Thursday, June 16, 2011

Garnet Ghost Town

During the weekend trip to Seeley Lake, we also had the chance to visit an old Ghost Town in the Montana mountains. Garnet, once a booming mining town with a population of around 1,000 is now home only to the rangers who protect it. There has been some work done to clear out the surrounding forest to make it less susceptible to forest fires, and different groups have come up to reinforce the remaining buildings to preserve this wonderful witness to frontier life.

The town started in the 1880s I believe. As the name suggests, it was a mining town, although they were mostly interested in gold. While the town had four stores, four hotels and a booming 17 saloons, it still managed to be more family oriented than many of the other towns around. This is made evident by the building that I found most fascinating: The Newlywed House. I'm not sure if the whole sign will be legible, but basically a wealthy man built this house for the use of newlyweds. They could live here rent free until their own house was built, or until the next couple got married. Pretty cool if you ask me, although, despite having it's own two seater outhouse near the back, I'm not sure I'd be very well suited for this sort of living.

Wandering around this place actually made me stop and evaluate what matters in life a bit. I've been reading a blog lately by someone who has stopped buying new clothes. She's been at it for several years, and shares a lot about ways to declutter life. Having spent several years out of country, I know what it means to live with little. In Hong Kong I had about a 6 by 6 foot space to call my own. With one suitcase and whatever I could buy as a volunteer, I learned to live with little. But all along I knew I had at least two bedrooms full of stuff at home. Every time I return from life abroad I cut down, but the thought of living in these cramped, cold, dirty quarters chills me. What would these people think if they saw an episode of any of the design shows on HGTV that I enjoy so much? It would be like traveling to a completely different world to them. Really makes me think.
Well, enough of my soapbox, back to the town. Walking around between the little buildings it also made me think of how much these people had to rely on one another. Living out in the boondocks in those days was beyond tough. It was hard to get supplies in, despite the lovely local stores.

I was amused to see that they had Hills Bros Coffee, which I enjoy even today in mocha form. But mostly life's pleasures were of a simple nature for these hard working people. They had to take care of one another, to really live in community if they were to survive the hard Montana winters. The trails between houses were well worn, and no doubt everyone knew everyone's business. Including who used the back stairs to visit the ladies' parlour at the finest saloon in town.

It's kind of tragic to me to think of how isolated we have become in this world of social networking. We might know exactly when our "friends" have gone to the shopping mall (apparently sometimes leaving themselves open to thievery by the detailed state of their affairs) but more often than not we don't know anything about the people living right next door. While I have no choice but to know my neighbors, seeing as how my sister lives next door, and the people on the other side are chatty and friendly, this is the first time since leaving my parents home after high school that I can make such a claim. And while I would naturally ask my sister for a cup of sugar, I'd be hard pressed to ask anyone else around for anything except in the most dire of circumstances.
Really didn't think I was going to get so deep on this Ghost Town post. Who knew?
Anyhow, I'll move along now that I've put some thoughts in motion. Along with the various and sundry shacks that remain, and some information that is known about the old dance and community hall, or the store house relics, the most impressive building in the town was and is the hotel. This place was a work of art, completely out of touch with the rest of the village. The woman who had it built and owned it wanted it to be just as fine as if it were in a major city, and I would say she succeeded. After seeing the relative squalor that the common people lived in, it was almost shocking to see the luxury she managed to maintain in this fantastic lodge. I imagine many of the women experienced envy at the thought of the beautiful wall paper and fashionable furniture that decorated this place of convenience for outsiders, as well as housing the occasional miner who paid for a spot on the third level to roll out his sleeping mat on the floor or a little cot.

There was a story displayed there about the woman who came to be the cook. She arrived at the last coach stop before the town only to learn that there were no more rides to town for the night. She was supposed to start work the next morning, so she walked some 8 to 10 miles in the dark in order to be there to get food on the table in time for breakfast. Another reminder of how hardy these people were. They wouldn't outsource all their production to China in order to save money and line their pockets. They'd work hard to see to it that they took care of their own. Wow, bandwagoning again. What's gotten into me? Maybe I've been hanging clothes for too long and am finally just needing to get it out. I think I'm still trying to deal with American entitlement culture shock, and just haven't had a whole lot of chances to process it. But, not ever really enjoying being political, I'll try to reign myself in a bit.
After seeing all the town had to offer, we also checked out some of the old mining area. They didn't dig deep holes down into the earth, but mostly made trenches and searched through the quartz for those valuable veins of gold. A few remnants remained, but it was obvious that the frenzy has long since gone out of this place.

And so we had an amazing opportunity to step back into the past and really contemplate the way people used to live. It's an incredible gift really. Eye opening in more ways than one. After living in Europe with it's ancient castles, and history that is still evident stretching back before the birth of America, it's nice to have at least a small chance to see some of what America was built upon. These were brave and daring souls. Far from perfect, as evidenced by the number of saloons, and the jail cell that was reportedly used most often to house drunks while they slept it off, but they knew the value of the land and their community in ways that we have largely forgotten with all our technological advancements. If there ever were some disaster that wiped out our technical capabilities I'd be totally at a loss for how to survive. I see the way they live and it makes me cringe. I love electricity and my ever expanding closet of clothes, not to mention my cell phone, digital camera, and computer. I have enough trouble cooking on a modern stove, and where would I be without a comfy bed to sleep in?
There is so much more to life than we realize. So many things to contemplate, to see, to learn. I hope I never close my eyes to all there is to experience where ever in the world I call my home.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for the inciteful and enjoyable cyber tour. we live only 90 min from there and have never stopped since we always have another destination goal. We will make this a destination this summer.

Transient Drifter said...

It's totally worth the trip. Glad you enjoyed, whoever you are :)