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Missoula Field Office
Release Date: 09/22/10
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Garnet Ghost Town Placed On National Register

The Garnet Historic District was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places, bringing to a close an effort which the Bureau of Land Management’s Missoula Field Office began more than 20 years ago.

With its addition to the National Register on Aug. 12, the ghost town joins more than 1,000 other historic places in Montana. Nationally, the more than 80,000 properties listed in the National Register represent 1.4 million individual resources—buildings, sites, districts, structures, and objects. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological resources.

Efforts to place Garnet on the National Register date back to 1987 when a draft nomination was submitted to the State Historic Preservation Office by Bureau of Land Management archeologist Jerry Clark.  That draft was returned with a request for revisions and additional information and documentation. Over the years, the nomination was worked on sporadically, but ultimately it never met SHPO’s standards for a recommendation of approval.

Last year, a concerted effort was made by individuals in the BLM’s Missoula Field Office to place Garnet on the National Register by addressing all of SHPO’s concerns. Working in cooperation with John Boughton of SHPO, the nomination was presented before the state historic review board in January where it was approved for forwarding to the Keeper of the National Registry in Washington, D.C.  After a several-stage process which involved multiple agencies at the state and national levels, the nomination received approval from the  Keeper of the Register on Aug. 8.

“It’s been a long and twisting road and we are extremely happy to see Garnet finally take its place on our nation’s honor roll of treasured historic sites,” said BLM historian Allan Mathews.

Garnet Ghost Town is located in the northernmost tip of Granite County, nestled in the Garnet Range of the Rocky Mountains, about 40 miles southeast of Missoula, and 14 miles northwest of Drummond. At its peak, more than 100 years ago, Garnet was a thriving gold-mining town with numerous hotels, a newspaper and assay office, two barber shops, a meat market, several general stores, a blacksmith shop, a jail, a stage stop, and almost a dozen saloons.

As the gold played out in the early 1900s, the once-prosperous town slowly slipped into a deep sleep until New Deal policies of the 1930s, which supported a doubling of the price of gold, resulted in mines reopening and several hundred residents returning to Garnet.  The revival was short-lived and restrictions on the private use of dynamite applied at the onset of World War II dealt Garnet a death blow.  Frank Davey, Garnet’s last full-time resident, passed away in 1947. Though never producing the tonnage of gold that its contemporaries at Bannack, Virginia City, Helena or Butte did, Garnet took its place as the last of the 19th-century Montana “boom” towns associated with the American dream of “striking it rich,” and became the predominant mining center of the Garnet Range. The ghost town is now publicly owned and managed by the Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM implemented a preservation program in 1972, which entailed stabilizing buildings within the Garnet town site.        

The National Register nomination process included detailed descriptions (including measurements), photographs and individual histories of 182 resources, as well as an assessment of the historic integrity of each of the resources and a determination as to whether the resource was “contributing” or “non-contributing” to the historic fabric of Garnet Ghost Town under the requirements of the National Register.

Maria Craig, an archeologist with the Missoula Field Office, documented the physical descriptions of the resources and boundary justification, while Mathews wrote the history and statements of significance necessary to meet the National Register criteria.  Of the resources documented in Garnet, 79 buildings, 55 sites and 48 structures were found to be “contributing” and only four buildings were determined to be “non-contributing.”

Fifty of the seventy- nine contributing buildings were constructed before 1900; eight between 1900 and 1912, and the remaining nineteen during the mining revival of the 1930s. The National Register nomination notes that “all extant buildings are good examples illustrating basically unaltered vernacular architecture typical of mining towns in the late 19th and early to mid 20th centuries.”

Mathews said he’s especially pleased with the National Register designation because it will give the ghost town a higher national public profile, which could lead to more funding for stabilization and restoration projects.

“It may increase visitation numbers because many tourists focus on National Register sites,” he said. “It will remind people and agencies, from this point on, of the importance of preserving this nationally-recognized historic treasure.”

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Missoula Field Office   3255 Fort Missoula Road      Missoula, MT 59804  

Last updated: 06-28-2012