The mining boom in Butte-Anaconda and expansion of the railroads required vast amounts of timber, which the Bonner-Milltown area readily supplied. Montana’s copper and lumber barons, Andrew B. Hammond, Marcus Daly and William Clark, all played major roles in the Bonner area communities, if not for only a short period of time.
The story begins with Hammond. As early entrepreneur and one of the founders of the Montana Improvement Company, Hammond secured contracts with the Northern Pacific Railroad. To feed that demand, MIC needed a mill. Hammond, the leader in this project, bought land on the Blackfoot River for the sawmill and a dam to contain the mill’s supply of logs. After initially flooding out, the dam was completed for a second time in 1886. The Blackfoot or Bonner mill was constructed on 160 acres adjacent and completed in 1886. In addition, houses for the superintendents and skilled workers were built; thus the company town of Bonner was born. In 1892, an elegant guest residence, the Hotel Margaret, and a flour mill were added.
In 1898, Hammond sold the Blackfoot Mill and timberlands for nearly $1.5 million to Marcus Daly, and his Anaconda Company.
For William Clark, his holdings in Missoula area were secondary to Butte, but nevertheless substantial and provided further competition with his rival Daly. He first acquired Missoula Light and Power, and then in 1907-8 built a large dam on the Clark Fork River just below the confluence with the Blackfoot, known then as Clark’s Dam or later Milltown Dam. By 1911 he had run out of wood for his Lothrup sawmill (west of Missoula,) and moved that portable mill to Milltown, a half-mile from the Bonner mill, and ran it on electricity from his dam. The mills competed but there was sufficient demand. After Clark’s death, his mill, the Western Lumber Company, was also sold in 1928 to Anaconda who ran it until 1932. It was dismantled, Anaconda unable to maintain two mills during the Depression.
The Bonner mill, under its various names and ownerships, operated continuously from 1886 until 2008. Current owner Stimson Lumber of Portland, Oregon closed the mill in 2008 and auctioned off its contents.