Virgelle, located a few miles off of Highway 87 between Fort Benton and Big Sandy, offers a step into Montana's history, including homesteader days and a unique ferry.
Virgelle was founded in 1912 by Virgil and Ella Blankenbaker, a hub for homesteaders. Over 40 years ago, Don Sorensen and his business partner Jimmy Griffin took control of the land and manage the property.
“It’s at the edge of the earth and people get here and they go, well, ‘Where am I at?’ And I tell them, 'You can't drink the well water.' This is like a third world country. Welcome to Virgelle!” Don added, “How long am I going to do this? If I can't answer the question at the end of the season with as much enthusiasm and interest as when I started it 40 years ago, that it's time to get out of the business.”
Business is booming in the antique shop and at the inn. Options to stay in the bed and breakfast or in the rustic cabins on the lot. The town of Viregelle is no larger than a city block, its southern hospitality is what brings customers back.
Continue half a mile down the road and you’ll be stopped by the flowing waters of the Missouri River. The only way to continue is to drive your car on the ferry. The Virgelle Ferry can hold 45,000 pounds. It not only serves tourists visiting Central Montana but it serves those in the farming community looking to cut down travel times from main roads.
Beverly Terry is a second-generation ferry operator; her mother ran the ferry after they moved to Montana in the 1960s. She has raised her family on the very land she grew up on.
“I have two grandsons, and they're doing the same things in almost the same areas. So, it's just kind of fun to see it going down generations. It's quite an experience to be able to live in a little piece of God's paradise," she shared.
Virgelle and its ferry get visitors from all over the area and the world. Patrick Paine is no exception stating, “You get more experience if you go off the beaten path and this is one of them, that is it. Just a great little experience that a lot of people don't know was even here.”
The Virgelle Ferry is one of three ferries along the Missouri River in Montana, which are maintained by Chouteau and Fergus counties. The other two are Carter Ferry, 27 miles north of Great Falls, and Stafford-McClelland Ferry, located 16 miles north of Winifred.
The Virgelle Ferry is open Monday-Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sunday between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. If you need to get across, ring the buzzer and there aren’t many instances where you won’t be able to get across.