Old West Larnin’

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Old-fashioned swing outside a one-room schoolhouse built in 1867.

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There was a gold strike in the 1860s at Alder Gulch in central Montana.  It drew thousands of miners, who panned and dredged an estimated $30 million worth of the precious mineral.  At first, camps consisted of tents and primitive brush shelters, but soon small towns sprang up around the merchant trade.  The boom also drew Confederate sympathizers who schemed to send gold back to their people in the last days of the Civil War.

Fast forward 150 years.  The mining heyday lasted about ten years; people moved away and the towns fell into disrepair.  But history lovers have put two back together so the public could see the Old West in person.  Today one of the small downtown areas close to Alder Gulch is the popular Virginia City, where you can see Boot Hill above the main street and learn of vigilantes who went after cattle thieves (and be entertained by musicals, homemade ice cream, old time music machines and souvenier shopping).  The other is Nevada City, an outdoor living history museum of 90 restored buildings.  Here children and adults alike learn about pioneer life and the events that shaped it.

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Among the general store, livery, bootmaker and other structures stands a one-room schoolhouse which was dismantled from the town of Twin Bridges.  It is the oldest standing school in the state.  Beginning in 1867, pupils walked past the red door to read spellers, practice arithmetic on slates, and learn cursive writing. 

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In the next three months, a wooden sidewalk will lead thousands of visitors past the schoolhouse and other buildings which, combined, teach of a different time and way of life.  Thanks to the State of Montana, which owns it, and the Montana Heritage Commission, which keeps it going, the larnin’ goes on.

 

 

 

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