Garnet, one of Montana’s lesser known ghost towns, dates back to 1895 and is located outside East Missoula. Named for the ruby-colored semi-precious rock, Garnet became a booming mining town when minors discovered gold in the surrounding mountains.
Homes, saloons, a school, and a jail were all hastily erected, many without foundations. Garnet remains Montana’s most intact ghost town. Here are a few spooky reasons to add Garnet Ghost Town to your list of Halloween festivities:
Garnet died – twice
Garnet became a ghost town twice, making it extra spooky. When the town was about 20 years old, the gold ran out. The population dropped from 1200 to 150, and in 1912 a fire raged through Garnet, taking several businesses with it. Eventually, the job opportunities that arose during World War I wiped out Garnet’s remaining population.
In 1934, gold prices soared once again during President Roosevelt’s term. Miners returned to Garnet’s abandoned buildings hoping to strike it rich. During World War II, the mining industry was met with dynamite restrictions, making it more costly and difficult to mine. Garnet was abandoned and suffered a second and final death in 1940.
In 1898, Robert Moore built the Kelly’s Saloon, which was bought by L.P. Kelly later that year for $1500. It was one of 13 bars in the small mining town and was known for its “male-oriented” entertainment. Today, the sound of music and laughter can be heard coming from the old saloon, even in the middle of winter.
According to the Huffington Post, Ellen Baumler, a Montana Historical Society ghost specialist, and author, wrote this about Kelly’s Saloon: “Late at night, the spirits of Garnet come out to play in the moonlight,” Baumler wrote in Montana Chillers. “Sometimes, in the deep winter quiet, a piano tinkles in Kelley’s Saloon, and the spirits dance to ghostly music. Men’s voices echo in the empty rooms. But the moment a living, human hand touches the building, the noises stop.”
In 1897, the Wells Hotel was owned and designed by Mr. and Mrs. Wells, who owned a hotel in nearby Bearmouth. With its intricate woodwork, massive oak staircase, and impressive carved wood and stained-glass entrance, the hotel is legendary for having been appointed much like luxurious hotels in Helena from the same era.
Ms. Baumler told the Huffington Post in an email, “I have heard several people tell about experiences in the hotel. [Bureau of Land Management historian] Allan Mathews and others have seen a woman [in] one of the upstairs rooms in the hotel, gazing out the window.”
Visitors of the long-abandoned hotel have also reported the sound of footsteps and phantom doors closing.
Visit during the winter – if you dare
For some reason, ghostly activity seems to peak in the “dead” of winter. Maybe that is when mining slowed down, and the town really came alive. Winter visitors have reported ghostly figures dressed in old-time clothes and footprints in the snow that go into buildings, but don’t come out.
You can stay in Garnet Ghost Town
If your inner ghoul is intrigued and wants to learn more, you can stay in Garnet Ghost Town – if you dare! The Bureau of Land Management rents out two primitive cabins when the ghosts are reportedly the most active – December through April. Garnet is remote, tucked into a valley shadowed by surrounding hills, with no wi-fi, cell service, or electricity. The cabins are heated with wood stoves and illuminated with propane lights. Because Garnet is not open to motorized vehicles in the winter, you must snow-shoe or cross-country ski into the ghost town and cabins. (Note: Due to demand, cabin reservations are awarded through a lottery system. The last day to apply for a reservation is the first Friday in November.)
Garnet is open year-round, daily from 9:30am-4:30pm, but has limited road access during the winter and spring months. During this time, visitors park in a designated parking area and hike, snow-shoe, or cross-country ski into the ghost town. Visit the Garnet Preservation Association to learn more.
Kat Hobza has lived in Montana since she was nine and was raised in the mountains west of Victor, Montana. There, she learned to hunt, fish, shoot competitively, chop and stack firewood, and drive on icy and muddy roads. Kat has over two decades of experience in professional writing, content, and digital marketing and is a marketing consultant for Glacier Sotheby’s International Realty. When she’s not working, she’s either hanging with her hilarious adult kids or soaking up the sun somewhere – a riverbank, a golf course, or her deck. You can contact Kat through her business website, Way Easy Marketing.
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