Exploring a Montana Ghost Town: Bannack State Park
After visiting Yellowstone, I headed out to see Montana’s best preserved ghost town, Bannack State Park.
Bannack is the site of the first major gold discovery in Montana (1862) and was the first capital of the Territory of Montana. Once gold was found, Bannack followed the pattern of many boom and bust towns of the West: the population exploded and then dried up, transforming Bannack from a gold town to a ghost town.
Fortunately, the town was purchased and donated to the state in the 1950s and now runs as a state park. There are no commercial features inside the park and Main Street features more than 60 original structures, most of which you can enter and explore.
At the visitor’s center, purchase the $2 guide that provides info on each of the town’s structures, describes gold mining techniques, and tells stories of the town’s rough and tumble history (including stories about the Road Agents, Vigilantes and “soiled doves” of the time).
The buildings are mostly empty inside with the exception of the Masonic Lodge/school which has chalkboards and rows of student desks. There’s also an antique merry-go-round out front. (I tried it—it still works!)
When I visited in July, I practically had the park to myself which made the experience a little creepy (in a good way!). I walked up and down Main Street imaging the lives of those who once lived there.
Particularly unnerving was walking up to the gallows on the hill after reading about the men who were hanged there, and entering the Bessette House which was used to quarantine residents with contagious diseases like scarlet fever. Some believe the house is haunted by the children who died there. The house has even come to be known as the “Crying Baby House” due to reports of visitors hearing the sounds of crying babies. I didn’t hear a peep during this visit … but maybe next time.
For more information, visit stateparks.mt.gov/bannack.
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