Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

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Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

Post by arieshiker » April 30th, 2020, 11:53 am

As noted in my TR on photographing the covered bridges and ghost towns of Oregon, the project encouraged me to explore the idea of chasing after Montana’s historic mining/ghost towns.

This report will be about how that enterprise went, which was mostly smooth and efficient, occasionally not so much. I'll make this my last report of these old adventures since I heard some parks might soon be re-opening, and I hope it isn't too soon.

First off, I bought a book on Montana’s Ghost Towns and read it thoroughly. Then I located most of the towns on a highway map. When you remember how big a state Montana is, and look at where all the towns are circled, an initial thought could easily be “umm, well, maybe not.” Then again, if it’s adventure one seeks, convenience hardly enters into the thinking. Most are close to something; a few are not.

So off I went - five different trips between 2008 and 2012 - to find and photograph 20 out of roughly 25 remaining towns. In my earlier report on Oregon I suggested Montana had about 50 and I got to about 35. I was only off a lot, but will be correcting the numbers in this report on Montana’s “old” places. And I can barely grasp it was that long back. Where does the time....?

Part of my “plan” was not only to find the ghost towns, but I also had other things in mind to do both for exploring Montana and for finding a few hikes and seeing some of Montana’s cities and towns. Over my trips I stayed in Ennis, Dillon, Bozeman, Anaconda, Drummond and Lewistown plus a few different area campgrounds.

In addition to the mining towns, I also visited, over the long period, several of the Nez Perce Trail sites from the famous march led by Chief Joseph in 1877. Seeing parts of the route and being close enough to look off in the distance at the terrain they encountered, it was hard not to be impressed (and saddened) with their courage and endurance. My last stop was the Bear Paw Battlefield just south of Chinook, Montana, where Chief Joseph surrendered most of what was left of his people with the “...I will fight no more forever” speech.

There were numerous other roadside attractions requiring short stops, as there always will be on long journeys.

The mining/ghost towns I didn’t get to now number two, but in reading recent updates on a few of the places, they’re not worth visiting any longer as time and vandals have decimated whatever was remaining. The twenty I did get to were mostly awesome, one or two with only a few minor remnants still in place, and a couple were even in a state of being “reclaimed” by people with money and little else to do I guess. I can think of better places to have a summer or winter home, but to each their own.

The quest certainly did introduce me to what Montana looks like up close and personal. As spacious as much of Oregon can be, Montana can be ultra-empty in spots. Except for the views. No matter what road you’re on or direction you’re heading, there seems to be at least one mountain range off in the distance. And I did say “at least.”

When you come to a ranch entrance on a lonely stretch of back road, and you can’t even see the ranch house it’s set so far back on the property - that’s large land. I’m not sure I could ever get used to that. “Turn right just past mile marker 167, then drive fifteen miles and you’ll see the house a mile or so up ahead.”

A few of the towns required parking in a lot and hiking up to a mile and a half to get to the site.

A few had parking close by, but the sites were so large and filled with things to explore, that you were there walking all around for a couple of hours. A few were still moderately active at something, so street parking was the option (no meters) and more walking was in store. A few towns had buildings you could enter and see some of what life was like at the time. A few others you entered at your own risk.

A couple are very much tourists attractions as opposed to “only go if you really want to see an old mining/ghost town” kind of deal. Virginia City and Nevada City just south of Ennis are among the former. I’m not sure I’d like to explore those places in season. I had both places pretty much to myself, both from time of morning I went, and time of year. As I was leaving tour buses were starting to arrive.

Bannock is a short distance south and west of Dillon, and is perhaps the premier old mining town in the northwest. It used to be Montana’s capital and apparently was once scheduled to be razed, but locals saved it to gain state park status. A great move by the locals. I also got there right as the park was opening, off season, and had the place to myself for a full two hours before anyone else arrived. That meant for two hours I was able to walk the lone street up and back with houses and stores lining both sides with no one photo bombing any of my photos.

Two hours and I had over 300 images of about fifty buildings, several of which you can enter and most all of those were worth entering. Bannack is much like Bodie in California or Barkerville in British Columbia. Well preserved buildings and history of an area. There is also a really nice campground down among the cottonwoods at Bannack as part of its state park persona. Just up the road after you leave Bannack is another ghost town - Coolidge. Another of the sites rapidly losing its structures to time and weather and requiring a short hike to the site.

All together I have 454 images of the ghost towns and 40 of the Nez Perce sites. I have no idea how many miles or days this whole thing took because it was spread over five years.

I’ll attach several images of the ghost towns with this and try to come back later and post some more ala marckesc’s magnificent Arizona photo-fest. But for sure, not all 454, that might cost me posting privileges for life and then some.
CoolidgeGhostTown (11).JPG
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GraniteGhostTown (11).JPG
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Mammouth (10).JPG
CastleTown (12).JPG
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CastleTown (10).JPG
BannackHistoricTown (71).JPG
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BannackHistoricTown (12).JPG
BannackHistoricTown (7).JPG

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Re: Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

Post by pablo » April 30th, 2020, 12:42 pm

That was/is an ambitious undertaking, I look forward to more photos of your explorations. I look at old buildings like this and wonder what were they like new and what the feelings of the last occupant were when they closed the door and left for the last time.

In the late 40s my father purchased an abandoned home called the Stoddard House in Silver City, Idaho - paid like $500, fully furnished. In my youth I spent summers there around houses, buildings and old mining residue much like you show here. Some of my best memories.


The future's uncertain and the end is always near.

Posts: 153
Joined: December 3rd, 2009, 3:19 pm
Location: Goldendale

Re: Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

Post by arieshiker » April 30th, 2020, 12:51 pm

More from the old places
PhilipsburgHistoricTown (1).JPG
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Hall (4).JPG
Hall (1).JPG
Zortman (9).JPG
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Zortman (12).JPG
Landusky (7).JPG
Landusky (4).JPG
Kendall (7).JPG
Hilger (2).JPG

Posts: 153
Joined: December 3rd, 2009, 3:19 pm
Location: Goldendale

Re: Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

Post by arieshiker » April 30th, 2020, 1:11 pm

and more. Thanks Paul. I've had Silver City on my bucket list for a long time.....either the road is snowed over or under construction. I envy you that one. These old places are just amazing with so many unknown stories.
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PhilipsburgHistoricTown (14).JPG
PhilipsburgHistoricTown (11).JPG
PhilipsburgHistoricTown (10).JPG
PhilipsburgHistoricTown (3).JPG

Posts: 153
Joined: December 3rd, 2009, 3:19 pm
Location: Goldendale

Re: Montana Ghost Towns - report of yesteryear

Post by arieshiker » April 30th, 2020, 4:11 pm

These will be the last images from Montana Ghost Towns....Virginia City and Nevada City. The towns are located close to each other and involve quite a bit of walking - and stopping. The main highway goes through the middle so it's good to be there when there's no traffic and no one on the streets if you want this kind of photo ops. If you have the time and inclination, I can't say enough about these places.
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