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Virginia City, Montana

Virginia City Courthouse to get facelift 
Story and Photos By Perry Backus of The Montana Standard

November, 2003 

Virginia City Courthouse
The Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City has withstood the test of time, but is in need of repair if officials want to preserve the 125-year-old building. See related story from February 2003.

Montana's oldest operating courthouse in Virginia City should get some help in the form of a $250,000 federal grant toward restoration work. The grant is part of a $50 million package for Montana projects in the Interior Appropriations Bill. The bill has passed both the House and Senate, but hasn't yet been signed by the president.

Dedicated on July 4, 1876, the Madison County Courthouse in Virginia City has survived earthquakes and a major fire in its 125-year history, but weather and time have taken their toll. Already strapped for cash, Madison County was struggling to come up with the funding to get all the necessary work completed.

"We're slowly losing this building," said the county's grant writer, Kim Miller. "We're beyond the point we can just slap on some paint. To maintain the historical integrity of the building, we need to do some restoration work."

Initially, the county hopes to restore the most weathered portions of the building, including restoring the woodwork around the windows, refinishing the black walnut interior banisters, repairing the soffit and fascia and sealing the outside brick. An electrical upgrade is also planned. 

Miller said it is unclear how soon the county will receive the funding, although it appears it could arrive sometime around the first of the year. That should give officials time to start asking for bids and preparing for the summer work season.

The county will have to come up with a way to match the $250,000 grant, said Miller. The total project is estimated to cost about $552,000.

"We're going to certainly be looking for private support to help with the cost of the match," Miller said. "We certainly wouldn't have been able to get this grant without the help from the congressional delegations."

Madison County Commissioner Ted Coffman echoed that sentiment.

"This is really a good deal for Madison County," Coffman said. "We appreciate the work the delegation did in putting this together. There is a lot of work needed to be done on this old courthouse."

The Madison County Courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1966. Virginia City, where the courthouse is located, is one of the most important historic sites in the nation due to the role it played in the expansion into the Western United States.

"This is great news for the people of Madison County," said Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., in a press release. "These funds will ensure the Madison County Courthouse will be around for future generations to enjoy."

Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., said in a news release that the $50 million earmarked for Montana projects in the appropriations bill will help in a variety of venues throughout the state.

"We've got lots of land in Montana," said Burns. "It takes a lot to keep it up, and this funding will protect some important areas of our state, provide rehabilitation of critical structures in Yellowstone Park and support research of new technology to improve our environment through energy development and responsible management. I'm happy we were able to keep these funds in the final version of the bill."

The appropriations bill includes funding for $5.9 million for restoration of the Old House at Old Faithful, $1.8 million to for Yellowstone snowcoaches and infrastructure, $1.3 million for a whirling disease study and $200,000 for a Montana Tech study of extremophilic life in the Berkeley Pit.

Copyright Perry Backus and the Montana Standard, reproduced by permission.

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