Sluice Boxes

    Photographer unknown

Between Belt and Neihart lies an area called the Sluice Boxes, which got its name from the sound the water in the creek made as it would zigzag down, resembling water through the metal boxes used by placer miners.  This area played a significant roll in the operations of the Montana Silver Smelter and Refining Company.  

The town of Albright was settled in 1886 and was a major quarry for limestone and other assorted minerals.  At its peak, Albright boasted a population of about 500.  As one observer noted in April 1978; "about all that remains now, are the remnants of the limestone quarry, saw mill, mine carts, cabins and massive twin cones of an old smelter.  In some cases it look like some inhabitants just picked up and left everything behind".  

In 1887 Riceville was settled.  It was located downstream from Albright.  It once boasted of having a gypsum mine, lime kilns. post office, school and a hotel, but now all that is left are some stone foundations.  

In about 1889, James J. Hill, who was a railroad tycoon and friend of Paris Gibson and C.A. Broadwater, designer, began construction on a rail spur from Great Falls to Neihart for easier transportation of supplies, etc. The return trip would include raw materials for the Great Falls Silver Smelter.  (Prior to this spur being built, wagons or pack trains hauled mineral ore to Fort Benton.  From Fort Benton, the ore was then shipped down the Missouri for refining as far away as Swansea Wales). This spur, which was called the Belt Mountain Branch Line, snaked 56 miles from Armington, up Belt Creek and through the nearly impassable Sluice Box area. Walls and tunnels were blasted out of the sheer cliffs and 40 trestles were built along the route using Chinese labor.  Many were killed in accidents with no signs of their remains ever found.   

In 1914, the railroad started what was called "fish trains" to the Sluice Box area.  These trains dropped off people at their favorite fishing spot or picnic area and would pick them up in the evening.  By 1945, when most of the mines had closed, the last of the "fish trains" made its final journey.  The tracks were pulled up in 1946.

Today, the Sluice Boxes area is a state park.  Many enjoy its great hiking, fishing and swimming opportunities. 


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