Have you ever wanted to step into a Wild West town from the 1800s – without getting into a shootout in the process? Put Virginia City, Montana on your list and spend the night at Elling House Inn.
The Elling House Inn is a bed and breakfast located one uphill block off the main drag, an easy stroll to all of Virginia City’s attractions. And there are a lot of those. It’s a restored mining town that had its heyday in the 1860s and 1870s, when some $30 million in gold was extracted (the equivalent of more than half a billion bucks in today’s dollars). The population peaked at 40,000 back then and Virginia City was the state capital for 10 years before it moved to Helena.
After the boom came a hard bust, however, and by the time the Great Depression hit a few decades later, there was almost no reason to stick around. Virginia City became a ghost town and many shop owners just walked away, with all their inventory still inside the building. Eventually a preservationist named Charles Bovey began buying up the historic buildings and preserving or restoring them. Some became commercial establishments to serve tourists who would come visit, others function as museum displays, showing how they looked in the boom years. After he died, the state took over and now the buildings are maintained by the Montana Heritage Commission. The city has been a National Historic Landmark since 1961 and many of its buildings are individual landmarks as well.
There’s plenty to see and do in this area, but if you spend the night here you can go to one of the two local theaters for a show and hang out in one of the saloons that will take you back to the old days. There are are several hotels and small inns in the area, but Elling House Inn is a great option if you want to keep the historic vibe going. German-born Henry Elling made his fortune here as a banker and built this stone mansion in 1876. His wife Mary added a ballroom in 1902 and that addition is still used today for music performances, benefits, and art shows run by the foundation.
There are only a few rooms for guests in this large house, so you certainly don’t feel crowded. With several sitting areas around the home, you can pick a public room to have to yourself as well, or sit outside in the flowering gardens.
Each room has a comfortable queen bed and its own bathroom, with plenty of space to stretch out. Ours had a sitting area with a rocking chair, a big armchair, and a steamer trunk coffee table. Period antiques and books about the area provide a nice sense of place. Baths are stocked with toiletries, good towels, and a hair dryer. The chocolates in our room upon arrival were a welcome touch too.
You’ll eat a delicious breakfast in the morning served by one of the caretakers/managers, who are friendly and hospitable. It is advertised as a continental breakfast when you book a room, but it’s a hefty one. Our selection was toast or English muffins with local huckleberry jam, ham, hard-boiled eggs, fruit, cereal, and pastries, plus good coffee or tea.
The setting for our breakfast was as good as the meal: a sunroom porch area that’s yellow and cheerful. The rest of the day it’s a great place to journal, read a book, or rest your legs while talking about all you saw in town that day.
Parking is free on site and the WiFi worked well in our room. I took a walk up the road a little to a darker area and the dark sky was clear enough to see the Milky Way. It’s very quiet at night here when all the day trippers have left.
The Elling House Inn is as imbibed with history as Virginia City itself and is a great place to spend the night if you like bed-and-breakfast spots with museum-level furnishings and plenty of character.
Rates start at a shade less than $150 double with taxes, which is a good value. See info and photos at the official site, but you can only inquire through e-mail or phone there. If you want to reserve a room online, follow this direct link at Booking.com instead.
Review and photos by editor Tim Leffel, who was hosted at Elling House Inn by Southwest Montana Tourism while researching a travel story for another publication. All opinions are his own.