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Witness to History: The Remarkable Untold Story of Virginia City and Nevada City, Montana Paperback – December 1, 2011
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From the Inside Flap
Witness to History, by Virginia City Curator Emeritus John D. Ellingsen, is a delightful and often moving book, unusual among writings on the Gold Rush era of Montana and the West. It is part history, part memoir, and part passionate essay about the importance of historic preservation.
The book details the origins of Virginia City and Nevada City -- their rough beginnings and their glory days. It also offers a unique perspective on the restoration and saving of Virginia and Nevada Cities by a man who has dedicated his entire life to that cause. More than two dozen historical photographs help to tell one of the most significant stories of historic preservation in the western United States.
About the Author
John D. Ellingsen is a native of Great Falls, Montana. He has a Masters of Arts and Applied Arts degree from Montana State University. Ellingsen has won numerous awards for his work in historic preservation, including a lifetime achievement award from the Montana Preservation Alliance, the Governor's Award for historic preservation, and a special award for preservation from the Department of the Interior for his work at Garnett Ghost Town. Since 1972 he has worked as curator in Virginia City. At present, he is curator emeritus. Ellingsen lives in Nevada City, Montana.
Top customer reviews
Reading this book is both a delightful and insightful experience. There are actually two stories to relate: the gold rush heyday of Alder Gulch, and the meticulous recreation and preservation of the mining communities by Charles and Sue Bovey. Ellingsen stays pretty close to the "accepted" history of the gold rush days, though he does hint that there is some room for argument with the official version of the "road agents versus the vigilantes" account.
Engaging as the book is up to this point, it becomes captivating as Ellingsen discusses his adolescent obsessions with history and historical architecture, and then his meeting Charles Bovey, who eventually became his employer and mentor. Bovey was an heir to the General Mills fortune who left the family business to pursue his dreams of being a rancher in the American West. His passion eventually led him to rescuing and restoring vintage buildings. He first put these on display in his "Old Town" exhibit in Great Falls, then moved them to the all-but-barren Nevada City townsite, which adjoined Virginia City, where he'd been purchasing and restoring deteriorating buildings. Charles and wife Sue were rare individuals, giving their all to the cause of historic preservation, and they found a kindred spirit in John Ellingsen. Ellingsen had already been living his dream, restoring the ghost town of Garnet, when Bovey offered him full-time employment at half the salary. "Personally, I could not have care less," Ellingsen says of the pay, "I felt that the opportunity...was priceless."
And it's a treasure for readers as well, an opportunity to get acquainted with the people who selflessly reconstructed and preserved these historic communities. The only other book I know of that gets to the heart of Alder Gulch in this manner is Dick Pace's "Golden Gulch," a fitting companion to this new book. Ellingsen's book is augmented with a combination of familiar and rare photos, as well as many fine drawings from the author's own hand.
If you've never met John Ellingsen, attended one of his slide presentations or walking tours, this book will introduce you to one of the kindest, most modest, and most knowledgeable of historians you might ever have the pleasure of meeting. And while it may be selfish of me to say so, I hope Mr. Ellingsen will let this book stand in for him now and then, because I want to read that next book he's working on.