Monday, June 10, 2013

A Ghost town

It shows up on the map as 'Helena' but there is nothing along the highway to indicate a town.  We weren't looking for a town anyway and would have missed it altogether except for a Forest Service ranger that happened to stop at a pull out in the road at the same time that we did.

He questioned us, "Are you looking for the cemetery?"
To which we eagerly asked, "What cemetery?"
(Two southern born & bred women were not about to pass up a cemetery.)

The ranger pointed across the highway to a dirt path almost hidden by brush and trees.

As he climbed back into his truck he added, "And the town is down that old road a few hundred yards back." Then he pointed in the direction we had just come.  We were almost jumping with excitement.

He gave us a little history then added,  "The town's all deserted now, no one lives there anymore. But it was a busy place back in the gold rush days."
 We thanked him and as he drove away we headed to the cemetery where we indeed, found a lot of headstones dating into the 1800's.

It was very exciting finding the town and especially because it was so accessible.  Located less than a mile off the highway, it was completely hidden out of sight of the cars passing by.

If it had been more obvious I am sure we would have found nothing more than foundations.  But most of the buildings were collapsing more from the weather than from vandals.  This was the post office and probably some official offices....

We found the letter slots and if they were all in use when the town was alive then it must have been a fair size.

This appeared to be a business, maybe a saloon.  Corrugated tin roofs were introduced sometime in the mid-1880's.

I noticed that most of the houses were rather large.  I think the community was probably somewhat prosperous.

Much of the area has been recently fenced and the ranger had explained that someone was negotiating to buy the town--including all the mineral rights--from various of the heirs.  The Forest Service would prefer to restore and preserve the town so the two parties are now in litigation over who gets it.

Jo climbed one of the fences and went to explore this ruin.  She surmised it was the 'whore house' because the foundation was so large, plus it was at least two stories and the house sat off a short distance from the edge of town.  There was also a fancier entry to the property.   

The ranger said there was a lot of gold taken from the surrounding hills so we surmised a brothel might be one of the first places that new money would be spent.

We decided this was the 'stamp mill' where gold was smelted and poured into bars.  
There is an unusually substantial chimney on the side of the building (above) that goes up for three floors so it appears the smelting took place on the bottom level.

I assume that ladder provided a fire escape from the top floor.

It was an adventure exploring these buildings and trying to guess the purposes of each one, 

and wondering what 1850's
 life was like in this valley?   I sure hope the Forest Service wins their litigation.  It would be nice to see the town restored rather than to see the valley torn up for mining.
But it needs to happen soon before the town deteriorates any more.

(Postscript to yesterday's confession about setting the picnic table on fire...I came clean with the Forest Ranger.  He thought it was funny and thanked me for 'being so honest.' He also said something about posting some signs telling people to keep their fires in the fire pits and not on the tables.)


  1. The adventures never stop with you!!!

  2. You crack me up!.........signed one of the sisters...guess which one!