Tags

, , , ,

Geoff drove us the 50 miles from Helena to Elkhorn State Park, home of Elkhorn village late Saturday afternoon.

This mountainside town dates back to the silver rush of the late 1900s. The Elkhorn mine was discovered in 1870 by Peter Wys, a Swiss immigrant. He did not benefit much from his discovery, as he died two years later. As the mine produced 14 millions dollars in silver (contemporary values) over the next few decades, this seems rather hard.

At its population peak, the town housed 2,500 people but by the 1970s it was nearly completely abandoned. Two buildings, the Fraternity Hall and the Gillian Hall, both community meeting houses, were bought by Montana and became the basis of the Elkhorn State Park.

This is the front of the Fraternity Hall. It's a very well built wooden structure (as is its companion, the Gillian Hall) and must have looked pretty impressive in its heyday. Even now, it and its companion overshadow the remaining houses in Elkhorn. All of these are privately owned. Some are wrecks, some are restored to a greater or lesser extent with signs of habitation. Some are new, but still of the wooden log construction of their decaying neighbors. Tree logs are the most abundant building material high in this mountain valley.

Inside, the building is bare and stark. There are holes in both ceilings and roofs and the wind made an unearthly flapping noise as it blew through the building. Bat droppings have accumulated in corners, doubtless these buildings make fine roosts.

A solitary chair sat in the sunlight on the upper floor of the Fraternity Hall. Why was it there? A rest for the ghosts of this town?[/img]
This is the front of the Gillian Hall. There is an upstairs floor to this building too, but the staircase must have been outside, for there was no evidence of any steps inside. If there was, the stairs are gone.

Like its companion, the Gillian Hall was empty of contents. No attempt has been made to turn either of these buildings into museums. This certainly preserves the ghost town ambiance but it's a lot of space that could have made an attractive and informative museum.

Even the wallpaper has been left to decay.The absence of any internal lighting made for intriguing blends of shadows and light. One example is the chair above. Here's another.A gravel road leads away from the town further up the hill. This takes us to the water tower, essentially a giant wooden barrel that is now assuming a tilt worthy of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Further up the road we found the cemetery. If the ghosts congregate anywhere these days, it's going to be here. The plot lies on a curving hillside, dotted with trees and as unkempt as many an English country church graveyard. The many pines effectively shadow the whole cemetery; this is an area that itches to return to wild.

However, there were signs of recent human activity as this foam polystyrene cross covered with dried flowers on the grave of a child shows.

There are many children's graves here. A diphtheria epidemic starting in the late 1880s killed many. It's so sad to see such brief lifespans recorded on these stones.Below is a particularly sad and poignant marker to two girls aged 3 and 5 years who died within two days of each other in 1889.

Some of the plots had been taken over by pine trees. Interestingly, although there was evidence that pines elsewhere on the cemetery grounds had been cut down over the years, these trees were left to grow unimpeded. New life from old, perhaps, a marker of the perpetual cycle.

Below, a couple more derelict buildings from Elkhorn village.Finally, the evidence of the town's rebirth. A new mine is open, no doubt driven by the economics of today's very high commodity prices. But just how open became questionable later as we talked to Taylor in the Boulder bar later that night. Funding has been scarce and the operations are on hold. Elkhorn's ghostly past might just be revisited.

Advertisements