Mining in Beaverhead County

Hecla Smelter, Glendale, Breaverhead Co (p84 54-19)

Hecla Smelter at Glendale, 1984

Beaverhead County is so huge; it comes as no surprise that its landscape encompasses so many significant Montana themes.  But I found out in 1984, and then again during historic preservation workshops in 2012, that Montanans do not think as Beaverhead as mining company. In the book A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986) I emphasized the Glendale site (above).  The smelter was enlarged and improved once the Utah and Northern tracks reached Melrose, in Silver Bow County, in 1881.  The town once had 3,000 residents.  Between 1881 and 1900 the Hecla Mining Company produced some $22 million in ore, but by 1904 the ore had been mined out and Hecla ceased operations.

IMG_3522  When I returned to Glendale in 2012, I made sure to take a replica shot of the place I had photographed almost 30 years earlier.  But I also went father and did my best to document a mining landscape in danger of disappearing in the 21st century. Below is an image when the Hecla smelter was in full production.

Glendale smelter photo at Canyon Creek Kilns 4There are some intact buildings at Glendale, but also numerous parts of buildings, facades and foundations that convey how busy the Glendale Road was some 100 years ago.

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One resource that needs more study is the Glendale cemetery, located on a low hill that overlooks the ghost town.  Access is through private land, and I have not gotten a close look but what can be seen from public right of ways tells me that the cemetery is a valuable historic site, a place of memory for those long gone from this land.

Glendale cemetery

Glendale cemetery 1Hecla Mining Company operated 28 kilns at a site a few miles away.  Within the Beaverhead-Deer Lodge National Forest, the Canyon Creek Kilns are a remarkable property, preserved and now interpreted through the efforts of the U.S. Forest Service.  The Forest Service should be commended for this effort. As the images below suggest, this property is one of the best places in Montana to stop and think of the mining landscape of the turn of the twentieth century and imagine what a moonscape it would have been 100 years ago when the kilns consumed all of the surrounding timber.

The public interpretation at the site is impressive.  It explains how a kiln was constructed, what a kiln did and how the wood was prepared.  It also ties the history of this site to the larger operations of the Hecla Mining Company at Glendale.

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The Hecla works, and the recent preservation and interpretation of these sites, are just the beginning of the mining history of Beaverhead County.  Next up? the ghost towns of Farlin and Argenta.

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