Clayton, Idaho is a historic mining town, once owned by Henry Ford, that still remains today. Although not much business remains there today, with a town of 26 people, it has an outstanding museum. A group of about 10 local citizens got together with the desire to preserve, protect, promote, and interpret the local history.
They organized the Clayton Area Historical Association, purchased the abandoned old Mercantile building, built in 1880, added it to the National Register of Historic Places, and began restoration for a museum. They have limited funds and use donations, memberships, and grants to achieve their goals and a great amount of personal labor. It continues to expand with love!
In 1880 J. E. Clayton, who was a mining engineer from Atlanta, Idaho, chose this location for the mining smelter. Financial backing came from the Idaho Mining and Smelter Company of Omaha, and production began that year. Ore from Bayhorse and the 35 claims along Kinnikinic Creek were processed here. Some of these claims produced ore that contained 700 ounces to the ton.
The ore was produced during the winter months because 2,000 degrees was required to process it. Ore from Poverty Flat and Germania was also processed here. The Clayton Silver Mine was southern Idaho’s leading producer of silver. Despite a 1983 earthquake which opened an underground river that flooded the mine, production continued. Declining silver prices brought an end to this mine.
With the completion of the smelter and company store, the town grew. The area’s mines brought people from Italy, England, China and other parts of the world to Clayton. The town had its own brewery. Ice was cut from the smelter hole and stored in the ice house to provide cold beer during the summer months. The horse economy of the day required blacksmiths, mule packers, freighters, wheel makers, and ranchers to support it. Miners required food for themselves and their animals. Ranchers provided those essential needs. Housing, hotels, & cafes were a necessary component of mining, so saw mills and the timber industry sprung up to meet their building needs.
The Idaho Mining and Smelter Company sold its interests in the area’s production to the Ford Motor Company in 1926. The Ford Company was also mining the lead which is found along with silver, for its car batteries. The Ford Company consolidated mining claims in the area and continued operations here until 1946 when it sold its claims to the Clayton Silver Mine.