Wickes, Montana facts for kids
|Elevation||5,203 ft (1,586 m)|
|Time zone||Mountain (MST) (UTC-7)|
|• Summer (DST)||MDT (UTC-6)|
Wickes is a ghost town in Jefferson County, Montana, United States located about five miles west of Jefferson City, Montana, and can be reached from the I 15 Jefferson city intersection and following Corbin Road until it intersects into Wickes Road at the old Corbin townsite, which is itself a historic mining community.
The silver mines around Wickes were among the earliest developed in Montana. The first mine, the Gregory, was located by an unknown prospector in 1864 and was the site of the second silver smelter built in Montana in 1867. Discovered in 1869, the Alta proved to be one of the richest silver mines in Montana. In 1876, its original owners sold the property to a group of New York capitalists head by William W. Wickes. The cartel organized the Montana Company that same year and platted the community of Wickes in either 1876 or 1877. The camp had around 400 residents by 1880.
The community of Wickes was a booming, although atypically quiet, mining camp by mid-1880. The Weekly Herald reported that: "No liquor is allowed in the camp, and any employee who becomes intoxicated loses his place at once. The consequence is that but a small part of the dissipated element which is ordinarily found in a mining settlement of this kind is represented here."
Regardless, the camp boasted a public library and the firm of Vawter & Wickes built a substantial stone building that sold "everything which the people of the camp required." The Alta Mine was the centerpiece of the district. It consisted of three tunnels, the deepest of which reached 250 feet (76 m) below the surface of Alta Mountain (the mine eventually bottomed out 1,600 feet (490 m) below the adit). The mountain was reportedly honeycombed by 30 miles of tunnels, shafts and stopes. By 1889, the mine was the largest producer in the Wickes-Corbin Mining District.
In 1882, disaster struck the Alta Company when a fire destroyed the mill. As a result, the company was forced to sell out in 1883 to one of its stockholders, Sam Hauser. Operating through the Helena Mining and Reduction Company (HMRC), Hauser paid off the Alta Company's $250,000 debt and spent over $90,000 rebuilding the entire silver mill. He added two new concentrators and six new charcoal kilns. The kilns could produce over 25,000 bushels of charcoal a month.
In 1884, the HMRC constructed a new smelter, one of the largest of its kind in Montana Territory. The new smelter included three large masonry smokestacks that eventually came to symbolize the Wickes operation. Significant to the economic viability of the operation, Hauser induced the Northern Pacific Railway to construct a branch line between Helena and Wickes.
Wickes was one of six communities to be listed in the territory's first telephone directory in 1885. The Rocky Mountain Bell Telephone Company served nine customers in Wickes until the telephone exchange closed in 1886. One pundit later claimed that "(playing) cards strewed the Main street so thickly that for several years a man with a team cleared the street every morning."
The community received another boost in 1886, when Jim Hill and Charles Broadwater completed their Montana Central Railroad between Great Falls and Butte. Like many of its bigger sister cities, Wickes could then claim it had two railroad depots. The expansion of the mines at Wickes spread through the district causing the establishment of other mining camps.
The most important, Corbin, was platted in 1883 and claimed 100 residents the following year. The Wickes-Corbin Mining District thrived until 1889, when the HMRC dismantled the Wickes smelter and moved it to East Helena. From then on, the ore was shipped by railcar for processing at either East Helena or Butte. The Alta Mine operated for another seven years before it, too, closed.
In 1900, the district was dealt a severe setback when the Northern Pacific Railway abandoned their branch line to Wickes. Wickes was nearly destroyed by fires in 1901 and 1902. Seven years later, the HMRC sold its holdings in the district to the Boston and Alta Mining Company. This company held on for only a year before it sold the mine to the first in a succession of owners who had dreams for the "relentless Alta".
One of the beehive-shaped charcoal kilns is still in good condition – the others have been partially razed. There are still a few standing structures on Wickes' Main Street (only one dates to before the 1901 fire); even more foundations mark the presence of other structures in the camp.
Wickes, Montana Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.