Magazine article Sunset

Sapphires and Sweets

Magazine article Sunset

Sapphires and Sweets

Article excerpt

Find small-town charm in Philipsburg, Montana

You take Pintler Scenic Route south from Drummond as it follows Flint Creek past pastures of sleepy-eyed cattle. You enter a valley edged by the Flint Creek Range and Sapphire Mountains, and then, after a few twists and turns, you come to Philipsburg.

In "Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg," the great Montana poet Richard Hugo enshrined this town southeast of Missoula as a battered place you went when "the last good kiss you had was years ago." But Philipsburg has spruced itself up in the three-odd decades since then. Today it features new paint on the handsome Victorian buildings along Broadway, Philipsburg's attractive main street, while maintaining an indelible sense of Montana's past.

A fine place for taffy-and trout Philipsburg is the sole survivor from a cluster of towns that once supplied the nation with silver and manganese, drawn from the mineral-rich granite of the nearby mountains. Many of the buildings on Broadway that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places-37 in all-were built between 1887 and 1889, when mining fueled growth so lively that the Philipsburg Call, the local paper, said the town grew "a house a day."

Others didn't make it through the bust that followed the boom: when Congress voted in 1893 to end federal silver purchases, the neighboring town of Granite was abandoned overnight. But Philipsburg's population (currently 914) has remained steady for the last hundred years, thanks to ranching, logging, and tourism.

Today the turn-of-the-century court-house and the grade school with its brick bell tower are still in use. So is the town Opera House Theatre, built in 1892: next month it hosts the 7th annual Rocky Mountain Accordion Celebration. At the Sapphire Gallery, try your hand at panning for your own gems; in the adjoining Sweet Palace, you can sample candy beneath pink-crystal chandeliers and admire the taffy-wrapping machine-a model K kiss wrapper that was rescued from the Atlantic City boardwalk. …

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