Saving Montana’s history
Stonewall Hall, Montana’s Territorial Capitol Building, honored as restoration begins
On what could only be described as an ideal morning in Virginia City, it’s glorious past and exciting future were commemorated with gold shovels and a giant pair of red scissors. A ribbon cutting ceremony held August 25th marked the beginning of a million-dollar project to save, and restore, Stonewall Hall.
Located halfway up Wallace Street in Virginia City, Montana’s first capitol building sits unoccupied and seemingly unsafe. Since it was built in 1864 and served as our capitol (1865-1875) when we were just a territory, it has weathered a century of tenants, turnover and time. And despite the building’s colorful history and the best intentions of many people over the decades, the building stood, albeit precariously, quietly passed by. More than one tourist has questioned “why don’t they tear this abandoned building down?”
Well, allow me to answer that. What is empty and damaged is not necessarily abandoned. This is Montana. We don’t abandon our history or give up because of a few crumbling stones. We also don’t scare easily! So, walking past the Stonewall on a windy day never seemed quite as dramatic to us as it may have to others.
Elijah Allen, the Executive Director of the Montana Heritage Commission shared a story the morning of the ceremony that may shed some light on the roots of that ‘toughness’ Montanans are known for. Allen referenced an archeological dig a couple of years ago where they found human teeth and cleated shoes that was speculated to be part of the famous bare knuckle fighting that was prevalent in Virginia City in the 1860s. “VC still owns the world record with a match that lasted 185 rounds!” Allen boasted. “One could speculate that getting bills out of committee hearings was much tougher back then,” he added.
You may think modern politics have not progressed much since those back-alley brawls, but the Stonewall Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on that beautiful Virginia City morning proved otherwise. Allen, pivotal in raising the $1,000,000, welcomed Gov. Gianforte and Mayor Gatewood, to name just a few, to the celebration. The speakers each touched on history, the gratitude, and the joy of having saved our first capital building in the nick of time. Attendees laughed at old Stonewall Halls’ fragile endurance as they enjoyed coffee, sunshine and shockingly good pastries made by Jessicca Allen of the Star Bakery. Rows of chairs faced the building as the ceremony was held just feet away in its shadow. As I stated, Montanans don’t scare easily.
Restoration of Stonewall Hall would not be possible without the generosity of the LaFever Family Trust that donated the building, and Gov. Gianforte and the Gianforte Family Trust for getting the ball rolling. Other gold member donors ($100k each) include the Cashman Family Foundation in Ennis and Yellowstone’s (the series/Paramount Pictures).
If you would like to learn more about Stonewall Hall and the other historic landmarks, or make a donation, please visit savemontanashistory.com