An afternoon drive along a gravel road in the High Ore Gulch will lead you to a true Montana ghost town and a piece of its history. As one nears the town, remnants of a once thriving mining community pop out among the looming sagebrush and dry terrain. The silence speaks volumes, accompanied by the voices of the tumbling cabins and abandoned mill.
It all started around 1869 when John W. Russell located a claim in the area. The rich lode wasn’t developed until a few years later after Russell had sold the claim to the Alta-Montana Company. They got things rolling by building a 40-ton per day concentrator. However, early mining efforts showed little profit as high costs of transportation, equipment and living expenses took their toll. In 1883, the Helena Mining and Reduction Company bought the struggling business and constructed a new smelter in nearby Wickes, Montana. At first, ore was transported by wagon to Wickes, but a year later, a rope tramway began to carry the heavy loads. When the Northern Pacific Railroad branch line opened between Helena and Wickes, mining operations began to grow.
The town of Comet was officially surveyed and platted in 1876. The first post office opened in 1877. By the 1880s, Comet and Wickes held a combined 300 people. Comet was once home to a school with 20 pupils, numerous homes and businesses and of course, it’s fair share of saloons. By 1900, the ores had started to play out and by 1913; the town was described as a ghost town. A revival came about in 1926 when the Basin Montana Tunnel Company took over operations and built a 200-ton concentrator. Described as “the most modern in Montana”, the mill became the second largest mining venture in Montana, after Butte. The local mines would go on to produce over $20 million in silver, lead, zinc, gold and copper. Work continued off and on until 1941. People started moving away and the town became a ghost once more.
Comet still holds much intrigue for the local adventurer. The two-story boarding house can be seen on the left hand side of the “main drag”. Miners could find room and board here for 75 cents of their average work day wage of $4.00. On the right hand side of the road you can view the old mill and bunk house. Many cabins and their scattered remains still dot the 12 block radius of the town. Home now to just one family, the town’s current population is 3. As is the case with many of Montana’s ghost towns, Comet has been victim to vandalism, bad weather and time. Comet has been neither preserved nor restored and many buildings are collapsing into disrepair. But, even as the town fades away, the memories and stories live on. For now, the wind still whistles through the cracks of yesterday’s old buildings.