches off from what is known as the Yellowstone Trail at Cedar Point, about twenty miles east of Butte, thence takes a general southerly direction through the old town of Silver Star, Iron Rod, Twin Bridges, Sheridan, Ruby, Virginia City, from which place it passes over the range into the Madison Valley to Ennis, and thence up the valley to Yellowstone on the west boundary of the Yellowstone Park. This trail is being greatly improved for travel and today work is progressing on a hard surface road leading from Virginia City over the mountains fourteen miles to Ennis. Along this road and in other parts of the county are still standing log buildings of historical interest, some of them associated with tragical occurrences of early days.

Virginia City of Today

Virginia City, the county seat of Madison County, has an altitude above sea level of 5,822 feet. Its present population is about 500. As previously mentioned, its incorporation dates back to the '60s. It is divided into three wards and has a mayor and six councilmen. Business and commercial enterprises are up-to-date and thriving. The Elling State Bank has a capital of $50,000, a surplus of $50,000 and total deposits of approximately $600,000. The Madison State Bank has a capital of $50,000, a surplus of the same amount and total deposits of approximately $300,000. The mercantile establishments are those of J. Albright, clothing; Buford Mercantile Co., groceries and hardware; R. Vickes, dry goods, and C. W. Rank, druggist. The Anaconda Hotel and the Virginia City Hotel afford good accommodations for the traveling public, and the Virginia Garage is well established in its line of business. The medical profession is worthily represented by Drs. L. F. Molleur and L. C. LeClar, and the legal by M. M. Duncan, one of the old residents and practicing lawyers of Montana, George R. Allen, L. H. Bennett, H. P. Beckett and E. P. Reid.

Virginia City is supplied with water by the Virginia City Water Company, owned by Mrs. Sallie Bickford, a colored lady who has resided here for upward of fifty years. The water is derived from springs lying immediately above the town. During the last two years or so Col. William Boyce Thompson of New York, who was born in Virginia City, has had under process of construction here a fine library building to be known as the Thompson-Hickman Library, which he proposes to turn over to the town this summer (1921), and which will be an important addition to local institutions. One room of the library building will be devoted to a collection of interesting relics connected with the history of this region, which the citizens have collected during the last few years and which are now on exhibition in a small building.

Virginia City was the cradle of Masonry in Montana, and there are now two lodges located here, Virginia City Lodge No. 1, and Montana Lodge No. 2. It is also the home of Virginia City Chapter No. 1, Virginia City Commandery No. 1, and a chapter of the Eastern Star. Virginia City has the unique distinction of being the smallest town in the United States to have an Elk lodge. It is known as Oro' y Plata Lodge, Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks, No. 390.

First Bank in Montana, Virginia City

The oldest resident of the town is Robert Vickers, proprietor of the clothing store previously mentioned, who came here in the spring of 1865 and is now about ninety-two years old. There are few of the old historic structures still standing. Among those which are may be mentioned the building in which the five road agents were hung on January 14, 1864; the Gilbert Brewery, which was, it is believed, the first brewery constructed in Montana; the building in which the Montana Post was published, and a portion of the building in which the territorial officers had their office when Virginia City was the capital.

Other Madison County Towns

Among the other important towns of Madison County are: Twin Bridges, a busy commercial center and stock shipping point at the junction of the Beaverhead and Jefferson valleys; Sheridan, situated in the Ruby Valley, surrounded by rich farm lands, and which is one the chief stock shipping and mining centers; Ennis, a distributing center in the midst of a stock growing section in the Upper Madison Valley; and Pony and Harrison in the Lower Madison Valley, which are trading points for a wide area. The State Orphans' Home is located at Twin Bridges.

Schools and General Features

Madison County possesses an excellent school system, the result of many years of careful supervision. Besides the rural schools of the country districts, there are good graded schools in the chief community centers, and five high schools, one each at Virginia City, Sheridan and Pony, each accredited for the four years term ; one at Twin Bridges accredited for three years, and one at Ennis, accredited for the one year term. The county presents special opportunities for the development of the tourist business, stock growing, farming and mining. The crops which have been most successfully grown in Madison County are alfalfa, clover, timothy, wheat, oats, barley, rye and potatoes. Potatoes raised in the county have won numerous prizes at state and national expositions. The Jefferson Valley in particular has become noted as a potato district.

Montana Counties 1921

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Source: Montana its Story and Biography, by Tom Strout, Volume 1, The American Historical Society, 1921

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