RICHARD I. GIBSON
By May 1881, very little was left of the spot that would become Melrose, on the Big Hole River, 35 miles south of Butte in southern Silver Bow County, which had emerged from Deer Lodge County just three months earlier.
William Boss and John Stone had some land along the river, but in the Pioneer Mountains to the west, the Hecla mine and its smelter at Glendale produced vast amounts of ore and product, and the Utah and Northern Railway slowly crept north. from Ogden, Utah. The Melrose site was plated on May 17, 1881, with the expectation that when the railroad reached that spot, it would remain the terminus for at least several months.
The post office was established on June 7 with the appointment of Charles Shively van Dillon as postmaster. Freight trains started arriving as soon as the terminus was completed on June 22, and passenger service started on June 28. Transport services from Butte to Melrose were very competitive, mostly between two agents, the Gitner & Salisbury bus, which ran twice a day to meet the trains arriving from Ogden at 9:15pm daily and leaving at 6am the following morning. , and Clark & Fridley’s Spring Wagon Express. Both services took six to seven hours to cover the 35 miles between Butte and Melrose, and the price war pushed fares down to $1.00 per person for a one-way ticket.
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Food demand in Butte was high, sparking another price war between freight carriers. California’s Central Pacific was undermined by the Union Pacific, which offered to carry bagged green coffee or rice for $1.50 per hundred pounds from Chicago to Melrose ($1.25 from Omaha to Melrose), and barrels cost $2.50 per hundred pounds of shipping. Both carriers used the Utah & Northern track.
On June 21, just before the first freight trains arrived, the Hecla Company reportedly had $200,000 worth of silver awaiting shipment. Their monthly payday ran to $45,000 for the 300 or so men they employed and for the services they purchased, and Hecla-Glendale immediately wanted 50 more. In mid-August, they were looking for 100 more. The product was trucked four miles from the Glendale smelter to Melrose for shipment south and east by train. Glendale and Lion City at the mine were holding nearly 2,000 people when Melrose started.
When HT Brown visited Melrose on behalf of the Butte Miner newspaper in early August 1881, he found that the nine-week-old town was thriving, with a population of about 350, but in dire need of a lawyer. He reported that “men were free-wielding pistols, driving around and making threatening demonstrations.” And William Bowe built a new hotel near the depot.
Town lots divided into the Stone and Boss ranches sold for $25 to $80, and one was donated to hold a Methodist church. In August, a week of meals and lodging cost $9, more than the typical $7 in Butte.
By mid-October 1881, the construction train had reached Silver Bow, west of Butte. The line would enter Butte on December 21, 1881. Melrose that fall had his share of boom-town troubles, including the arrest of three residents, Ah Sing, Ah Foot, and Sinclair, for holding opium dens. They were taken to Butte’s “Hotel de Bastille”, the prison.
A year later, the Butte lodge of the International Organization of Good Templars sponsored a gala picnic on August 26, 1882, at the regal price of $2.35 per person for a round-trip train ride to Melrose for a day of fishing, croquet and dancing, with music from the Silver City Cornet Band and refreshments including ice cream, lemonade and fruit.
Local geologist and historian Dick Gibson has lived in Butte since 2003 and has worked as a tour guide for various organizations and museums. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.