Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Neihart, Montana

Neihart lies at the bottom of a densely timbered canyon along winding Highway 89. The tiny town traces its roots to 1881 when James Neihart and company discovered rich silver veins. By 1882, a crude wagon road connected it with White Sulfur Springs, and miners packed out the silver ore on horseback for processing at the Clendennin smelter twenty miles away. When the smelter shut down in 1883, ox-drawn freight wagons carried Neihart’s ore to Fort Benton where steamboats took it to distant ports. Even though the area was one of Montana’s richest, lack of transportation hindered development. In 1891, a spur of the Montana Central Railroad linked Neihart with the outside world. The new smelter at Great Falls processed Neihart ore, and the town became the undisputed hub of the local mining district.

Postcard courtesy Penny Postcards from Montana
Miners on payday flocked to the great mining camp to sample its saloons, play a game of cards, and visit the ladies in its several parlor houses. The bottom fell out of the silver market in 1893, but Neihart escaped the fate of most silver camps because its mines continued to sporadically operate. Total production of the Neihart mines up to 1900 included 4,008,000 ounces of silver and 10,000,000 pounds of lead. The 1940s saw the last burst of activity when silver prices briefly increased. By 1949, most mines closed permanently.

The remains of mining in Neihart
The mines and mills, whose remnants still dot the hillsides, helped lay the cornerstones of Montana’s economy. Six miles of underground tunnels lie beneath the hills surrounding Neihart. But today, above ground, it is tourism that boosts the local economy.

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