|Aldrige in 1902. Photo courtesy Montana Guide Service|
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Coal veins discovered in 1892 in Park County fueled the life of Aldridge, a mining town about seven miles northwest of present day Gardiner. Mostly Austrian immigrants, and a fair share of Italians, populated what briefly became one of the greatest coal producers in the country. By 1895, the mine’s main entry had been driven 1,800 feet into the mountain. By 1897, the mines produced between three and five hundred tons of coal daily for transport to the coke ovens eight thousand feet away. When the Miners’ Union organized that year on April 19, Montana Coal and Coke Company officials shut down the mines and coking plant, refusing to employ union men. But the workmen voted to stay with the union, and after several months, the company finally accepted a union contract.
Aldridge became a strong union town with a union store and a hospital with three staff doctors. The two most important holidays it celebrated were Union Day on April 19 and Labor Day. There were so many in Aldridge who could not speak English that the workmen were glad to have the union as their leader and spokesperson. The fortunes of the union thus became the fortunes of the camp. Progress came to Aldridge, but helped spell its demise. Mules delivering the coal to the coke ovens were replaced by a flumed water system and later by an expensive electric tramway. Shortened shifts, shrinking work weeks, and inevitable strikes beleaguered the town. Finally in 1910, the Montana Coal and Coke Company defaulted on bonds issued to pay for the tramway. Despite its rich veins, the mines closed and residents deserted Aldridge as quickly as they had come.