Garnet Ghost Town, Montana

Garnet Ghost Town is one of Montana’s best preserved and conditioned ghost towns and pioneer settlements. Although some gold miners had been working in the Garnet Range as early as the 1860s, it wasn’t until the mid-1890s when thousands of desperate miners were suddenly unemployed as a result of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Garnet Montana ghost town overview

Garnet Montana ghost town overview

Garnet Ghost Town is one of Montana’s best preserved and conditioned ghost towns and pioneer settlements. Although some gold miners had been working in the Garnet Range as early as the 1860s, it wasn’t until the mid-1890s when thousands of desperate miners were suddenly unemployed as a result of the repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act.

Garnet Ghost Town, Montana Ghost Towns and Mining Camps

Garnet in the Winter

Garnet in the Winter

In 1895 Dr. Armistad Mitchell built an ore-crushing mill at the head of First Chance Gulch, around which grew a town – initially called Mitchell. By 1887, however, the moniker was switched to Garnet, in honor of the semiprecious, ruby-colored stones located in the nearby hills and valleys.

By 1898, when a plentiful vein was struck at the Nancy Hanks mine, not quite 1,000 people lived in Garnet. At that time, Garnet was a fairly modern and eclectic settlement, consisting of dozens and dozens of cabins, a doctor’s office, an assay building, a union hall (hosting what was even regarded as one of Montana’s best dance floors), thirteen saloons, two barbershops, four stores, four hotels, and much more. Many miners brought families with them to Garnet, so the social life was reputedly a bit more civilized than in many other Montana gold and mineral camps, commonly associated with vigilantes and lawlessness.

Garnet Ghost town

Garnet Ghost town

Such is the story of most boomtowns: buildings were constructed quickly and cheaply, and bereft of sturdy foundations. Come 1905, most of the gold had been exhausted and only 150 people remained. Garnet gradually slipped into darkness, notwithstanding a short resurgence of mining in the Great Depression era of the 1930s. Most of the buildings have since collapsed, although several of the 1800’s structures remain intact more than one hundred years after being built up. The Bureau of Land Management works with the nonprofit Garnet Preservation Association to save and stabilize the remaining structures, including the essential, three-story J.K. Wells Hotel, built in the winter of 1897 on a wooden-post base.

Today, visitors to Garnet Ghost Town, in addition to the old hotel, will find several newer buildings. Two 1930s-vintage cabins are available for rent during the winter, making the ghost town a popular destination for cross-country skiers and snowmobile enthusiasts. The cozy, wood-stoved cabins are bare-bones and delightfully primitive, with firewood stacked directly outside. Another great time to visit is during the preservation association’s annual fundraiser, the Hard Times Dinner and Dance, usually held in the summertime.

Garnet Ghost Town Directions, Information

To get to Garnet Ghost Town, which some old-timers claim is a veritable ‘ghost town’ actually haunted and occupied by specters, turn onto the well-signed Garnet Range Road near the 22-mile marker on Highway 200 east of Potomac and travel about 11 bumpy miles. The road is closed to wheeled vehicles between January 1 and April 30, when it turns into a snowmobiling and cross-country skiing cross route. For additional information contact the Bureau of Land Management at (406) 329-3914.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have a 1904 photo of Garnet store fronts, horses/wagons, muddy street. This was taken by John W. Fraser, a prominent land owner and owner of 27 breweries, funeral home and cigar store in Missoula. His most notable brewery was “Old Faitful.” I am willing to donate to a museum, if you are interested.

    I can email the photo for preview if interested.

  • The third picture is not of the Garnet Ghost Town, it is another Ghost Town in Montana called Bannock.

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