In 1866, gold was discovered on the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River. Placer, as well as hard rock mining for gold, continued throughout many parts of Custer County.
Prospecting continued throughout the Bayhorse Mining District and rich silver deposits were discovered along Kinnikinic Creek. The rich ore deposits of Kinnikinic Creek were very significant, and in 1879, professor J.E. Clayton from Atlanta selected the mill site and the town that developed was named for him.
A July 17,1880 newspaper article from the Yankee Fork Herald states-
“Wednesday forenoon we reached the mouth of Kinnikinic, distant from Bonanza 30 miles. Here we found a streak of business. Everything was bustle and stir. Gen. W.W. Lowe was busy directing the affairs of the Salmon River Mining and Smelter Co. This is an Omaha organization, composed of men of both capital and enterprise, who are inagurating extensive works for mining and smelting the ores of Kinnikinic and adjacent camps.
C.B. Rustin is president of the company and W.W. Lowe general manager and treasurer. Men were coming on every trail to get employment or to locate. Wages are $2.50 with board $3.50 without. A town will be built fast as materials can be had. H.D. Jaquish is putting up a storeroom and warehouse, and in a few days will move his goods up from East Fork. Everything is moving briskly as possible under the circumstance.
Supplies have yet to come up from East Fork and Challis by pack trains, but the company will have a road completed to East Fork in time for the machinery. The Salmon River will be bridged at East Fork in September or when the river has fallen sufficiently for that purpose.
All the idle men in Challis have been put to work at East Fork and Kinnikinic and fifty more were wanted at last account.”
The smelter, which had a 30 ton per day capacity was ready for business on the 15th of September, 1880. It was established to process the ores from the mines of Kinnikinic Creek, which were discovered by Major Talbot and others. These mines consisted of;
The Faithful Boy, Monitor, North Star, Overland, Ella, Climax, Crown, eleven claims for the Rose, three claims for the Discovery, Nancy Lee, Rob Roy, Lilly #2, five claims for the Campbird, and six claims for the Galena. In addition to the Ella mill site, where the smelter was built, additional mill sites were staked out for the Clayton, Climax and Crown.
Production costs were high for this pioneering Idaho smelter as coke was imported all the way from Pennsylvania for its first two years of operation. In order to make the smelting process more efficient, charcoal was being prepared locally as a substitute for the coke. In 1882 forty-eight men were employed in producing 180,000 bushels of charcoal to maintain the smelting operation each year.
The smelting operation functioned as a seasonal endeavor and was usually carried out each summer. Consequently the population would rise and fall each year, but all of these people continued to get their supplies from the Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store. This remained the only store in Clayton until 1910, at which time other stores opened.
Exploration for silver and lead continued throughout the Bayhorse Mining District. The mines of Poverty Flat were discovered. These were; The Uno, Silver Belt, Redemption, Broadway, Vermont, Mammoth, Turtle X, Cisco, and others.
When the rich ore was to be moved to the smelter, from the claims on Kinnikinic Creek, it was a relatively simple process as the ore could be moved by wagon. However, moving ore from Poverty Flat to the smelter was an entirely different matter. The terrain of Poverty Flat was too steep to allow a wagon to negotiate the area. Ore was hauled by mules, from the Poverty Flat Mines, to a natural rock chute on the western end of Poverty Flat. Here the ore was dumped down the rock chute. At the bottom of the chute it was again collected and loaded on to mules for the trip to the smelter. The location where this operation took place came to be locally known as Transfer Cabin and the remains of this operation can still be seen today. Pieces of ore that were too large to be transported on the mules were loaded on to sleds and dragged down the hill. This operation was called stone boating.
Due to a fire in Challis, which destroyed the newspaper there, the Challis newspaper
relocated to Clayton in 1894 until 1895 when it again returned to Challis. Supplies for the newspaper would have also come through the Company Store.
For unknown reasons The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store was closed from 1910 to 1921. During this period, mining continued throughout the area and the smelter continued its production, but no lease could be obtained to operate the Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store from the Omaha based company. During this same period the Ford Motor Company began acquiring lead/silver claims throughout the Bayhorse Mining District. Claims in the town of Bayhorse and up Squaw Creek, at the Redbird Mine, were the first to be acquired by the Ford Motor Company. The Ford Motor Company built houses in Clayton for their mine employees that worked at the Redbird Mine. Employees could not winter there and the children needed to attend the nearby school in Clayton. In 1921 the Mark Crawford family obtained a lease on the store and again opened the Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store.
In 1925, Mark Crawford and other interested individuals, removed the top layer of floor covering and replaced it with a hardwood floor so that the store could also be used as a dance hall. In addition, a stage was built so that the Clayton school would have a place to hold Christmas plays and dances. Musical talents for these affairs were provided by; Frank Fisher, Anna Sullivan, Laura Sullivan, Frank Marker, Will Baker and Alex Boyle. Descendants of many of these people remain within the area today.
In 1926, The Ford Motor Company expanded their mining holdings and moved directly into Clayton. They acquired the Ella Group of mining claims as well as the Overland, Climax and Crown. Many of the earlier mining claims within the Clayton area had been consolidated. The Ford Motor Company also acquired the Clayton, Ella, Redbird and Omaha mill sites. This acquisition included The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store. Custer County tax records from 1926, show The Ford Motor Company ownership of the smelter, the company store, and as well as additional residences that were built for company employees.
In 1928, George and Mabel Gossi took over the operation of the store and sold groceries and hardware. The Ford Motor Company was busy extracting ore from their claims throughout the Bayhorse Mining District, including the newly acquired Silver Rule Mine on Slate Creek. The Ford Motor Company shipped all of their ore to the smelter in Tooele, Utah for processing. Fordson tractors were used to take the ore through Spar Canyon to the railway at Mackay. The Tooele smelter offered a newer refining process and spelled an end to the smelter operations within Clayton. The silver had to be separated from the lead and the Tooele smelter could simply do this process more efficiently.
The major interest of The Ford Motor Company was the production of lead, which found its way into the car batteries of The Ford Motor Company. The extensive silver that was recovered was an added benefit to the production of the lead. In 1930 Lawrence (Sloke) and Millie Worthington bought The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store business from the Gossi’s. The store continued to be leased from The Ford Motor Company. In 1933, Fred and Catherine Leuzinger bought out the Worthington’s interests.
During the 1930’s the Japanese were purchasing all of the old mining equipment that could be found. This old mining equipment was sold as scrap metal, which was then converted by the Japanese into their military hardware. The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company smelter met this same fate, as did other mining interests within Idaho, during the 1930’s.
In 1935 The Ford Motor Company granted a right of way to the state of Idaho and the state road finally came through and changed Clayton. The main street was relocated to the new highway. In 1950 Louie and Viola Giampedraglia purchased the store business from the Leuzingers. The Leuzingers bought land near the new highway and built an additional store in that location and opened it for business in 1953. The Ford Motor Company sold all of their interests to the Clayton Silver Company in 1946. Due to the change of the highway, and the age of the building, The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company store went into decline, closing in the middle 1950’s.
The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store was constructed in 1880. The store operated as the only store in Clayton until 1910. The store was closed for the next eleven years, however the post office continued its operation from within the store. The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store was reopened in 1921 and continued operation as a store until the 1950’s. In addition to supplying all of the area miners with all of their necessities the store also served as a social gathering area and post office for the mining community of Clayton.
The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store served the community through its primary period of growth and expansion of the area’s mines. It continued to serve as the principal landmark of the community through the boom and bust cycle of mining within the area.
The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store has been included in the National Register Of Historic Places. The Clayton Area Historical Association has acquired this historic property. The building has been added to The National Register of Historic Places. The association is currently seeking funding to restore the livery and blacksmith shop which was also built by The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company. This structure burned down in the 1940’s. The association has completed the reconstruction of The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company Store and it has been opened as a museum for the Clayton area.