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.