This week’s featured state park is Elkhorn, a remote ghost town featuring abandoned buildings that once served miners and prospectors during a silver mining boom in the 1890s.
Traveling along gravel back-country roads outside of Boulder, you’ll find Elkhorn, a mostly privately owned town and one of the smallest state parks in Montana.
Did you know?
Three-quarters of a mile up the main road that runs through town (just outside of the state park property) lies the town cemetery where visitors can see the tombstone of Swiss miner Peter Wys who originally discovered the silver veins in Elkhorn Mine!
Rich with mineral deposits, the Boulder Batholith originally drew settlers to the area and led to the establishment of the town of Elkhorn, now considered a ghost town.
The 1880s and 1890s were the most populous times for Elkhorn, drawing around 2,500 residents at its peak, but after the Silver Crash of 1893, the town saw a drop of 75 percent of its population in just two months.
In total, the Elkhorn Mine yielded about $14 million in silver.
Only two original buildings still stand (Fraternity Hall and Gillian Hall), but are surprisingly well preserved and an excellent example of frontier architecture.
While only Fraternity and Gillian Hall are still left, there are markers noting remains of where other structures once stood.
Did you know?
According to a current resident, many of those who reside in Elkhorn today are descendants of those who originally lived in the town!
Elkhorn today is a mix of old and new. In the midst of the two older buildings stand a few new ones as Elkhorn boasts three full-time residents as well as a handful of seasonal ones.
Curious what other visitors have had to say about the park?
“Great way to see abandoned buildings. A little bit of a trek off the main road, and don’t go up to the cemetery if there is snow and you don’t have a four-wheel-drive (yes, we learned this the hard way). It’s not entirely abandoned, so be mindful of those who do live there. Lots of abandoned buildings, but also lots that have been reclaimed. Some really cool buildings, we did not get to see the inside of them, though.”
“My wife and I love to explore ghost towns in the Old West, especially the ones that are located in such remote areas that few people ever visit them. Like Elkhorn in the Elkhorn Mountains of southwestern Montana. It can only be reached through its neighboring town, Boulder, by taking I-15 at the Boulder exit, continuing seven miles south on Montana State Road 69, then 11 miles north on county graveled road to Elkhorn. While very few buildings of the original town, which was established in 1872, remain standing, a number of cabins have been reoccupied and refurbished. At last count, however, there were only 10 inhabitants. That’s a far cry from the glory days when lodes of silver, described by geologists as “supergene enrichments,” were initially discovered in the Elkhorn Mountains by Peter Wys, a Swiss immigrant. Six years later, Anton Holter, a pioneer capitalist from Helena, Montana, began developing a mine. Over $14 million in silver was dug out of the mine. In 1890, the Sherman Silver Purchase Act was passed by the U.S. Congress, creating a high demand for Elkhorn’s silver. The boom was on. During its peak period, Elkhorn had a population of 2,500, a school, hotel, church, stores, saloons, and brothels. Unlike most mining towns, it was inhabited mostly by married European immigrants. In 1893, the Fraternity Hall was constructed for social gatherings. It still remains one of the most well-preserved buildings in the town. Later, Elkhorn’s prosperity wanted as the demand for silver decreased. When railroad service to Elkhorn was halted, most of the inhabitants left. Today, Elkhorn is a Montana State Park.”