Garnet Ghost Town
Founded in the 1890s by Armistead Mitchell, Garnet Ghost Town provides an example of the consequences of mining in Montana. Like much of the rest of Montana, Garnet would suffer from the constant boom-bust cycle that came with mining. Garnet saw a constant fluctuation of population, reaching its peak population in the late 1890s. By the end of World War II, mining operations were no longer viable and the town was deserted. Today Garnet is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the Garnet Preservation Association.
Backstory and Context
Garnet, now a ghost town, originally formed as a mining camp in the midst of the 1860s gold rush in Montana. In 1895, the camp became a town, named for Dr. Armistead Mitchell, who created a stampmill to process ore from the Garnet Mountain range. The town was was renamed to Garnet in 1897. By 1898 Garnet had a population of just over 1,000 people. The town boasted multiple stores, hotels, livery stables, a school, a doctor's office, and a staggering 13 saloons. By contrast, Coloma, another mining town a few miles distant, had only three saloons.
Mining gold in Garnet was difficult. Gold was located 40 to 50 feet below the surface on bedrock, meaning that miners often had to drain water out of their shafts with nothing but buckets. Miners had to work in teams in order to build shafts. The most profitable mine in Garnet was owned by Nancy Hanks, who was able to produce over half a million dollars from the gold mined on her property.
The revenue generated from gold mining in Montana encouraged people from all over the world to immigrate to the booming state. For instance, Frank Holmes immigrated from Sweden to the in the 1880s, arriving in Garnet in the 1890s. Holmes remained in Garnet until his death in 1914.
Like other Montana mining towns, Garnet suffered from fluctuating gold prices and a shortage of mineable ore. By 1905, Garnet’s population had dropped dramatically from 1,000 in 1898 to only 150. On top of the dramatic population loss, the town of Garnet would also be struck with disaster. A devastating fire in 1912 caused considerable damage to the town's business district and prompted many residents to leave town. Frank A. Davey, who owned a store and hotel in Garnet, was one of the only businessmen to remain in town after World War One. In 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt increased the price of gold, instigating a short-lived revival of mining in the area. However, by the late 1940s Garnet’s population had dwindled to nothing.
The Garnet Preservation Association has collected oral histories documenting the history of the town. The Association aims to preserve the town in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management. Garnet can be accessed year round, but in the winter visitors have to use skis or a snowmobile to get there. There is a $3 visitor fee.
Crawford, Don L., and Melinda Blanchard Crawford. "Just a Name on a Grave? Discovering the Story of an Unknown Montana Miner." Montana: The Magazine of Western History 60, no. 4 (2010): 50-96. http://www.jstor.org.weblib.lib.umt.edu:8080/stable/27922549.
Cushman, Dan. "Garnet: Montana's Last Booming Gold Camp." Montana: The Magazine of Western History 14, no. 3 (1964): 38-55. http://www.jstor.org.weblib.lib.umt.edu:8080/stable/4516850.
F.A. Davey Ledgers, Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana-Missoula.
Fitzgerald, Frank, "Frank Fitzgerald Interview, October 4, 1999" (1999). Garnet Preservation Association Oral History Project. https://scholarworks.umt.edu/garnet_oralhistory/1
Garnet Ghost Town | Montana's Best Preserved Ghost Town | Missoula, Montana, garnetghosttown.org/history.php.
Mellema, Valerie. Garnet – Montana’s Best Kept Ghost Town Secret, Legends of America. Accessed December 1st 2019. https://www.legendsofamerica.com/mt-garnet/.
Timmons, Marta Amelia, and Kelly J. Dixon. "Coloma Mining District: Gold Mining and Community in Western Montana's Garnet Range." IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology 37, no. 1/2 (2011): 61-78. http://www.jstor.org.weblib.lib.umt.edu:8080/stable/23757909.
View of Garnet, Montana, University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library, Archival Photographs from the University of Montana, https://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll27/id/3409/rec/21
Garnet Ghost Town, University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library, https://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll27/id/4790/rec/10
Adams Store in Garnet, Montana, University of Montana--Missoula. Mansfield Library, https://mtmemory.org/digital/collection/p16013coll27/id/549/rec/17