If your adventures bring you to Western Montana then on your must do list should be exploring Garnet Ghost Town. An isolated old gold mining town preserved beautifully in time and an intriguing homage to the past of the American West. Only 30 miles from Missoula, lives a remote, intact ghost town sheltered deep in the forest. Located on Wallace Creek road, the drive is twisty on a dirt road climbing to the elevation of 6000 feet. Upon arrival, you are frozen back in time from the moment you exit your car.
In 1895, people began to settle in this area to mine garnets. Garnet was named after the semi precious stone. One year later, an abundant gold discovery from the Nancy Hanks mine brought miners and their families from all over. It is said the Nancy Hanks mine produced $690,000 in gold and this gold fever pushed the boom town to build. In days, Garnet went from a few minors to over 1200 in the community. Life in Garnet brought wealth and wealth meant more building: 13 saloons, 4 hotels, 4 stores, a butcher shop, a doctor’s office, a school, and the Minor’s Union Hall. The Minor Union Hall doubled as a dance hall, boxing matches, and religious services. Garnet even sported a jail to help keep order from the wild saloons. Stagecoaches ran supplies and people between there to Missoula, Bearmouth, or Deer Lodge. People would arrive late to pick up their gold and stay at one of the hotels for 1 to 3 dollars. For poorer miners they would be given a small crawl space in the attic for a quarter.
By 1905, gold was going dry, leaving only 150 left in the community. In 1912, a raging fire and World War sent most away, despite a brief renewal of gold mining happening in the Great Depression of 1930.
Garnet is one of Montana’s best preserved and least visited ghost towns. Every year there is a festival called Garney Day which occurs at the end of June.
Preservation efforts went into effect in 1970 after looting began. Today the town is ran by BLM, open to public for tours in the summer months. Guided tours are available when staff is on site. Thirty buildings remain, including a log frame cabin, a store, a saloon, and the remains of the J.K. Wells hotel. There are also several miners’ cabins. A visitor’s center is located on site with historical books and gifts, as well as the self guided trails with interpretive signs.
For avid ghost hunters, check out Kelly’s saloon where many have reported laughter and the sound of music being heard.
Many of the buildings will force a chill knowing there is story to be told on each path which leads to it. Garnet Ghost town can be what each visitor expects to find. For some it is the history, others it is the beauty of this frozen- in- time town sitting like a picture in the remote mountains. And for those looking for chill down their spine it is the haunting. Garnet Ghost Town is a true non-commercialized American West experience.