Simply Nahala

Writer. Photographer. Soul Traveler.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Garnet Ghost Town

I've always been fascinated with the "Wild West" and love visiting ghost towns. It's an opportunity to get a glimpse back in time. A piece of history still intact. There is also something mysterious about places that once bustled with life and for different reasons were abandoned. Each ghost town has a story to tell through the remaining structures, artifacts, and residual energy.

Miners' Cabins

Garnet, Montana was founded in 1895 by skilled workers who brought their families to carve out a life in the wilderness. It was named after a semi-precious ruby-colored garnet rock that was first mined in the area before gold was found. By 1898, Garnett was a booming gold town with nearly 1,000 residents. The establishment had four stores, four hotels, three animal stables, two barber shops, a union hall, a school, a butcher shop, a candy store, a doctor's office, an assay office, and thirteen saloons.

Animal Stables

Garnet continued to grow rapidly over the next ten years due to the surrounding mountains that were rich in gold-bearing quartz. Garnet was well known by the miners for its numerous saloons and the liquor flowed freely. After the mining "boom and bust," the residents of the mountain top community began to migrate. By 1910, there were only 150 residents. In 1912, a fire destroyed many of the commercial buildings. By 1920, Garnet was a ghost town. Although, there was a brief occupation in Garnet after President Roosevelt raised gold prices from $16 to $35.

Warming House Near Garnet

In 1934 there was a new wave of miners who moved into the abandoned cabins and began re-working the mines. During this time there were 250 residents. However, the onset of World War I drew the population away again and the post office closed for the last time in 1942. A few hardy residents remained, including Frank A. Davey who owned the general store. After his death in 1947, much of Garnet remained intact. Then souvenir hunters began taking artifacts from the area such as doors, stained glass, woodwork, etc until the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Garnet Preservation stepped in and started managing the area.

J.K. Wells Hotel

Many people claim that Garnet is actually haunted and when the sun sets, the spirits of the mountain town become active. Many visitors and volunteers have seen apparitions and heard unearthly noises especially during the winter months. The one building that felt a bit dense to me or some may say "eerie" was the J.K. Wells Hotel. After the hotel closed in the 1930's, Frank Davey moved into the kitchen and lived there until his death.

J.K. Wells Hotel Kitchen

There were a number of miners who died in the mine shafts and tunnels. Apparitions of these minors have been spotted all over town and in the hills near the mines. Two well known ghosts in town are Frank Davey and a women who was executed by Garnet officials for murdering her lover. She can often be seen in the Wells Hotel and wandering the streets.

J.K. Wells Hotel Room

On Paranormal Montana blog, Lance Foster wrote about Kerry Moon, a fire control chief employed by the BLM. In the 1970's, he managed a fire crew during the summer months and stayed in Garnet during the winter months to watch for vandalism and theft. Moon described his experience as follows:

"You could hear activity in the town almost anytime of day... During daylight you could hear the sound of horses and men and wagons, regular activity that would have taken place back then. At nights, especially for some reason on Wednesdays, you could hear the sounds of partying-singing and dancing and laughing, lights in windows, and even honky-tonk music."

Inside J.K. Wells Hotel

While walking on the dirt paths of Garnet, I was so enamored with the beauty of the mountains and what it must have been like to live there during its prime time. Nestled at 6,000 feet in the Garnet Mountain Range between Helena and Missoula, it was no easy trek to get in or out of Garnet especially during the colder months. Horse drawn wagons and horse drawn sleighs in the winter were the modes of transportation.

Rustic Living

It's a wonder how the Montana settlers stayed warm. Like most mining towns, Garnet wasn't built to last. Many of the buildings lack foundations, yet still stand today. The miners' cabins all have dirt floors and large cracks between the logs. Outhouses were a way of life for all Garnet residents. The Hanifen house, built by Hugh Hanifen in the early 1900's was unique in that it was built with vertical boards instead of the typical logs. This was a symbol of a fine home during the Victorian Era, but a dwelling with ten foot ceilings was difficult to heat.

The Hanefin House

Today, Garnet is still managed by the BLM and the Garnet Preservation Association, a non-profit group. The ghost town is open year-round. However, access is limited to snowshoes, cross-country skis or snowmobiles in the winter. Vehicles are allowed on the road from May 1 through January 1, weather permitting.

Garnet Outhouse

If you are interested in sleeping with the Garnet ghosts, the BLM has two historic cabins for rent during the winter. Cabins are available December 1 to April 30. Neither cabin has electricity or running water. You can stay warm next to a wood burning stove and have lighting by using propane lights. There are outhouses and potable water located near both cabins. To learn more about Garnet cabin rentals, visit the official Garnet Ghost Town Website.

The Dahl Cabin can sleep up to six people and rents for $40 per night.
The McDonald Cabin can sleep up to four people and rents for $30 per night.

Interior of Miner's Cabin

There are two ways to access Garnet, one from Highway 200 and the other from Interstate 90. I would recommend the route from Highway 200 especially if you have a larger vehicle. The route from Interstate 90 is steep, twisty, and precarious. There is not enough room for two vehicles to pass so travel slow if you take this route.

Garnet Cabins

Once you reach the parking lot, there is a $3 per person fee for those over the age of 15. This revenue helps to protect and preserve the integrity of Garnet Ghost Town. There are group tours available through the BLM, but must be scheduled in advance. Visit the official Garnet Ghost Town Website or call the BLM at (406) 329-3914 to schedule a group tour.

Garnet Mountain Wildflower

Below are some more photos from 
Garnet Ghost Town:

Peering In

Bird Nestled in Cabin Rafter

Nicely Rustic

Garnet Mountain Wildflower

Garnet Mountain Tranquility

Garnet Mountain Wildlife

Garnet, Montana 1895-1942



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