Collections & Artifacts


Preserving such a vast collection of primarily "old west" artifacts is a slow process. As items are documented, they are added to the database. Take a peek for yourself and enjoy learning more about America's past. Click here to view our Collections Gallery.


Historic Bozeman cab stagecoach

Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana are home to over one million Americana artifacts housed in 248 historic buildings. Curatorial Staff research, catalog and manage the collection with the assistance of volunteers. It is the responsibility of the Curatorial Staff to manage the objects long-term physical well-being and safety. Care is taken to preserve the artifacts in their current environment but active use of objects has adverse effects, so some are moved to a secure storage area at the McFarland Curatorial Center. Each object must be identified, documented, and actively stabilized using current museum standards of care. Dirt, debris, and damage are not "patina" or "historic character" and we are removing these dangers, but it takes time, money, and people. It is a slow but very important process that connects the artifacts not only to the general history of the sites and the Bovey family's involvement, but also identifies their national significance.


The objects in the Virginia City and Nevada City collections are irreplaceable. Even those that are less attractive to our modern eyes, or common in antique stores, have value in our collections because they were specifically collected for or used here. Historic value has no monetary equivalent. Whether you see a single artifact that is rare, like the Gypsy Verbal Fortune Teller or a diverse collection, such as the 100+ music and arcade machines throughout the sites, each object is a part of history and needs the appropriate attention. To view our wonderful collection of music machines and hear some play, visit Through research we gain greater understanding of our past and the cultures in which the objects were created.


Our current annual report is available online or you can request a hard copy by contacting us at (406)843-5247.


If you would like to be involved as volunteer, check out the volunteer opportunities available. If you would like to become a benefactor, please contact us. We are always happy to accept donations as well.

Antique gypsy fortune telling machine


Small archaeological dig at the Finney house in Nevada city

The Montana Heritage Commission's Archaeological Program is responsible for overseeing all ground disturbing activities on state property in Virginia City and Nevada City. The Archaeological Program identifies, monitors, and excavates cultural heritage sites, which are threatened by needed construction, repair, or improvement projects. The cultural heritage sites in those cities come in many more forms than just standing historic structures, actually the most valuable cultural resources still remain mostly unknown as they lie beneath the back roads and now empty city blocks.

  The history of the early days of Montana's richest gold placer town still has a lot to tell and the rest of the story can be told through the archaeological record. This usually gives us a better understanding of people's every day lives, which is often not present in historical records. The archaeological record can also give us important information about the prehistory of the sites before the gold rush swept through the gulch.

  As stewards to an important part of our history, the Archaeological Program, through excavations in the summer time, reaches out to the general public about what lies beneath our feet.

  The program is currently staffed with seasonal contracted help when needed. However, the program mostly relies on volunteer help. The Archaeological Program is guided by the Archaeological Management Plan, which details the various steps and procedures. The plan was drafted in accordance with federal and state laws in regards to the protection of Cultural Heritage Resources and other agreements.

  Find out how you can help preserve these precious artifacts by visiting our volunteer page.

Image of Lee and Ruth McFarland

Construction of the McFarland Curatorial Center was completed in 1999 as a major step toward caring for artifacts in Virginia City and Nevada City. This is a year-round facility for the storage, research, conservation, and interpretation of the extensive collection owned by the state of Montana. The building was made possible by a grant from Ruth McFarland in memory of her husband Lee (1920 - 1994). The commissioner's curatorial staff and volunteers are based in this building.

The center operates under a Collections Management Plan that articulates the purpose of the collection and methods of achieving this purpose. It includes the following topics: scope of collections; acquisition policy; loan policies; access to artifacts; de-accession policies; conservation of artifacts; a housekeeping plan for the furnished building displays and other exhibits; inventory and record keeping procedures; access policies; insurance; reproduction and copyright; Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and other laws; education or research collection; and public disclosure.


McFarland Curatorial Center