Ghost Towns

granite4It takes a long time for a town to give up the ghost. Take Bannack, for example: established in 1862, Montana’s first mining town had run out of gold by the 1880s, and yet the town clung on. Determined, hard-headed prospectors kept the town alive even after it became a state park in the 1950s. The last residents left Bannack in the 1970s.

Or look at Virginia City: Prospectors discovered the Alder Gulch gold field-one of the richest placer gold deposits in history-in 1863. By 1875 the town was little more than a shell. But, as the children’s song says, the cat came back. Steam dredges gave the town some life from the 1890s to 1937. The town was virtually dead by the 1940s and ’50s when the Bovey’s started buying up property and importing ramshackle huts, then, with a flourish, the town reinvented itself as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region.

Bannack lives through the floods of people that visit it each year. Virginia City lives because it replaced mining with a new economy and industry: tourism. A few towns lack much in the way of economy or industry, but still refuse to die: Marysville, Rimini, and Pony are all ghost towns with non-ghostly inhabitants. The few residents live comfortably amid a profusion of abandoned and historic buildings. Montana is chock full of ghost towns, some with modifiers-living ghost towns, working ghost towns, preserved ghost towns-and some that need no other description. A school house, grave yard and only a few dilapidated husks of homes mark the site of Farlin, a mining town that once prospered in the Pioneer Mountains. Only badgers and ground squirrels tunnel around the sprawling ruins of Comet, once the second largest mining operation in Montana. In Granite, on the crest of a hill so hard they couldn’t dig holes to bury their dead, only the gaping maws of shallow foundations mark the place where three thousand people once worked, lived, played, and prayed.

The ghost towns of Montana are stark memorials to the state’s boom and bust cycles, but even the deadest of towns still bear the promise of those same booms and busts.  Abandoned once before, the town of Coolidge was erected in 1914 with the recovering silver prices.  As its counterparts, Coolidge slowly gave up its ghosts and sits today an unkempt and scattered collection of decaying structures waiting for a venturesome soul to happen upon its skeleton, bringing the town whirring back to life — for that is the nature of the Boom and Bust.

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