These former mining estabilishments hold a surprising abundance of undisturbed relics from the Old West.
Scattered on the desolate plateaus of the Okanogan Highlands, a few kilometers south of the Canadian border, stand the quietly abandoned memories of pioneer homesteads: here some of gold rush townsites persist as historic monuments from a bygone era of boom then bust mineral exploration that brought intrepid Chinese miners and later white settlers to this corner of the Old West.
Frontier towns like Bodie, Chesaw, and Molson briefly prospered during the late Victorian era when gold was discovered in the rivers and creeks between the Pasayten Wilderness and the Selkirk Mountains. Mineral fever brought an enthusiastic and short-lived prosperity to the Okanogan area, but like so many other small towns on the edge of nothing, once the veins tapped out or became too expensive to extract, also this communities were abandoned. More or less the same story as Barron, once called called “El Dorado of the North”.
Today what remains of these sites survive, of course, as ghost towns. From the agricultural hamlets of Tonasket and Oroville, lonely mountain roads climb several meters into the Okanogan Highlands, leading travelers into a memories of the Old West in slow decay. As the terrain levels out, old prospector cabins and abandoned mining equipment now they are part of the landscape, while on the mountain walls above the old roadways, Native American petroglyphs quietly survey the area, as they have for hundreds of years.
In the former mining town of Molson, named after the Canadian brewing magnates who were early investors in the region still showcases its sturdy, there is still a stonework school, but also to the wood-planked Molson State Bank, which has managed to keep its original safe securely inside all these years and about a dozen other wooden buildings in various condition, scattered among the grassy landscape surrounding this former frontier town that boasted a population of 300 in 1899. Even if the population boomed to 300, less than a year later dwindled to 12 people. With rumors of the railroad on the way, a business owner filed on 160 acres for his homestead and declared everyone depart. Okanogan County’s Molson emerged at the turn of the century, and today it’s an open air museum beautiful to explore.
Further to the southeast at the mouth of a small creek there are the remains of the Bodie townsite. Here eight buildings still standing (10 counting two outhouses).
Around the year 1888 two prospectors, Tommy Ryan and Phil Creasor, worked their way into northeastern Okanogan County and discovered high quality gold ore in the foothills of Bodie Mountain. Tommy, Phil and an assortment of other prospectors set up camp and extracted, milled and processed the ore in all the area. The townsite of Bodie Washington was settled about two years after Tommy and Phil discovered the lucrative area which became Republic’s Knob Hill Mine.
In 1902, the Wrigley brothers invested some of their fortune in a mill here, establishing a mining epicenter on the Okanogan Highlands. For several decades Bodie prospered, unlike many of its neighboring communities, which rarely lived more than a decade. The Bodie Mining Camp is said to have processed over $1 million in high quality ore.
It seems that the gold mill town was established with a store, post office, cookhouse, bunkhouse, and hotel as well as a tent camp nearby and It was the Perkins Milling Company that employed almost every resident in the town. All beautiful until 1934 when a decline in the gold market closed the township’s mine and emptied its buildings: eventually, the nearby veins ceased to yield quality ore, and by the 1940s the town was abandoned.
The townsite of Bodie with its buildings in ruins and rusting artifacts, located conveniently on both sides of a paved and well maintained county road, attracts every year tourists, mining buffs, photographers and historians. You can park your car in the middle of Main Street and enjoy the view of these ghostly buildings, barely existing on the edge of wilderness, buildings once the focus of prosperous and rich industrial icons.
Sources: Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns of Northeastern Washington, and me.