Friday, May 26, 2006

Ghost town open for summer tours

Old mining town of Custer begins new season this weekend

Express Staff Writer

Workers preparing for the opening of the central Idaho ghost town Custer are getting a taste of what spring-cleaning was like during the old mining town's heyday.

With the season's opening this Memorial Day weekend, dozens of people are sprucing up the place—without the benefit of electricity.

"Brooms still work," said interpretive specialist Kathleen Durfee. "Vacuums would be nice."

The museum's artifacts are stored in various area locales for the winter to keep them safe from both human- and rodent-caused damage.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are the big sweep days for the little town in the land of the Yankee Fork.

"It's an exciting time," Durfee said Thursday. "We got a lot done."

Custer and Bonanza sprung up to accommodate gold prospectors beginning in 1870. By 1911, only their ghostly dreams of riches remained.

Custer locals "Tuff" and Edna McGowen began collecting artifacts, creating an ad hoc museum in their home.

In 1966, they sold the museum to the U.S. Forest Service. Approximately 25 years later, the state parks department came in to co-manage the ghost town, Durfee said.

Numerous buildings still stand and are gradually being refurbished to their old-timey grandeur.

That process can yield surprises, such as a shoe sign uncovered last fall.

"Ed Jones had a shoe store in Custer," Durfee said. "The old metal sign was tucked behind a stove. I was excited to find that."

The sign will be cleaned up and framed before it is ready for viewing, she said.

This summer's project is a new foundation for the assay office.

Ensuring its completion is a cooperative effort among the Land of the Yankee Fork Historical Association, the Forest Service and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.

"It's everybody all working together," Durfee said, "which is how we do Custer."

Guided tours of the town are available daily from approximately 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Labor Day. The museum is located in the old schoolhouse. Admission is free.

The ghost town comes to life during Custer Day on July 8, with gold panning, shootouts, fiddling, and historical reenactments.

Also in operation daily is the 988-ton Yankee Fork Dredge, which separated precious metals from gravel. The dredge recovered an estimated $1,037,322 in gold and silver at a cost of $1,076,100, according to the state parks department Web site.

Admission is $3 for adults and $1 for kids 12 and under.

To get to Custer, drive north on Highway 75 for 63 miles to Stanley. Continue another 14 miles eastward on Highway 75 to Sunbeam. Go north on Yankee Fork Road. The dredge is on the left. Custer and Bonanza are a couple miles further.

Continue on another hour on Highway 75 to Challis to visit the Land of the Yankee Fork State Park interpretive center, open daily.

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