Preston Sheldon is credited for discovering the first vein of silver in this area in 1872. Rumor has it, he named the mine “Old Elkhorn” after finding a pair of elk horns nearby. Not long after, more veins were discovered and more miners arrived to take on the task. As with many mining towns, transportation was soon discovered to be quite a challenge. In the beginning, ore was shipped by bull teams to Corrine, Utah and then shipped by railroad to other locations to be processed. The next challenge were the severe, Montana winters that forced many to retreat to lower elevations until the deep snows melted away. Despite the obstacles, numerous mines still managed to make a profit, especially after railroad transport reached nearby Silver Bow in the early 1880s. But, even the little camp that could, couldn’t survive the silver market crash in 1893. Mining activity fell silent for nearly ten years.
It was William R. Allen, former Montana Lieutenant Governor who would break that silence. He began buying claims in the area in 1911 and a couple of years later, established The Boston-Montana Milling and Power Company. Plans for a rail line were laid out. The settlement started humming again and was named Coolidge after Allen’s friend, Calvin Coolidge. The community hadn’t seen the last of tough obstacles, however. World War I broke out and financing was scarce. The rail line was eventually completed in 1919. It was the state’s last narrow gauge track to be laid.
In 1922, a new mill was completed at the cost of $900,000 and a 65,000 volt power line to run the mill for $150,000. Unfortunately for Allen and the locals, the mine couldn’t produce enough ore to pay for the cost of construction. As silver prices plunged again, so did production. By 1923, operations had gone into receivership and Allen lost everything.
The mill operated off and on during small intervals from 1923-1953. Once a town with a school, post office, company store, pool hall, company offices, living quarters and 350 residents; Coolidge once again stands silent except for the winds wheezing through the tall trees and the boards creaking on the old buildings falling into ruin.
Allen may have lost his fortune on his vision for Coolidge mining but, he never lost his determination. He continued searching for investors until his death in 1953.