Mining Industry

Tour curated by: Christopher Gray

Mining significantly impacted Montana’s history and shaped the built environment. The first Montana Gold Rush in the early 1860s set the stage for massive change. Upon the discovery of gold, boom towns soon dotted the territory and drew many people of various ethnic groups to the area to work claims and supply the miners. While early mining camps grew organically in conjunction with topography and resources, later town leaders platted market towns with orderly business districts and residential areas.

Mining impacted more than settlement patterns. A few lucky individuals made fortunes from silver, copper, and gold. Well-connected men such as William A. Clark and Marcus Daly shaped the social, economic, and political environment of the state. Their wealth affected the built environment, too, as they supported the construction of lavish mansions, churches, hospitals, educational facilities, and company homes. The mining industry itself became such a great economic asset to the region that the state used Enabling Act funds to establish the Montana State School of Mines in Butte in the late 1880s.

Railroads played a major role in the growth of Montana’s mining industry. Gold, silver, and copper mining towns served railroads such as the Union Pacific and Northern Pacific with destinations to which they could expand their service, and the ample supply of coal in Montana provided a steady source of fuel and product. Railroads knit the towns of the state together and provided Montanans with unprecedented mobility and access to products and information.

Few industries proved as important to Montana’s growth as mining, and in a few key areas this importance is written on the land.

Locations for Tour

The spectacular gold deposit discovered in Alder Gulch on May 26, 1863, led to the rapid growth of this colorful and legendary gold camp town. Thousands of fortune‑seekers rushed to the area, and by 1864 the Virginia City area boasted 30,000…

The hasty construction of this remarkably preserved early dwelling reflects the excitement of the gold rush to Alder Gulch during the summer of 1863. Its original dirt-covered pole roof predates the first saw mills; the roof was later covered over…

Philipsburg’s early-day fortunes ebbed and flowed with mining. Today, its historic district is one of Montana’s best preserved late-nineteenth-century mining towns, with commercial, public, and private buildings dating from the boom period of…

The crooked path of Last Chance Gulch, weaving between original mining claims, memorializes Helena’s chaotic beginning as a gold camp in 1864. Within a year of the placer gold discovery, a boomtown flourished, with homes and businesses in tents and…

Gold dust was the common currency when George Higgins built this sturdy “fire-proof stone” business block circa 1866. F. R. Merk leased the new building for his mercantile, advertising fancy and staple groceries, liquors, Queensware, woodenware…

Prospectors discovered gold in Alder Gulch, Idaho Territory, on May 26, 1863. Within weeks, the countryside was teeming with thousands of prospectors, but the easily extracted placer gold soon played out. B. F. Christenot, acting independently or…

This first permanent settlement of the gold camp at Last Chance Gulch offers a glimpse of early Helena from the late 1860s to the 1890s. By the 1870s, a Catholic cathedral, St. John's Hospital, two schools, and dormitories presided over the…

The physical link between the earliest settlement of Helena and the ceaseless efforts to fully exploit the area’s mineral potential is nowhere more clearly apparent than in this narrow district, settled on mining claims. After the first local gold…

From the time it was located in 1875 until it was purchased by Marcus Daly and associates in 1879, ownership of fractional shares in the Orphan Girl Mine changed hands faster than the ante in a poker game. The Orphan Girl eventually operated to a…

Miners north of Missoula Gulch struck silver in 1872, and three years later Rollo Butcher located the Alice, one of the richest silver mines on the Hill. Butcher is credited with building the first permanent residence in Walkerville, and the…

It took millions of miles of copper to build the telegraph, telephone, and electrical lines that transformed the United States from a collection of small, isolated communities to a cohesive, industrialized nation. Looming gallows frames and the…

About 1866, a prospector of very small stature, Tecumseh "Pony" Smith, left his nickname attached to the creek where he found gold. In 1875, a settlement bearing his name grew to serve local miners. Pony's early population reflected…

Great Falls founder Paris Gibson was drawn to the power of the falls of the Missouri where he vowed to found an industrial center of “unsurpassed beauty.” Backed by railroad magnate James J. Hill, Gibson hired H. P. Rolfe to plat…

Backed by the powerful San Francisco syndicate of Hearst, Haggin and Tevis, Marcus Daly built the world’s largest smelter (combined upper and lower works) on Warm Springs Creek between 1883 and 1889. Along with the smelters, Daly envisioned a…

John Noyes arrived from California in 1866 and purchased several mining claims just north of today’s Front Street. After he and his partners, including David Upton, “put in a ground sluice,” they cleared “about two ounces [of gold] to the…

A catastrophic fire consumed much of Main Street in 1879, removing traces of Butte’s mining camp past and ushering in a new era of masonry and stone construction. In the 1880s, single miners remained the primary customers of the district’s…

Discovery of rich silver deposits at the Travona, whose head frame still stands at the district’s west end, sparked Butte’s 1870s hard-rock mining boom. Most South Central buildings date from the 1880s and 1890s, after copper had supplanted…

The architectural character of this pleasant district was initially shaped by copper king Marcus Daly. Between 1890 and 1905, Daly's Anaconda Copper Mining Company constructed substantial high style residences for its managers and modest houses…

Rapid growth of the young town of Red Lodge coincided with the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s branch line in 1889. The area became Montana’s leading coal mining region. Town lots were platted by the secretary of the Rocky Fork Town…

The 1865 gold strike on Bear Creek in the Garnet Range drew prospectors from far and wide. The gold that washed down with spring runoff promised rich quartz veins, but without a road and little water for placer mining, the “mother lode” proved…

The Enabling Act of 1889 laid the foundation for the Montana School of Mines, providing for the first federal land grants for the establishment of mining schools. This landmark provision thus recognized the significance of mining industries to the…

Tightly clustered wooden houses built into the steep slopes of the Butte Hill characterize Centerville. Mostly constructed before 1900, the small Queen Anne cottages, hipped-roof workers’ houses, and vernacular gable-roof homes primarily sheltered…

Pennsylvania native John Castner discovered rich coal deposits along Belt Creek in 1870. Within just a few years, he and Fort Benton trader T. C. Power opened a commercial coal mine near here. The partners sold coal for use by the Great Northern…

Copper king Marcus Daly established local logging operations and platted the town of Hamilton in 1890 to fuel his Anaconda copper mining ventures. When Ravalli County was carved from Missoula County in 1893, Stevensville won designation as county…

This historically Catholic neighborhood appropriately takes its name from St. Mary’s parish, which included the Irish communities of Dublin Gulch (since leveled) and Corktown. Known as the “miner’s church,” St. Mary’s scheduled services…

Thirty-nine corrugated metal structures mark the site of the Smith Mine, a ghostly reminder of a once vibrant mining district. The Montana Coal and Iron Company (MCI) began developing the Smith Mine in earnest after the arrival of the Montana,…

Red Lodge Miner’s Local No. 1771 had grown to more than a thousand members when this labor temple was built in 1909. The United Mine Workers of America organized nationally in 1896 and by 1898, Local No. 1771 had 200 members. The building is a…

Riverside served as the summer residence of Margaret Daly, widow of copper magnate Marcus Daly, from its completion in 1910 until her death here in 1941. Daly himself had begun buying Bitterroot Valley land in 1887, eventually owning 28,000 acres.…

Rough-sawn lumber and the use of recycled materials testify to the ingenuity, resourcefulness, and industry of the Gildersleeve family, whose members mined gold and barite here beginning in 1924. The Gildersleeves built these board-and-batten…

Bannack epitomizes the tough, primitive towns that sprang up with gold discoveries. Its story also illustrates a century of survival, through boom and bust periods associated with resource extraction and technological advances. On July 28, 1862,…