Efforts Underway to Save the Capitol Territorial Building in Virginia City | Local

He may not have wanted to, but there are people who will swear that March 21, 2022 was a very historic day for Montana.

The State Land Board took action that day to support efforts to restore Stonewall Hall in Virginia City, a crumbling structure that proponents of the plan say is the most significant building in Montana’s history.

The council voted 5-0 on Monday to accept the donation of the building at 300 Wallace Street, which served as the Territorial Capitol building from 1865 to 1875.

The backyard of the building is thought to be an area where lawmakers may have settled disputes with their fists.

Justin Gatewood, the mayor of Virginia City, told land board members that their approval would make this a monumental day for the history books.

Stonewall Hall in Virginia City.

state of montana

“It is no hyperbole to say that the transfer of Stonewall Hall from private to public hands and subsequent restoration would mark the largest and most significant preservation project in the history of Virginia City – and arguably the Montana -” he said.

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Elijah Allen, executive director of the Montana Heritage Commission, said the building was donated to the state by the Neal C. LaFever Trust and is under the full ownership of the heritage commission.

He said the commission intended to use the building as an interpretive center and a convention center for social gatherings, weddings and family reunions.

According to a 1989 Montana Historical and Architectural Survey form, the hall was built in 1864 and has two stories. It is made of rubble stone and has a brick facade that faces Wallace Street. The building’s original facade was of stone and featured three round arches with keystones over three pairs of French doors on the first floor.

“It is regrettable that the original stone facade has been removed,” the inquest said.

“The rest of the building, however, retains its historic character,” the survey states. “This structure served as the first territorial capital. It is an important part of the national monument.”

He notes that Gem Saloon, operated by Hynson and Harper, stood on the site in 1862. Excavations for a new stone building began in 1864. The building also served as the Stonewall House Saloon, the Virginia City Lyceum, where the young men could read magazines. and “enjoy the use of a small library” for $5 per month. It also served as a haberdashery, grocery store, and liquor store. When Virginia City became the territorial capital in 1865, the second floor of the hall was chosen as the meeting place for the Legislative Assembly and the “Council and House met here many times”.

It also served as a clothing store, first known as Greenhodd, Bohm and Co.

However, the weather was not kind.

“The building is in need of renovation,” the report said, citing cracks in the walls, water damage and an “irregularity” on the second floor.

Boardwalk in Virginia City, Montana

The Wallace Street promenade is lined with historic storefronts and fancy boutiques in Virginia City’s National Historic Landmark District.

Meagan Thompson, The Montana Standard

Allen said studies found that Virginia City, which he said was the No. 1 state-owned tourist destination, has nearly one million tourists a year and has an economic footprint of $75 million. . It also supports 1,200 jobs.

He also said the proposal would cost Montana taxpayers nothing. However, fundraising efforts are underway and the commission has raised nearly $500,000. He said $350,000 was needed to stabilize the building and $900,000 to make it operational for the public.

Fundraising efforts are carried out through the Montana Heritage Commission and its nonprofit organization, the Montana History Foundation. The commission voted on March 4 to acquire Stonewall.

Governor Greg Gianforte thanked the parties involved for their efforts.

“This donation is incredibly generous,” he said, adding that the building isn’t in its best shape right now.

“It’s pretty much a stiff breeze to be a pile of bricks,” Gianforte said. “So we have to deal with it and hopefully collect that money and fix it this summer, or as soon as possible.”

“It’s amazing that the Montana legislature has met there for 10 years,” Gianforte said, adding that he was moved by the photo of the legislature meeting in that room.

“There were cunning characters back then,” Gianforte said. “The only difference is that there is less facial hair today.”

Alison LaFever, a representative for the trust that owns the building, reiterated her family’s intention to donate the building and support the restoration project. She said they acquired the building in 2010 and it was then in a state of disrepair.

They tried to buttress and stabilize “but it became clear we were in over our heads”.

LaFever said they began looking for other options to restore the building, but as private owners, the grants available were limited.

They wanted to find a solution to benefit the community and save the building. They approached the heritage commission in 2017.

“I’m very happy to be here today to finally find a solution that, above all, is the best thing for the building,” LaFever said.

Allen said Gianforte became aware of the building several months ago and lent his support with the salvo that no taxpayer money be used. He said Gianforte was confident funds could be raised elsewhere.

“He was mostly the one calling people to donate,” Allen said, adding that $660,000 in private donations had been raised in the past month.

The Gianforte Family Foundation, a nonprofit charity established by the governor and his family in 2004, has pledged $100,000, Allen said.

Renovation costs are estimated at $1 million and Allen said they hope the money will be raised by June.

Allen said there was some support for the governor’s comments about the territorial legislature having crafty characters.

He said they had done some archaeological digs behind the building and a few things had struck them as odd: they had found pairs of cleats and people’s teeth.

Allen said they thought it was weird and took the teeth to a dentist, who told them the teeth had been knocked out.

Allen said lawmakers apparently will settle political battles by donning cleats and marching behind the building for a bare-knuckle fight.

Chere Jiusto of Preserve Montana — a nonprofit organization that works to save Montana’s historic places, traditional landscapes, and cultural heritage — told the land board that this proposal was a sound one and they could rest assured that he would there was a good path to success.

Stonewall Hall Flyer.jpg

“This is a legacy project, this vote today will ensure that one of the most important buildings in Montana’s history can be saved for the people of tomorrow,” she said. , adding that people would cheer them on.

Gatewood, the mayor of Virginia City, told the council – made up of the governor, attorney general, state auditor, secretary of state and superintendent of public instruction – that the parties involved realize that this opportunity to save Stonewall Hall not to return.

He said the progress made so far has been remarkable.

“Let’s keep Montana’s oldest courthouse standing,” Gatewood said.

To donate to save Stonewall Hall and other historic buildings in Montana, go to https://www.savemontanashistory.com/.

Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.