You could join the crowds at campgrounds or resorts this summer or you could take a trip back in time and explore an old ghost town.The West is full of little towns that didn’t stick. Some were once home to thousands. Now all that may be left is an overgrown cemetery, weathered buildings surrendering to gravity or leveled squares of ground where life’s dramas once played out.
Idaho County has several, many established during the gold rush of the late 1800s. Among them is Florence, home to about 9,000 in 1862 when $6 million to $7 million worth of gold was extracted, according to the U.S. Forest Service. It was one of the roughest towns in the West, attracting outlaws, thieves and gamblers. Gun fire was a fact of daily of life. An Oregon newspaper once observed that shootings were so common that, “when a man is shot people hardly turn round to see what is the matter.”
That summer, Civil War tensions came to a head when Southern sympathizers declared Main Street the “Mason-Dixon line.” As July 4 approached residents feared bloodshed and hired a miner and former German art student named Charles Ostner to create a tribute to the country that would appease both sides. Using water and snow Ostner created an ice sculpture revealed on Independence Day. It was George Washington on horseback and both factions were satisfied.
Little of the once-thriving city remains but a cemetery. The former town is located in the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests about 50 miles south of Grangeville. The site contains interpretive panels and a parking area but no drinking water. People should beware of old mine shafts and crumbling structures. Directions are available on the Forest Service’s website.
A more intact ghost town to explore in Idaho is Silver City, 72 miles south of Boise.