“Montana’s Silver Queen” now sits idle some 8,000 feet above sea level. In its heyday, the town bustled with a couple thousand residents. They worked hard but played hard too. Locals could hit a home run on the baseball team, toot their horn in the brass band, take a spin around the roller rink or waltz the night away on one of the Northwest’s finest dance floors; made of marble and located on the second floor of the Union Hall. A stiff drink was available at one of the 18 saloons and ladies awaited their men in the Red Light District.
It all began in the early 1870s when Eli Holland made a silver discovery near the peak of Granite Mountain. One story says that Holland was trailing a wounded deer while hunting and the creature kicked up a piece of silver with its hoof, giving Eli a helping hand. Others say that the tale is unlikely. In any case, Holland got the claim although it would be a few years before any further progress would be made.
In 1880, Charles McLure, the superintendent of the Hope Mill in Philipsburg found a piece of ore he thought had potential. The chunk assayed at 2,000 ounces of silver per ton. McClure partnered with Charles Clark and upon finding funding from St. Louis investors, formed the Granite Mountain Mining Company.
Popular folklore tells us that the big silver boom almost never happened. Investors were antsy after not seeing any results from the Granite Mountain Operations. A message arrived from St. Louis by telegraph to Butte. The message stated that operations were to come to a halt immediately. An express rider tried to deliver the message but a snowstorm delayed him. Back at the mountain, money was running low and hopes were dampened but the last blast of the day would reveal the beginnings of a 406 foot vein of silver imbedded ore. They sent their own message to St Louis and the reign as one of the richest mining sites in the west, began.
A 20-stamp mill was built in Granite and soon, a 2nd one with 80 stamps. The company started leasing lots for $2.50. Before long, miner’s homes and several businesses lined the ridge. Banks, churches, a hospital, a bath house, restaurants, a weekly newspaper, hotels and a post office served the needs of the town folk.
An additional 100 stamp mill was built in nearby Rumsey that received ore from Granite via an 8,900 foot tramway. A second company started by McClure, the Bimetallic Mining Company would build a 50 stamp mill that would double in size to receive ore from another one of the mountain’s rich discoveries. To connect the Bimetallic to the Blaine Lode, a two mile long tramway was constructed.
Another victim of the silver panic, in the summer of 1893 town residents left with whatever possessions they could transport. The mine and the town would go on to make a major comeback a few years later. Estimated total production of Granite and Bimetallic operations is upwards of $30 million.