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Marlboro sells its ‘Disneyland for smokers’ Montana faux-ghost town


The biggest cigarette maker in America sold its 18,000-acre Montana property that was once home to the Marlboro Ranch – a ‘Disneyland for smokers’.  

The tobacco giant’s subsidiary Philip Morris USA bought the ranch in Clyde Park, a town with only 288 residents, in 1999 as a relationship marketing strategy. Every year since 350 loyal customers have won an all-expenses-paid trip to visit the ‘Old Western Town’ for four days and three nights. 

Also in 1999 Philip Morris USA – a division of American tobacco corporation Altria – had to bid adieu to its Marlboro Man ads in the wake of new state laws against big tobacco companies. But the working ranch kept the Marlboro Man and all the other cowboys, horses and snowy peaks of the Rockies alive. 

The infamous Marlboro Ranch was a faux ghost town complete with 20 buildings including a two-story hotel, mining office, bank, sheriff’s office and saloon. 

Two decades later Philip Morris sold the property in June to Lone Mountain Land Co, a subsidiary of a private-equity firm, for an undisclosed price, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Philip Morris USA – the biggest cigarette maker in America – has sold its 18,000-acre Montana property dubbed a ‘Disneyland for smokers’. Up until its closure, every year since its opening in 1999, loyal customers could win an all-expense-paid trip to visit the ‘Old Western Town’ for four days and three nights

The tobacco company had to bid adieu to its Marlboro Man ads in the wake of new state laws against big tobacco companies but the working ranch kept the Marlboro Man and all the other cowboys, horses and snowy peaks of the Rockies alive

The tobacco company had to bid adieu to its Marlboro Man ads in the wake of new state laws against big tobacco companies but the working ranch kept the Marlboro Man and all the other cowboys, horses and snowy peaks of the Rockies alive

The Marlboro Ranch was a faux ghost town complete with 20 buildings including a two-story hotel, mining office, bank, sheriff's office and saloon

The Marlboro Ranch was a faux ghost town complete with 20 buildings including a two-story hotel, mining office, bank, sheriff’s office and saloon

Guests were greeted with a welcome basket on their beds filled with Stetson hats, cowboy boots, jackets, bandannas, digital cameras, sunglasses and ashtrays. In earlier years guests were also gifted a pack of cigarettes

Guests were greeted with a welcome basket on their beds filled with Stetson hats, cowboy boots, jackets, bandannas, digital cameras, sunglasses and ashtrays. In earlier years guests were also gifted a pack of cigarettes

The Marlboro Ranch's hotel hosted 350 guests annually up until its closure. Philip Morris USA's parent company, Altria, also used to hold board meetings there

The Marlboro Ranch’s hotel hosted 350 guests annually up until its closure. Philip Morris USA’s parent company, Altria, also used to hold board meetings there

Each new structure was made with reclaimed materials and furnished with antiques scavenged from around the region

Each new structure was made with reclaimed materials and furnished with antiques scavenged from around the region

Architect Nick Fullerton and his team carefully constructed the facades of each building so that they would hide modern plumbing and electrical wiring

Architect Nick Fullerton and his team carefully constructed the facades of each building so that they would hide modern plumbing and electrical wiring

Back in the day winning guests would receive a duffel bag and cap before their flight to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. The hats helped travelers identify others headed to the ranch.

The architect behind the town, Nick Fullerton, said that the 90-minute drive from the airport to the town ‘takes you out of this world that we’re in today, and kind of prepares you for the sight once you get there’.

When Fullerton and his team were called to construct the town in 1999 they first salvaged the remains of crumbling homesteads on the property, then they built new structures and furnished them with antiques scavenged from around the region.

Guests were welcomed to the rugged hotel with a basket filled with Stetson hats, cowboy boots, jackets, bandannas, digital cameras, sunglasses and ashtrays. In earlier years they were also gifted a pack of cigarettes.

Fullerton constructed parts of the town with salvaged remains of the crumbling homesteads left on the property when it was first purchased in 1999

Fullerton constructed parts of the town with salvaged remains of the crumbling homesteads left on the property when it was first purchased in 1999 

The ranch operated as a customer retreat eight months out of the year. It shuts down in the winter during snowfall and at the end of winter while there's melting slush

The ranch operated as a customer retreat eight months out of the year. It shuts down in the winter during snowfall and at the end of winter while there’s melting slush

In the winter there were snowshoe adventures with ice fishing, dog sledding and tubing and in the summer there were nine zip lines, archery lessons and wagon rides. 

Diesel mechanic Christine Dorgan, 54, ordered a Marlboro watch, dart board and portable picnic table with the points from the back of her Marlboro cigarette packs. 

She was smoker since the age of 12 and quit in 2019 shorty before winning a trip to the Marlboro Ranch from a sweepstakes. ‘I signed up for that thing I don’t know how many times,’ Dorgan said. ‘I wanted to see a real cowboy.’

The pandemic delayed Dorgan’s trip to the wild west and now she will never be able to go. A decline in cigarette smoking has shut the ranch down for good.  

The faux 'Old Western Town' is located in Clyde Park, Montana, a real town with only 288 residents

The faux ‘Old Western Town’ is located in Clyde Park, Montana, a real town with only 288 residents

But every part of the retreat was thoughtfully curated. Employees dressed in red western shirts and cowboy boots picked up guests from the airport in a convoy of tour buses.

More employees on horseback lined a stretch of road between the entrance gate and frontier town, waiting for a the convoy to pass so they could gallop after it and crack their whips to set the scene, leading guests onto the main street. 

In present day, in the wake of Marlboro’s losses and a $12.8billion investment in the e-cigarette startup Juul, Altria CEO Howard Willard has also stepped down. The US government filed an antitrust suit against Altria to unwind the deal.

The ranch is surrounded by 18,000 acres of secluded grassland and cattle. Fullerton said the 90-minute drive from the airport to the town 'takes you out of this world that we're in today, and kind of prepares you for the sight once you get there'

The ranch is surrounded by 18,000 acres of secluded grassland and cattle. Fullerton said the 90-minute drive from the airport to the town ‘takes you out of this world that we’re in today, and kind of prepares you for the sight once you get there’

When guests arrived, employees on horseback waited along a stretch of road between the entrance gate and the frontier town and a dispatcher radios the riders, telling them when to gallop out from behind trees to crack their whips and lead guests down the slope onto main street

When guests arrived, employees on horseback waited along a stretch of road between the entrance gate and the frontier town and a dispatcher radios the riders, telling them when to gallop out from behind trees to crack their whips and lead guests down the slope onto main street

Altria sold the ranch to Lone Mountain Land Co, a private equity firm that owns the Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, plus other resorts in the state. 

The company did not share how much they sold the ranch for. 

Any future development would be possible because that portion of Park County isn’t zoned. Clyde Park residents have expressed concern that Lone Mountain would build a residential development or heliskiing operation.

New owners Lone Mountain Land Co have assured residents that they do not have plans to build residential or heliskiing developments but instead to continue to run the ranch's cow-calf operation and guest ranch

New owners Lone Mountain Land Co have assured residents that they do not have plans to build residential or heliskiing developments but instead to continue to run the ranch’s cow-calf operation and guest ranch

However, Sam Byrne, the cofounder of Lone Mountain’s parent company CrossHarbor Capital Partners, assured in a press release on June 30 that the new owners only have plans ‘to be thoughtful stewards of the land and good members of the community’. 

‘Lone Mountain Land Company will continue to operate the ranch’s cow-calf operation and guest ranch.’

Thirteen of the ranch’s 100 full-time employees were retained and Lone Mountain has plans to hire more staffers.



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