Garnet: The Abandoned Mining Town in Montana

Almost a century ago, the town of Garnet in Montana grew very quickly, thanks to the nearby gold mines. However, its growth was sadly short-lived. What remains today are empty structures and lonely streets. But what happened to this promising, fast-rising town? We try to establish that in this piece.

History of Garnet

Old Shoes Retrieved from Garnet, Montana.

In the 1800s, miners started moving from Colorado and California in search of alternative sites after years of severe mining and exhaustion of minerals. It didn’t take long before they realized the Garnet Mountains in Montana were rich in gold and were perfect for their mining activities.

Garnet’s growth is attributed to the building of a stamp mill to crush the local ore by Dr Armistead Mitchell in 1895. This mill attracted settlers which included mine workers and service providers. The town was initially named Mitchell after the mill’s founder. It was changed to Garnet in 1897 in honor of the precious rubies found in that area.

Immediately after the mill was created by Dr Mitchell, a miner called Sam Ritchey discovered a rich vein of ore a few miles from Garnet at the Nancy Hanks mine, meaning the mill and mine would be very busy. More workers were employed to provide the much-needed labor.

By 1898, Garnet’s population had risen to 1,000. Because the miners had their families with them, it didn’t take long before amenities such as salons, shops, hotels, livery stables, stores, barber shops, a school, and even a doctor’s office were erected there. Most of the supplies used in Garnet were obtained from Bearmouth, a trading post for miners in Granite County.

Why Garnet, Montana, Was Abandoned

Some of the remaining mining cabins in Garnet, Montana.

Garnet’s thriving community was short-lived for a couple of reasons. First, the settlers were primarily interested in getting what was below than what was above the soil. Therefore, the structures built were poorly planned and erected. Nearly all buildings in Garnet lacked/lack a solid foundation.

By 1900, most gold mines were running dry, so the owners leased them to other companies for fear of incurring losses. Fast forward to 1905, three-quarters of the mines in Garnet had been abandoned, and the miners had fled, too. The population, which was once 1000, had decreased to only 150.

Things worsened in 1912 when a fire razed the town, destroying many structures. This was the final nail in Garnet’s coffin, as even the remaining population decided to move to other areas in search of better jobs and living conditions.

In 1934, Garnet started showing signs of revival when President Roosevelt increased the price of gold from $16 to $32 per ounce. Some miners returned to Garnet and occupied the abandoned houses while restoring the mines, but the gold rush lasted only five years. When World War II began in 1939, a considerable amount of the population left Garnet to fight in the army or return to their original homes.

Current State of Garnet, Montana

Today, Garnet is a ghost town. Because most of the buildings were poorly designed, they are in terrible shape. When you visit Garnet, it’s impossible not to see the decaying structures made of wood or brick. The town relies on grants or well-wishers for preservation. For instance, an “Explore Ghost Town” license plate was launched recently. The funds obtained will be used to preserve the old buildings.

On a more positive note, the abandoned town is now a popular tourist destination, receiving around 16,000 visitors yearly. Garnet is a good place to explore, especially for those fascinated with the mining culture. There are also plenty of trails, such as the Placer Trail and Sierra Mine Loop Trail, that are perfect for hiking and learning more about this ghost town. The town also celebrates Garnet Day, usually held on the third Saturday of June. On this special day, visitors enjoy various activities, food and wear costumes.

Fishing is also allowed in Garnet at Elk Creek, about 2 miles away. Hunters can also visit Garnet and enjoy hunting animals such as Mule Deer, Elk, Black Bear, Moose, and Mountain Lions. During winter, Garnet has more than 100 miles of trails for both skiing and snowmobiling.

Can you stay in Garnet?

The Bureau of Land Management has a couple of cabins available for rent. Visitors can stay in these when touring the ghost town. There is also the option of camping.

Is there electricity in Garnet?

Being a ghost town and remote area, there is no electricity or Wi-Fi, and the reception is terrible. There is also no running water.

When can you visit Garnet?

While Garnet is open to visitors all year round, the best time to visit is Fall. That gives you access to all trails.

Here are some more recent pictures from the region.

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