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MOLSON, Okanogan Co., Washington

 

 

 

By

 

Gary B. Speck

 

 

 

            DURING THE SUMMER OF 2009 we captured a few fascinating old ghost towns on a roadtrip through central Washington and up into Canada, thence back down into Idaho.  One of my favorite stops was the old triple ghost of Molson, in the heart of Okanogan County and just a couple miles south of the Canadian border.  The ghost of Molson is not just one town, but three separate parts - Old Molson, New Molson and Center Molson.  From the south end of Old Molson to the main street of New Molson is only about a half mile.

 

We’ll start our Molson tour in Old Molson, now just a cluster of chocolate-brown buildings that have been restored or relocated to form an outdoor museum.  What remains here includes the assay office (brought in from the Poland China Mine in 1963), the restored bank building, a lawyer’s office, saloon and cabins.  Other buildings include a machine shed, windmill and lots of relics. The 1906-1980s era Molson Community Church is across the street from the museum complex, and is also a museum in its own right.  It was donated to the Molson Historical Society in 1986.  All museum buildings are open to the public.  My favorite was the old bank building with its two-windowed teller cage and period furnishings. Other static displays include the assay office with its collections of mining relics, a law office, a shingle mill, a real estate office covered with greenery, and a couple cabins. 

 

Center Molson today is only two large, brick buildings.  On one side of the street is the two-story school and on the east side is the huge Molson Trading Company General Store.  The school operates as a museum. Although the general store is structurally sound, it is NOT open to visitors.

 

New Molson is just a whoop and holler to the north, across a dip that once served as the railroad bed.  New Molson has several old commercial buildings and a few lived-in houses and other unidentifiable outbuildings.  A former store and a couple automobile repair garages are identifiable.  A handful of cabins and dead cars lie scattered about the tall grass.

 

The history of Molson begins with the discovery of gold in 1900.  As the mine was only two miles south of the Canadian border, it attracted Canadian investors, George B. Meachum and John W. Molson (of the Canadian banking and brewing company family).  They developed their town site several miles west of the Poland China Mine.  They platted, surveyed and laid out lots.  Sales began and a post office opened July 14, 1900. A year later Molson had a long string of buildings lining its main street.  Some of these businesses included the wooden, 34-room Tonasket Hotel (burned in June 1924), an assay office, bank, blacksmith, creamery, doctor, drug store, general stores, lawyer, livery stable, newspaper, restaurant and a couple saloons.  The population hovered around 300.

 

Although the town looked prosperous, the mines weren’t.  The gold wasn’t as rich as initially thought and as a result, Molson and Meachum withdrew their financial backing.  The mine closed and Molson quickly faded to 13 people. 

 

With mining dead, a few folks homesteaded the area and agriculture increased in importance.  Rumors of a coming railroad created interest in 1905, so many folks staked their homesteads in anticipation of a windfall. One of the applicants was J.H. McDonald. Unfortunately part of his homestead included a portion of the old townsite. That didn’t daunt him so on April 15, 1909, McDonald made a decision that cost him any popularity that he might have had.  He posted eviction notices on any occupied buildings that happened to be on his newly claimed property.  Lawsuits were filed almost before the ink was dry and Molson continued to develop.  To avoid additional legal entanglements, clear-titled land about a half mile north, near the railroad, drew the boomers. One of the stores relocated and the rest of the town pretty much followed suit.  The Molson Hotel was built, and New Molson as the new site was called was on the map.  As it had the railroad and lack of litigation, it was THE place to be. An automobile dealership was established (which sold 125 cars in 1917), as were a barber, beauty shop, five churches, a confectionary, a farm implement dealer, several fraternal organizations, a grain elevator company, movie theater, pool hall and other businesses.

 

Old Molson, as the original site was called, still had a few businesses, including the bank, which was placed on skids and dragged around the old site as litigation continued. The lawsuits were eventually resolved, but it was too late.  Through the 1910s and 1920s, the residents of Old and New Molson bickered constantly.  Each claimed its site was the best, and anytime a new business opened at one site, a competing one popped up in the other.  In 1910, the Molson Hotel burned and was replaced by a larger two-story, 23-room hotel called the New Imperial in 1911. In 1913, it was renamed the New Wallace, and again in 1916, the name again changed, to the New Molson Hotel. In 1923 it burned to the ground. 

 

In 1914, the two communities somehow compromised and built a school dead center between the two sites.  Across the street a large general store was also built of brick.  This seemed to serve as a catalyst for growth and on February 13, 1920, Molson incorporated.  For some reason the courts invalidated the incorporation, so on October 6, 1921, Molson disincorporated.  Then in the 1930s, the railroad was removed and Molson began to fade along with the national economy.  The school remained active, pulling students from all over the area.  In the mid-1950s, it still averaged 110-120 students a day. But the town was on a downward spiral from which recovery would not happen.  In 1955, the last store closed, and on August 11, 1967, the Molson Post Office closed.  The school followed suit in 1969.  Molson’s fate was sealed.  Today it is nothing much more than a lot of interesting buildings parked in the midst of an undulating sea of grass.

 

What remains is scattered, but WELL WORTH a visit.  Please remember that most of the land here is privately owned, and to view all remaining buildings from the roads (public right-of-way) except those designated as museums and in OLD MOLSON.  Just don’t spit on the sidewalks!

 

Molson is one of the towns featured in my new book, GHOST TOWNS: Yesterday & TodayTM

 

Become a fan of the book on Facebook.

 

This was our Ghost Town of the Month for September 2010.

 

 

 

SITE NAME

ELEV.

LATITUDE

LONGITUDE

TOWNSHIP/RANGE

Molson Cemetery

3737’

48.965681

-119.211359

E-Ctr, Sec 18, T40N, R29E, WM*  (*Willamette Base Line & Meridian)

Molson (Center)

3724’

48.9787931 / 48° 58’ 44” N

-119.2008799 / 119° 12’ 03” W

Ctr Sec 18, T40N, R29E, WM

Molson (New)

3707’

48.9810156 / 48° 58’ 52” N

-119.2006021 / 119° 12’ 02” W

Ctr Sec 18, T40N, R29E, WM

Molson (Old)

3724’

48.9779597 / 48° 58’ 41” N

-119.2000466 / 119° 12’ 00” W

Ctr Sec 18, T40N, R29E, WM

Molson Junction

3737’

48.915929

-119.252853

NW corner Sec 1, T39N, R28E, WM  / SW corner Sec 36, T40N, R28E, WM

 

 

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FIRST POSTED:  September 01, 2010

LAST UPDATED: October 10, 2010

 

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