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BRIEF HISTORY OF MELROSE

Melrose, Montana is a small town located in the southernmost tip of Silver Bow County and is a stone’s throw away from the counties of Beaverhead and Madison.  The area of Melrose became known as Camp Creek in the 1870s and was home to several family ranching operations and a rest stop for travelers making their way north and south.   Land records of the earliest settlers in the valley reveal Jefferson McCauley and John S. Stone’s farms as being among the first to choose the lush fertile valley along the Big Hole River.   McCauley was a Montana pioneer and arrived in Virginia City in 1864.  He started his ranch and farm operation near Melrose in 1870.

In 1880, Dillon became the terminus town for the Utah and Northern Railroad.  This was the furthest point to the north that passenger service was available.  Grading and track laying crews worked through the winter to a point of the next terminus town, Melrose.

The following news item appeared in the Helena Independent on December 8, 1880: “A town has been laid off there, to be called MELROSE, which will be the next terminus."

 

For nearly six months, Melrose was the “end of the line” for the Utah and Northern, and the arrival of the railroad would become a great asset for shipping and receiving goods.  The Hecla Consolidated Mining Company’s (HCMC) smelter at Glendale was producing bullion and the six mile journey to the rail, cut the shipping costs tremendously and travelers would not have to rely on the slow stage operations to reach their destinations in a timely manner.

In the July 2, 1881 issue of the Dillon Tribune, the following letter was published:

                Leaving Dillon on the 24th ult., at 8 o’clock p.m., on the construction train, we soon realized the fact that we were spinning down the Beaver Head valley at a rapid gait toward the new terminus town of Melrose.  On traveling a few miles, we struck the grade going up to Birch Creek, and having an unusual big load of ties, freight, and passengers, it was very difficult for our engine to make the top of the grade, then we began going down grade all the way into Melrose.  Coming to the Big Hole bridge, which is one of the largest bridges on the road, and spanning the great Big Hole river, we began curving around the mountains until leaving Joe Brown’s and there we take almost a straight bee line for Melrose.  Arriving here at 10 o’clock p.m., all was hustle and bustle, some looking for trunks, some looking for - well, they did not know themselves they were so excited, while your correspondent was looking out for himself, waiting for a chance to steal a ride on the coach, but upon inquiry, I found both stages filled to their utmost capacity, with seven trunks and a pair of shafts to decorate the top deck, so I concluded it wouldn’t do to steal a ride as it was a little higher than I wished to ride, so I concluded to postpone my stage ride until I could find a small load going out, but I am no better off, nor any further than I was the first night.  Melrose is situated in a very pleasant valley, and within a stone throw of the magnificent banks of the great Big Hole river, and surrounded by mountains, and within ten minutes walk to Beaver Head and Madison  counties.  Melrose is five miles from Glendale and has a good wagon road leading to that city.  Five miles from Melrose is the Soapstone gulch where the Hecla Co. haul their ore from through Melrose to Glendale.  Several very nice buildings are going up every day.  Among our business men are Joe Keppler, Pond & Urlin, Gilg & Hoppe, B.M. DuRell & Co., of Glendale.  E.M. Ratcliff, C.L. Thomsen, L. Eliel, Chas. Schlesinger, Blanchett & Howell, and Baldwin & Sweet of Dillon.  There are a score of other building store rooms and will be ready for business in three or four days then Melrose will have the appearance of a flourishing little city.  Saturday night being the first night for passenger trains, we were treated with some choice selections of music by the Glendale Silver Coronet Band, which was a credit both to Glendale and to the young men that composed the band.  About 100 of the Glendale citizens greeted the train with shouts of welcome as it came thundering into our city.  More anon.

The town of Melrose was carved from the ranch owned by William Bowe.   Bowe was born in Ireland in 1844, a son of Lawrence and Margaret Bowe.  By 1848, the family had left their roots and immigrated to the United States.  In the 1850 U.S. Census, William, his parents and five other siblings were residents of Middleton, Connecticut.  Ten years later, the family is in New Britain, Connecticut with two additional children as residents.  In 1870, William is found in Census for German Gulch, Silver Bow County, Montana, at which time, he was a 25 year old miner.  1875 was the year that Bowe began his ranching profession after the acquisition of a homestead in Madison County.  William married Lucina Philips Fleser on Christmas Day in 1876, after her divorce from Adam Fleser.  In 1878, Bowe and his partner, Andrew McBride had filed for homesteads in the present Melrose area.  In addition to the ranching operations, William and Lucina opened a stage stop near the banks of the Big Hole River.  The provided lodging and served meals to the weary travelers.

The naming of Melrose has been debated by local historians for years.  Some suggest that the new General Manager of the Hecla Company was given the privilege after his arrival in April, 1881.  Others claim that William Bowe, the owner of the ranch from which the town was carved, named the location in honor of his stepdaughter, Melrose.  She was the youngest child of Adam and Lucina Fleser.  Melrose became the bride of Sherman Vance in 1887 and she died at the age of 27 in 1897.  After a funeral, held at her mother and step father’s home, she was interred at the Melrose Cemetery.

The first depot for railway passengers was built in 1886, which was moved to its present location in 1960 and houses the equipment for the volunteer fire department.  The town also served as the main fuel stop for trains traveling to and from Butte.  A large coal chute with a capacity of holding 96 tons of the product was erected near the depot.  Steam engines could also replenish their water supply from a tank which was filled using a pump powered by a windmill.  In 1900 stock yards with loading chutes were constructed by the railroad which enabled area ranchers to ship their stock to market.  The railroad business provided employment for several families residing in the area.

Today, Melrose is a quiet community and ranching remains an important part of its economy.  During the summer and autumn months, recreationists enjoy the benefits of the Big Hole River and the beauty of the East Pioneer Mountains, located to the west, and the Highland Mountains, which are situated to the east.  The town has lodging and food accommodations which are often enjoyed by those seeking follow the footsteps of their ancestors who helped to create the area’s unique and rich history.

Please visit the Melrose Cemetery to find the information about those who been laid to rest in this quiet place.

Below are some wonderful photographs for you to enjoy.




















































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