Magical Philipsburg, Montana
You’ll find sapphires and a palace of sorts tucked into the gentle folding hillsides and valleys of this swath of southwestern Montana.
With overflowing flower baskets and gorgeously restored historic buildings lining its main street, Philipsburg is one of Montana’s most charming towns.
Once a booming mining town, it’s a place that makes you want to sit on one of its benches along the sidewalk and watch the world go by. But first, you need to stop in the town’s enormous handmade candy store, The Sweet Palace. It’s a version of the Big Rock Candy Mountain about which Burl Ives sang. Amid the Victorian-era decor, you’ll find 50 kinds of fudge, 20 types of caramel and incredible treats like Dark Chocolate Premium Moose Truffles made with Moose Drool Brown Ale by Big Sky Brewing Co.
Next door is The Sapphire Gallery where you can buy a bag of gravel with local sapphires in it for $30. Staff will screen your gravel to clean it and uncover the sapphires, you’ll do the sorting. You can have the gallery heat-treat them to enhance their color and to fashion them into jewelry.
“Everyone loves finding treasure,” says co-owner Shirley Beck. “The sapphires have been waiting for them in the ground for a long time: about 50 million years.”
But Philipsburg itself is a treasure, and that’s all the more reason to tread lightly on this town that’s growing in popularity. Most folks here follow the “Cowboy Code of the West,” which includes reminders like “Talk less but say more” and “Remember some things are not for sale.” When it’s time to leave, it may feel like saying goodbye to an old friend.
“Philipsburg has activities and shops, eateries and photo opportunities, but at the end of your visit we just make you feel good. It’s magic,” Beck says.
The town itself is a great example of how locals and newcomers can reinvent their town over time, overcoming a mining bust to become a visitor-enhanced economy. Founded in the 1870s, Philipsburg was a bustling mining town that attracted people to its silver, manganese, sapphire and gold mines. But over time, the mines shut down, leaving the residents of Philipsburg with shuttered shops and a declining population. By the 1980s, it was nearly a ghost town.
A grassroots movement, spearheaded by locals and entrepreneurs like Shirley Beck and Dale Siegford, co-owners of The Sweet Palace, and The Sapphire Gallery, led to a revitalization in town. Among others, Kurt and Lynn Unger moved back to Montana to renovate Snookies Mercantile and the historic Kaiser House Hotel. Today, downtown Philipsburg is a bustling town that attracts travelers from all over the world.
3 Stops in Philipsburg
Philipsburg Brewing Co.
Founded in 2012, this brewery is housed in a historic bank building built in 1888. Referred to as The Vault, this popular watering hole with award-winning beers uses Montana malt and local spring water in its brews. Stop for a pint and chat with locals and other travelers.
Granite Ghost Town State Park
This state park was home to what was known as the “richest silver mine on Earth.” Opened in 1872, the mine yielded $40,000,000 and was home to 3,000 miners before the price of silver crashed. The Granite Mine Superintendent’s house is still there, along with ruins of Union Hall. The narrow and steep road from Philipsburg gains 1,280 feet in elevation.
The Philipsburg Theatre
Established in 1891, this is the oldest operating theater in Montana. If there’s a movie, play or performance happening there when you are in town, get tickets. The interior is full of charm that harks back more than 100 years.
For more information:
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The Sweet Palace
109 E. Broadway, Philipsburg, MT 59858
Closed on Saturdays
The Sapphire Gallery
115 E Broadway, Philipsburg, MT 59858
Closed on Saturdays