Long Ago Journeys

Spring of 1992 in Gilmore, Idaho

Published online: Jun 18, 2021 Articles, Road Trips Dan Mason
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Once again, our family was ready for the Annual Ghost-Town Adventure. We began the tradition way back in 1978. The last time we ventured out was 1983. So much for the annual tradition! 

Having been raised in Southern California, my previous ghost town adventures have taken place in California as well as Arizona and Nevada. The thought of exploring ghost towns in Utah, Idaho and Montana was an adventure long overdue.

The itinerary we set included Corine and Brigham City in Utah, Gilmore and Leadore in Idaho, and Bannack, as well as Argenta, and Elkhorn in Montana, just to mention a few.

All the ghost towns we explored on this outing were fascinating, but my favorite was Gilmore, a railroad and mining town in Idaho, nestled in the southern portion of the Lemhi River Valley, northwest of Idaho Falls.

What remains of Gilmore is 20 or so buildings in various stages of decay, which gives the ghost town enthusiast the feel of what it must have been like to live in the latter part of the nineteenth century.

In fact, so much of the town is intact that it becomes quite simple to visualize the original layout. Many of the buildings are still standing or at least partially visible. Upon closer observation, one can see where the railroad tracks ran through town.

The Gilmore Mercantile and the Post Office was the only easily identifiable building, but using your imagination you can figure out the rest. One of the larger buildings had an indoor walkway leading to an enclosed toilet, very upscale for a small town of this era. Another of the dwellings, located at the top of the hill at the rear portion of the town, was built so well it would not take much effort to make it a livable space once again. I speculate this dwelling belonged to the owner of the mercantile store or possibly a wealthy mine owner. When you consider that some of these buildings were built over 75 years ago, and have not been occupied since the 1940s, you begin to wonder how they withstood the elements.

Most of the buildings could be explored and this was where the fun began. Some contained remnants of old furniture and appliances. Interior walls were still covered with wallpaper. Cardboard was sometimes used as insulation against the elements. To see how these people lived their daily lives is a step back in time.

Unfortunately, our visit to Gilmore only lasted a couple of hours. Snow started to fall and my buddies began to worry about our trip over the dirt road at Bannack Pass, elevation 7,640 feet.

The remainder of our adventure was outstanding, and upon returning home the first item of business was to learn as much as I could about Gilmore, one of my favorite ghost towns.

The Gilmore area first brought silver miners in the 1880s to support the Texas Mining District, named for Texas Creek, which flows near the town. After spending years attempting to mill the ore locally, the Viola smelter was established at the nearby town of Nicholia. In 1890, the smelter operations ceased.

In 1903, the Pittsburgh-Idaho Company purchased the mines. At this time, the first permanent camp at Gilmore was established and named after John T. Gilmer of the Gilmer & Salisbury Stage Company. Due to a typographical error in Washington, D.C. the town was named Gilmore. 

For 4 years the ore was hauled by wagon to the railhead at Dubois. The haul was hard on the wagons and for a while a traction engine with a train of four steel wagons, each of 15 tons capacity, was used. The wagons would not hold up to the constant strain and after a short period of time this method was abandoned. For the next 3 years the mines remained closed.

In early 1910 the Gilmore & Pittsburgh Railroad was completed, which ran from Armstead, Mont., to Leadore with a spur line that went on to Gilmore. This solved the problems for the mines at Texas Creek.

By 1911, Gilmore was a prospering community. The population exceeded 600 residents and businesses included a mercantile, bank, a couple of hotels and restaurants, livery barn, building contractor, butcher and two barbers. Almost 70 students were attending school at the time. Several mansions were built in Upper Gilmore.

The winters proved challenging and obtaining fresh water from the head of Texas Creek was difficult. The townspeople eventually built a 3-mile flume to the mines and to the town.

The mines shut down in 1929, and by 1931 and most of the population left in search of employment elsewhere.  

Explore Present Day Gilmore

Recently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) partnered with historic preservationists from the National Park Service and the Idaho State Historic Preservation Office.  As a result, the plan was to preserve the area so future generations would be able to learn about this piece of Idaho’s history. As part of this effort, there are interpretive panels by the old Gilmore general store.

Currently, most of the site contains many original buildings to view and is on private property. The original town (Upper Gilmore) is located high on the hill near the mines. Prior to visiting, please contact local authorities to confirm access. 


Get Spooked!

More Ghost Towns near home

Gilmore isn't the only ghost town near Idaho Falls. These additional road trips will require some planning for meals and snacks along the way, but these stops are must-sees for any Idaho Falls resident's summer itinerary. 

Bannack 

This site located at Bannack State Park provides a full day’s worth of adventures. There are over 60 structures to explore in the ghost town, the majority of which you can walk inside to get a close up look at life in Montana during the gold rush.

Location: 721 Bannack Rd, Dillon, MT 59725

Distance from Idaho Falls: 157 miles

Bonanza and Custer 

If you’re heading toward Stanley, plan a trip to the Bonanza and Custer Ghost Towns. These mining towns are closely intertwined, both in history and location. About seven structures throughout the two towns remain standing.

Location: Off ID-75 on the Yankee Fork Road

Distance from Idaho Falls: 197 miles

Silver City 

Admittedly, this is more of an overnight trip, especially if you are planning on spending some time in Boise before heading back to Idaho Falls. The 100-year-old Idaho Hotel is worth the trip back in time, as well as the 75 structures that comprise the town.

Location: Silver City

Distance from Idaho Falls: 304 miles

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