We drove a hundred of miles out of our way in the summer of 1997 to visit Virginia City, Montana, the place where my great grandfather, J.E. Thompson, and his brother William Boyce Thompson were born. There’s a museum there that celebrates the history of what used to be called Alder Gulch. My kids had never been so bored in their lives. We had to leave. Unfortunately, when we came out to look for the car, my wife had left in it.
I tried to engage the boys in a game inside the museum: Let’s look for daddy’s name. Unfortunately, there was very little inside the museum that belonged to William Boyce Thompson. Most of the items were donated by three other families. The elderly curator inside, who didn’t seem at all interested in the fact that Boyce Thompson was my namesake, couldn’t identify anything that belonged to him either.
My kids exhibited mild initial interest in the many old rifles inside. The kitschy petrified wedding cake, promoted in brochures, failed to exite. Since we didn’t know anyone in the faded old photographsl, there wasn’t much interest in those either. The one thing that did momentarily capture my sons’ imagination was what’s been described as the eponymous limb of “Club Foot” George Lane.
We did learn that William Boyce Thompson provided the money to build this fireproof building in 1916 to 1921. The building was intended to be a tribute to his father, William Thompson, and his wife’s father, Richard O. Hickson, according to the Montana Historical Society. William Thompson built many of the buildings in Alder Gulch. William Boyce Thompson grew up in the small home around back.
There’s a library upstairs that was started by the Virginia City Women’s Club in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, it was closed the day we visited. A carpenter, Jim Elmsie, started the collection of artifacts early in the 1900s. It is currently maintained by the Vigilante Club of Virginia City, which was founded in 1938, when there was a movement to divide up Madison County.