VIRGINIA CITY, Mont. -

Virginia City is a town frozen in time. Businesses and buildings look and operate like they did a century ago.

Virginia City Creamery is no exception.

"It's a lot of fun to make the ice cream this way," said owner Mark Weber, about the antique system he uses to make his famous chilly dessert.

Weber uses a pulley system and large metal tins surrounded by ice and salt in wooden barrels to churn his ice cream.

It's that kind of history that draws crowds in the summer.

"The experience is what we really want people to leave with here," he said. "Everyday I stand with the machines and explain as much as I can about the history of ice cream and how it's made."

Preserving Virginia City's rich past is the work of the Montana Heritage Commission, an arm of the Montana Department of Commerce.

The Heritage Commission paid $6.5 million for many of the town's historic buildings and artifacts in 1997, and turned Virginia City into a state-operated ghost town.

"We're just here doing a little cleanup, getting organized, and excited about getting started," said John Benedict, who runs the Opera House down the street from the Creamery.

The Opera House is One of the buildings the state purchased. Benedict, a long-time contractor and resident of Virginia City, is readying it for the upcoming season. He and business partner Bill Koch took it over from a string of unsuccessful operators.

"We're going to attempt it again, and try to bring it back to its former glory," Benedict said.

Weber said it has taken years, and the dedication of several local businesses and Montana Heritage Commission to restore Virginia City back to its former glory.

"It seems like it took a long time to get where we're at, to get where we're running in the black and get everything moving smoothly," he said.

The town has definitely seen its struggle, but Weber said he feels like it's finally getting to the point where it's the most successful it has ever been.

And he's just hoping things can stay that way.

In early May, a group of state lawmakers visited Virginia City to get a better idea of how the town operates and current preservation efforts.

"It looks to me like they've done a lot of good with the resources they had," said House District 43 Representative Duane Ankney. "I'm impressed with what they've done."

But legislators said there's more to do, like securing more funding and increasing advertising efforts.

"Just on the trip we've found out things that maybe we can work on -- better signage, better communication. Nobody's disagreed with that," District 38 Senator Jim Keane said.

The ultimate goal is to preserve the town's charm, share its rich history, and help businesses flourish.

"We're just trying to do the best we can, and I think the state can do a better job," Sen. Keane said, adding, "How we get there? I'm not sure."

While lawmakers are focused on looking at long-term issues, business owners are making sure this summer runs smoothly.

For now, Virginia City will stay the way it is, but legislators plan to keep an eye on the community's future by possibly conducting a study on Virginia City, Nevada City and Montana Heritage Commission.

The draft of the resolution for the study is still in its initial stages, and would need to be passed in the 2013 Legislature to happen.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the discovery of gold in the Virginia City area.