Saving Stonewall Hall
Montana's oldest surviving territorial capitol building!
Pat Jacobs - Architecture, Engineering
Josh Hicks - General Contractor
CJ Bailey - Benchmark Masonry
Shane Hope - Archeological Research
Jim Jarvis - Historical Research
Structural Work October 2023
Time lapse video of preservation through September 2023
Structural Work July 2023
Archeological Work Spring 2023
Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Plan
Created in April 2023
(click the upper-right arrows to view in presentation mode, print, or download)
Preliminary Testing Report
Created in February 2023
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Stonewall Hall, located in Virginia City, is Montana's oldest, surviving territorial capitol building!
It was constructed in late 1864 and figured prominently in Virginia City, Montana’s early gold-rush period of development. The ensuing years have not been kind to this historic building. Converted to the Virginia City Garage in 1915, today the building is deteriorated and bears little resemblance to its original stature as a local architectural landmark.
Hopefully that will soon change!
The property was recently donated to the Montana Heritage Commission (MHC) to allow for its restoration. The MHC in partnership with the Montana History Foundation have begun fundraising and stabilization activities. The goal is to remove the 1895 plate glass and brick storefront alteration and restore the building’s handsome 1860s era stone façade, replace the roof, stabilize the rear and side walls, and rehabilitate the severely altered interior.
Hopefully funding is also available to return the adjacent 1925 garage addition to a design that more closely resembles the historic Pony Saloon that previously occupied that site (1872-1924). Once restored these buildings will be added to the collection of historic properties owned by the State of Montana and managed by the MHC in support of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark District and the local heritage tourism experience.
Located near the busy intersection of Wallace and Jackson Streets, the Stonewall Hall building, and its nearby masonry cousin, Contents Corner, reflected the growing architectural sophistication and permanence of the community. By 1865, Virginia City’s local newspaper, the Montana Post, marveled at this rapid pace of change as evidence of “the stability and growing prosperity of our metropolis.”
Stonewall Hall, or more simply, the Stonewall, was completed in December 1864 to much fan-fair and acclaim. It was considered to be a “fireproof” masonry building located in the heart of then-booming Virginia City. The upscale Stonewall House Saloon (fig. 2) was on the ground floor and the second floor was reserved for the Men’s Lyceum Club - a private, members-only reading room. Within a few months, presumably due to a lack of patronage, advertisements in the Post, Montana’s first newspaper, indicated the “hall on the upper floor may be rented for public gatherings”, etc., and the space soon became the El Sol Billiard Saloon Hall (fig.3).
Together, these two large well-appointed saloons, referred to respectively as the “A-No. 1 house in Town” and a “public resort”, allowed the Stonewall building to serve as an events center and public assembly hall for the community. Apparently, the name Stonewall Hall pays homage to its original, high-style masonry architecture and civil-war figure, General Stonewall Jackson, a favorite amongst many of Virginia City’s early residents of southern heritage who viewed him as a hero.According to numerous references within the Post, the second floor of Stonewall Hall was initially used for various legislative proceedings from 1865-67, followed by a subsequent period of use from 1870-74, thereby earning the claim as “Montana’s oldest surviving territorial capital building”.Reportedly, this location was so popular with early legislators, that by December 1866, a doorway (fig.4) was constructed to connect the El Sol directly to the second floor of the adjacent Rockfellow Store on Jackson Street. This second floor “addition” operated for several years as the “Council Chambers” for the body that later became the Senate. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives continued to meet on the second floor of Stonewall Hall, as well as in various other locations throughout the then-booming community. As the de facto territorial capitol building, the Post reported that the Stonewall complex enjoyed “the advantages of these three commodious halls, opening into each other, and avoiding the necessity of passing outdoors”. In addition to meetings of the legislature, and prior to completion of the iconic Masonic Lodge building across Wallace Street in December 1867, this layout offered separate areas for dancing, promenading, and refreshments popular for large social gatherings like the annual Mason’s Ball (fig.5) and various ceremonial legislative functions.
PHASE 1 - Stabilization
Project Kickoff with Departments and Project Stakeholders
Initial Field Investigation
Written Stabilization Narrative
Project Update Meeting/Consultation with MSHPO
Early August 2022
90% documents complete for Stabilization
Mid August 2022
Bid Package for Stabilization Complete
Mid August - September 22
Bidding and Review of Bids
Mid September 2022
PHASE 2 (Tentative) "White Box" (Note: some Phase 3 services may need to occur simultaneously)
Kick-off Meeting with project Stakeholders to define Restoration (Exterior) and Rehabilitation (Interior) Scope
September 2022 - January 2023
Schematic Design and Design Development for Building Restoration and Rehabilitation
February 2023 - April 2023
Construction Documents for Building Restoration and Rehabilitation
Construction Documents Complete
May 2023 - July 2023
Bidding and Review of Bids
July 2023 - July 2024
Restoration and Rehabilitation Construction
PHASE 3 (Tentative) Tenant Finish Out
Design Commences on Interior use and Finishes
Construction Documents complete
August - September 2023
Bidding for Interior Finish Out
October 2023 - July 2024
Construction Exterior & Interior Finish Out
Stonewall Hall was built during a period of intense commercial development on a gently sloping hillside setting along busy Wallace and Jackson Streets. Its prominent two-story massing with wide double doors and transoms, and tall double hung windows within arched openings, was a classic design choice for commercial buildings of this era. Often, the easily accessible first floor was used for retail space, while the upper level was reserved for professional offices, assembly halls like the much-acclaimed Lyceum (fig. 6), or for storage. The threat of fire and loss of commercial buildings, and their valuable inventory, was a constant concern of densely platted, frontier-era communities like Virginia City.
Due to these economic realities, geographic conditions, and physical hazards the two-story building was built of masonry on a narrow lot with no physical separation from neighboring properties. The building was connected at the second-floor level by a doorway leading to the second floor of the adjacent building which housed Rockfellow’s Store.
Stonewall Hall: Chronological Use, Significant Events, and Ownership
Territorial Period 1865 - 1874
Commercial, Legislative, and Social Uses of Stonewall Hall
Over time the occupants and uses for Stonewall Hall have changed frequently. After a brief period in 1865, when the first floor was the location of the Stonewall House Saloon, a succession of retail establishments, including dry goods and clothing stores (fig.9), occupied the space thru 1914. During this initial period, the second floor, accessed by an internal stairway, was used for large public gatherings. These gatherings consisted of meetings of the Men’s Lyceum Club, community dances, and various legislative functions including the 1865 Democratic Convention and the 2nd session of the House of Representatives with the Council meeting in the adjacent Council Chambers, next door on the second floor of Rockfellow’s Store. Acting Governor Thomas Meagher convened this session of the legislature in the spring of 1866.
A public gathering, held in November 1865, reportedly attended by 300 dancers, caused the floor to suddenly fail, drop several inches, and send frightened attendees stampeding down the stairway. As described in the attached newspaper excerpt (fig.10), the floor was soon repaired, and the dance continued. By the 3rd session of the legislature in December 1866, the House had moved to the People’s Theater on Jackson Street, and the second floor of Stonewall Hall became the infamous El Sol Billiard and Gambling Hall, while the Council continued to meet in the adjacent Council Chambers “addition” conveniently accessed by a newly installed connecting doorway.
It appears that the Council Chamber also shared the second floor of Rockfellow’s Store with Ming’s Occidental Billiard Hall. By 1867, the second floor of Stonewall Hall continued to serve as the El Sol with occasional use for large public gatherings such as the Masonic Ball and Festival. It was during this period that the entire complex became known as – Stonewall Hall (from Stonewall House), or simply the Stonewall. It included the first floor “retail space”, second floor “gathering space”, and the adjacent “Council Chambers addition” even though the “addition” was, apparently, owned separately. As a trio of large, interconnected halls, it was well-suited for large gatherings, even during the cold winter months.
During this period or rapid growth and development, larger two-storied buildings, like Stonewall, served many purposes depending on the season (fig. 11). When the legislature was in session, typically for six weeks each winter, saloons and gambling halls were often converted to meeting rooms and gathering halls, or frequented by legislators.
By the earlier 1870s, it appears the second floor of Stonewall was converted to the “Hall of Representatives” where the House met several more times, including for the 8th regular session in the winter of 1874 - the last session held in Virginia City. Following relocation of the capital to Helena in 1875, the economic and social pace in Virginia City slowed drastically, with large spaces, like the second floor of Stonewall and the adjacent Rockfellow Store, converted to simple storage. By the early 1880s, many of these commercial spaces were abandoned. Several wooden structures, especially along Jackson Street, were being demolished for salvage of materials and firewood and to allow for residential encroachment.
Oddly, during Virginia City’s entire territorial capital period (1865-1874), the only space dedicated to regular use by the legislature was the Council Chambers room located above Rockfellow’s Store on Jackson Street (fig. 12). John S. Rockfellow, a prominent local businessman and territorial treasurer from 1865-67, specifically designed and furnished a large portion of the second floor of his newly completed two-story mercantile building so that it could serve as the “Council Chambers”. Apparently, as the treasurer, he felt he could collect a sizeable rent from the annual legislative gatherings. It wasn’t until 1870 that the legislature went to a biennial meeting calendar. Even then, extraordinary, or special meetings of the legislature, were commonly called for by the governor during the “off years”. In 1868, Rockfellow passed away suddenly, leaving his store and related property in the hands of his bother George.
The Council continued to rent the second floor Council Chamber until the 8th , and final, session in 1874. A rare photograph (fig. 13), believed to be taken by local photographer O.C. Bundy, documents the House, or possibly the Council, meeting in this space. It seems unlikely that the interior of the Hall of Representatives, a relatively recent installment on the second floor of Stonewall Hall, would have been finished to this degree of formal opulence. There is brief mention in the January 24, 1874 edition of the Madisonian newspaper, the 1872 successor to the Montana Post, of Bundy photographing the Council during this period. A careful inspection of the US flag, adorning the wall above the legislators, appears to show 37 stars, coinciding with the period from 1867-76. The large number of legislators present behind the railing would indicate the photo is capturing either the 26-member House, or a joint session of the 13-member Council with a subcommittee from the House, plus various officials in attendance. According to the original journals of the Council, such joint meetings were common during this period. Regardless, the image documents the last session in Virginia City of a territorial legislative body meeting in, or adjacent to, Stonewall Hall.
Historical accounts from this period are strangely vague, almost silent, on the actual location of many of these legislative proceedings. However, it can be clearly inferred from casual references in the Montana Post and other publications from the period, including the legislative journals of the House and Council, that Stonewall Hall served as the epicenter of territorial legislative activities throughout this period 1865-74. Even though the territorial legislature met in several locations in Virginia City, it is the opinion of this researcher, that these accounts support Stonewall Hall’s claim as “Montana’s oldest surviving territorial capitol building”.
In contrast to considerable reporting on some topics associated with the territorial legislature, i.e. the comings and goings of early legislators and formal records of legislative actions taken - often of the most mundane of subjects, it appears that early Montana newspapers were embarrassed to acknowledge the absence of an official territorial capital and the common reliance on buildings and spaces intended primarily for other “lower” uses, i.e. saloons and gambling houses, for these important governmental functions.
By the early-1880s, the Rockfellow building, like most of Jackson Street, was abandoned and soon demolished, while Stonewall Hall settled into a much quieter existence as the location of a popular local clothing store. The connecting doorway leading to the former Council Chambers – now a door to nowhere, is still plainly visible along the south wall of the second floor of Stonewall Hall and bears witness to this once-vibrant past.
Architectural Significance of Stonewall Hall to the Virginia City National Historic Landmark District
The ensuing years have not been kind to this historic building. Converted to the Virginia City Garage in 1915, today the building is deteriorated and bears little resemblance to its original stature as a local architectural landmark. Hopefully that will soon change - the property was recently donated to the Montana Heritage Commission (MHC) to allow for its restoration. The MHC in partnership with the Montana History Foundation have begun fundraising and stabilization activities. The goal is to remove the 1895 plate glass and brick storefront alteration and restore the building’s handsome 1860s era stone façade, replace the roof, stabilize the rear and side walls, and rehabilitate the severely altered interior. Hopefully funding is also available to return the adjacent 1925 garage addition to a design that more closely resembles the historic Pony Saloon that previously occupied that site (1872-1924). Once restored these buildings will be added to the collection of historic properties owned by the State of Montana and managed by the MHC in support of the Virginia City National Historic Landmark District and the local heritage tourism experience.