Rob Nurre tucked his watch and fob chain in his vest and peered across the counter of the dusty general store at his newest customer, a boy wearing a Spider Man t-shirt. “What’s your pleasure, young man?”
The boy shyly pointed at a glass jar filled to the brim with caramels.
“Excellent choice! That’ll be one gold nugget as payment for your sweet confection.”
The boy handed over a nugget—the size of a grown man’s thumb—and was soon unwrapping one of the homemade caramels which had been a popular hit among customers coming into the store that day.
Nurre and the gold spray-painted rock were just two of the attractions which resurrected the tiny town of Garnet from the dead on June 27 for the annual Garnet Interpretive Day, which is hosted by BLM and the Garnet Preservation Association. Nurre played the role of Frank Davey, the town’s last known permanent resident. Davey passed away in 1947, long after Garnet reached its peak as a mining town in 1898 when it was populated with 1,000 residents, 31 businesses, and 13 saloons.
This year, more than 700 people were drawn to the cluster of buildings nestled in the mountains 35 miles east of Missoula. Some came hoping to glimpse a ghost walking the streets of the abandoned mining town; a few came to learn more about the preservation of Montana’s history; and others came for the hand-made candy, ice cream and old-fashioned games like the egg toss.
On the porch of Davey’s General Store, visitors were treated to cups of vanilla ice cream, hand-churned by volunteers decked out in period garb. The frozen treats were cooled by ice chipped from 100-pound blocks which employees from the BLM’s Missoula Field Office had harvested from area ponds in February, then insulated in sawdust and stored in the cool back room of the store.
Dick Fichtler, outdoor recreation planner with the Missoula Field Office, said the ice cream social—a new addition to the program this year—was one of the most popular features of the day.
Earlier, an attentive audience gathered to hear Louis Adams of the Salish-Kootenai Tribe talk about the centuries of Salish culture in the area. Other activities included a gold-panning demonstration, guided tours of the town led by interpretive ranger Brian Woolf, a pie auction, and a strolling minstrel who crooned cowboy songs on the main street.
Fichtler said attendance at the ghost town’s annual festival was up by more than 200 from recent years. Days like this, he noted, can have a lasting effect on its participants.
“Events like Garnet Day help provide a personal linkage with our past, and by establishing that personal link, we create a deeper appreciation for our historic sites and our collective past. Our goal is to give visitors here a total immersion in history.”