Terry, the seat of Prairie County, has long been one of my favorite places in the Yellowstone Valley. Stuck between the much larger, and more famed, Yellowstone towns of Miles City (to the west) and Glendive (to the east), Terry has somehow developed and kept its own identity as a western place, and landscape, that still speaks strongly to the patterns that transformed the region over the last 150 years: railroads, homesteading, cattle, and town building.
In 1984 I focused on the railroad imprint on the town, which began in the early 1880s as Northern Pacific officials understood the need for a railroad stop at place near the confluence between the Yellowstone and Powder rivers.
In 2013, however, the depot was gone from the tracks but not the town. It had been moved to become part of the solid Prairie County Museum, a local institution that was still quite new when I first visited in 1984. Located in the town’s most prominent neoclassical bank building from the 1910s, the museum was a place where I held a public meeting about the preservation plan process and found a community totally engaged with its past.
The museum highlights agriculture and ranching, and includes the Evelyn Cameron Gallery, which displays and celebrates the life and contributions of this important western photographer. One change I noted last year was the creation of the Evelyn Cameron Heritage Center, on Laudre Avenue just a few yards away from the museum, which is at the crossroads of Laudre and Logan Avenues.
That crossroads was another pattern in Terry’s landscape that caught my eye. Most Northern Pacific towns, originally, were symmetrical plans, with a long line of commercial buildings flanking one side of the tracks and grain elevators and warehouses on the other side. Terry, however, had a classic T-town plan, with the tracks creating the top of the T and then a main commercial artery, in this case Logan Avenue, serving as the stem of the “T.”
Why was Terry different? It is the impact of the Milwaukee Road as it built through the valley in 1906-1907. In 1984 there was still a second set of tracks, and a few scattered commercial buildings, to the north of the Northern Pacific mainline. Today two buildings remain along with the roadbed that marks this second period of Terry’s growth.
Just west of the “downtown” you can find the one still thriving institution associated with the Milwaukee Road impact on Terry: the Prairie County Fairgrounds, which once faced the Milwaukee’s main line. (I have discussed the fairgrounds in an earlier post.)
Another wave of change came to Terry in the 1920s as U.S. Highway 10 gave the town another transportation pattern. The highway’s crossroads with the original T-plan commercial artery is marked by a still extant somewhat Art Deco-styled brick gas station/ auto dealership.
The most recognized roadside landmark is the Kempton Hotel, a true rarity now for this section of the Yellowstone Valley as those rambling montage of buildings that once constituted places of rest and relaxation along the nation’s highways have largely disappeared from the landscape.
Then, just yards away, is another rambling montage of historic buildings, the schools of Prairie County, ranging from the large stately multi-story brick buildings of the early 20th century to more restrained modern buildings of the second half of the century.
At the edge of town are three different properties, all related to the need for highway transportation. The Dizzy Diner is a classic 1950s drive-in while the crumbling Terry drive-in also speaks to past patterns in popular culture. Then the Prairie County Grazing District Stockyards connects the present to the past traditions of stock raising in this region.
Certainly the biggest change is Terry from 1984 and 2013 was the transformation of the county courthouse. In 1984 I was shocked that there was only an unadorned concrete block building for the courthouse, and I have shared images of that building across the country. Well the concrete block building on Logan Avenue is gone, replaced by a much larger, still unadorned building for local government.
Terry’s population has dropped by a third since my first encounter with the town in the early 1980s. But new public investment, and a still commercially relevant “downtown” speaks volumes to the residents’ commitment and faith in this small yet significant Yellowstone valley town.
From Glendive in 1984, I began to move up the Yellowstone Valley, taking a particular interest in the various Northern Pacific railroad towns–that over-arching pattern in the region’s historic landscape was clearly my over-riding interest in 1984. But places like Prairie County added their own intriguing challenges. Here the Milwaukee Road, coming from the southeast, entered into the valley. And then there was the real treasure trove of early settlement photographs produced by Evelyn Cameron. Thirty years ago, Cameron’s stark yet compelling images were just become re-discovered and appreciated. Her images were also in my head as I traveled this small eastern Montana county.
Fallon was the first town I encountered in Prairie County. Established during the building of the Northern Pacific in the early 1880s, it has never been a big place. Its National Register landmark is probably rarely recognized, since it is the steel truss bridge on old U.S. 10 that crosses the Yellowstone at this place. This magnificent continuous span Warren through truss bridge is Montana’s longest truss bridge, 1,142 feet. It was built in 1944 as a wartime emergency project after a ice flow destroyed an earlier crossing at this place. It is also a reminder of how crucial old U.S. 10 was to the nation’s transportation system in the mid-20th century.
When I visited Fallon 30 years ago, the school was a focal point of the community. In 2013, it was closed, and counted as one of the National Trust for Historic Places threatened rural schools of Montana.
The old bank building was the post office, a great adaptive reuse I thought in 1984. This neoclassical brick building is still the post office–having survived the earlier postal service to close many small town Montana post offices.
Another really important place of continuity was the Lazy Jo’s bar and cafe. Housed in one of those typical Eastern Montana buildings that grew, morphed, and changed again over the last 100+ years, it is still a great place, and an active community center.
Across from the bar, between the town’s main street and the railroad tracks, was the water trough, a reminder of those days amply recorded in Cameron’s photographs 100 years ago, and the town’s only marked historic structure.
Community pride is probably expressed best through the tiny but still active Fallon Town Park and the quietly dignified Grace Lutheran Church. These are anchors for a place that has experienced and survived much and faces an uncertain 21st century future.
I apologize for the gaps in recent posts, just extremely busy in the job that actually pays money–hopefully I can catch up in what goes for winter in Tennessee. Next is Terry, Montana.
Glendive’s growth into one of the Yellowstone’s major towns in the first decades of the 20th century is well documented in its intact historic homes along Meade and Kendrick Avenues, which are located between the Yellowstone River to the west and the commercial corridor represented by Merrill Avenue to the east. Earlier posts have identified the two key economic events–the Lower Yellowstone Project of 1904/5 and the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway shops in the 1920s–that shaped the neighborhood. Here I want to share the neighborhood’s stylistic diversity, along with the obvious pride that owners have in their homes and town. Let’s begin with an amazing set of bungalows, one of the region’s best concentrations of this early 20th century architectural style. There is a mix of what are often characterized as Craftsman Bungalows, with its thatch-like shingle roofs, exposed stick work and prominent bracketed porches. Others are more restrained in their ornament, taking on the look of a transitional design between Victorian era details and the one- and one-half story bungalow form.
Next comes variations from another popular early 20th century form, the “foursquare,” a two-story, squarish dwelling, typically with a hipped roof and a less prominent porch than a bungalow, but as this example from Kendrick Avenue indicates, the Foursquare can come off looking much like a bungalow on steroids.
The neighborhood also has earlier Victorian styles, such as this rambling Queen Anne-style house on Meade Avenue, while just a bit farther away on North Douglas is the Krug House, an outstanding Montana example of Classical Revival-infused Foursquare design that was completed in 1907.
This National Register-listed property, designed by St. Louis architect Herbert G. Chivers, was the home of Charles Krug and family and definitely represents a statement house for its time. Krug wanted to prove that good money could be made from sheep–a rancher need not be only a cattleman.
A statement of modernity comes from Gresham Street, near the high school, where this Art Deco dwelling stands out among the more traditional designs of the town. Another different statement was made by this Contemporary-style home on Kendrick Avenue, which dates to the city’s last boom in the early 1960s. More at home in a modern suburban setting than the more formal early 20th neighborhood of Meade and Kendrick Avenues, this house, with its prominent A-frame center section and project front entrance garage states 1960s values well.
Glendive’s historic homes are complemented by its early 20th century historic churches. I will close with two: the Castellated Gothic United Methodist Church and the Romanesque-styled Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Glendive in the 1980s struck me as a town in decline but one that retained a faith in its historic buildings and houses. Thirty years later than faith seemed renewed–as the historic fabric of the town has changed, certainly, but also had been maintained even enhanced by local stewardship.
My last post on Glendive, the primary commercial and transportation center of the Lower Yellowstone Valley, looked at the Northern Pacific Railroad’s imprint on the town. :et’s shift focus into the early 20th century, when the automobile corridors–the Yellowstone Highway or U.S.Highway 10–began to leave their marks on the town.
As the Yellowstone Highway left town and headed west, two outstanding examples of roadside architecture survive, the c. 1930 Art Moderne-styled Texaco gas station, complete with a small motor court for lodging in the rear, and a later historic drive-in, Frosty’s, complete with the low canopy typical of the early non-standardized drive-in establishments.
Also feeding traffic into the heart of Glendive was the 1925 Bell Street Bridge over the Yellowstone River. This National Register-listed bridge was once a gleaming steel and concrete landmark of modern transportation; it continues to serve the town as a pedestrian bridge.
Downtown Glendive is dominated by a modern monument to its time of greatest prosperity–the city reached its population high of just over 7,000 in 1960: the Dawson County Courthouse of 1962. Designed by the long-established Billings firm of J. G. Link, the courthouse represents the “contemporary modern” movement in the state’s architecture of the 1950s and 1960s.
An even more striking example is the space age aesthetics found in the town’s public library, which when I lasted visited Glendive in the 1980s still served its original purpose as a local bank.
The contemporary sixties look even extended into Glendive’s historic neighborhoods, as reflected in the A-frame style of the First Congregationalist Church, and into new commercial buildings, such as the Saarinen-esque sloping roofline of the historic Safeway store, now adapted into the Eastern Montana Events Center.
Glendive has lost over a quarter of that 1960 population, checking in the 2010 census at just under 5,000 residents. Before we leave this spot on the Yellowstone, let’s explore more its historic neighborhoods, full of a range of interesting domestic architecture from 1900 to 1960. That’s the next post.
As the tracks of the Northern pacific Railroad pushed west in 1881, they encountered the Yellowstone River at a place that became Glendive, the Yellowstone Valley’s first railroad town. Here the company located a division point and built offices, roundhouses, and other support structures for the trains moving between the Great Lakes and the West Coast. In 1984 when I came to Glendive for the state historic preservation plan survey, it was not my first visit. A year earlier I had began to work with the Western Heritage Center in Billings as a historian for its first major exhibit on the Yellowstone and its history, an exhibit that eventually was titled “Yellowstone: River of Life.” Glendive as a railroad division point played a key role in that story, and when I first visited the town I enjoyed the fact that a late 19th century depot, standing just off the main line, now served as the local visitor center and Chamber of Commerce offices.
At that time I saw little outside of the railroad’s imprint on the landscape. Glendive, like many initial Northern Pacific towns, had a “symmetrical plan.” The train tracks cut a path through the town, with a combination passenger station/company office commanding the corridor. On the opposite side of the tracks were housing for railroad workers and machine shops, roundhouses, elevators, etc. associated with the railroad.
Facing the depot was the primary commercial street, Merrill Avenue, which later served as the town’s primary commercial artery for U.S. Highway 10 and is now designated as “Business I-94.” The many historic commercial buildings along Merrill Avenue facing the depot and railroad tracks captivated me–the dialogue between local entrepreneurs and the massive international capitalism represented by the Northern Pacific was plain to see.
Clearly this long-stretch of buildings recorded the town’s shifting economic fortunes from the 1880s to the depression era, and was worthy of designation in the National Register of Historic Places, work that has since taken place.
What particularly struck my eye was the different eras of prosperity represented by buildings such as those owned by Henry Dion, a leading early 20th century merchant. Dion built the 1905 brick building above during the boom brought out by the launching of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project. Later, as the railroad expanded its presence with the new passenger station and the federal highway came down Merrill Avenue, an Art Deco layer appeared, making a old building suddenly trendy and “modern.”
In 1984, however, I did not much venture beyond the railroad corridor to understand how the shifts documented in those historic buildings also could be found across the town. Much like the residents I was captivated with the railroad’s imprint–as shown in this wonderful mural of local history, prepared by high school students, and installed in the lobby of the modernist Dawson County Courthouse in 1982.
I spoke with the community at the courtroom around the corner one March night in 1984 and we all agreed on what was important. But later trips to Glendive, and the town’s push into historic preservation, quickly convinced me that there was more to tell.
Note: sorry about the delayed posts–real life, and work, interfered in October.
In the 1984 survey of Montana’s landscapes for the state historic preservation office, when I turned southward at the Bainville depot, a Great Northern Railway landmark now sadly missing from the landscape, I understood that a new phase of the project, and of the state, was opening up before my eyes as a cold February turned into March.
I first encountered Fairview, at the tip of the Lower Yellowstone Valley and a product too of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project, which I addressed in earlier posts this fall.
Fairview then and even more so now was a place of transition between the agriculture made possible through the engineering marvel of the federal irrigation project and the slowly creeping westward push of the oil boom associated with North Dakota’s Williston Basin.
As I drove south along MT Highway 16, I passed through the Lower Yellowstone Project towns of Crane, Savage, Sidney, and Intake–discussed in earlier posts–and then hit Interstate I-94: the first interstate I had seen in weeks. But instead of turning into Glendive, the major town in the region, I veered to the east to explore Wibaux County.
I knew a bit about Wibaux through the standard narratives of Montana history because here stood the ranch house of Pierre Wibaux, one of the most famous early cattlemen in Montana. The house had long served as a heritage tourism stop, even as a state welcome center since Wibaux is positioned a few miles west of the Montana-North Dakota border on I-94. In 1984 I knew that I wanted to visit the ranch house, and see the monument erected to Wibaux to commemorate his life and achievements.
I also found, however, the heavy imprint left in the wake of the Northern Pacific Railroad as it headed into Montana and aimed for the Yellowstone Valley. For the next several weeks I explored this connection between rail and river that so defines the valley still today.
Wibaux is a town of bars–the Shamrock became my favorite in 1984, but the Rainbow Bar, housed in a building with more than a nod to Northern Pacific iconography, and the Stockman Bar were always worth a stop. Among newcomers in 2013, the Firelite was friendly but the big hit with locals and visitors was the Beaver Creek Brewery, a microbrewery way out on the plains of Montana.
With old historic hotels, business blocks, and bank buildings–one transformed into the town library–still intact, here is a commercial historic district just waiting one day to be placed into the National Register of Historic Places.
Besides the bars, however, I enjoy Wibaux for its sense of a western ranch town, even in the face of the expanding reach of the Williston oil boom. There is the 1950s contemporary-styled Wibaux County Courthouse; the county fairgrounds south of town; and a bit farther south on MT 16 the historic Nunberg Ranch, which is listed in the National Register.
Also listed in the National Register is the striking St. Peter’s Catholic Church, certainly a Gothic Revival landmark when the congregation built it on a high point west of the business district but then made into a western landmark with the addition of river stone in 1938. Here was a statement in the depression era: we are here and we are proud.
But if you turn to the north, however, on the other side of the tracks is the life of the community, the school. And this image of the high school football field is perhaps the best way to close a post about Wibaux. Yep, it is small, determined, and still here, even when many think it should have blown away decades ago.
The initial success of the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation project, along with the homesteading boom of the early 1910s, led to the creation of Richland County in 1914. The new county, so named for the promise of the U.S. Reclamation Service project and the booster rhetoric of the era, used the existing town of Sidney as the county seat.
Sidney was the largest town on the Northern Pacific’s spur that ran up the Lower Yellowstone Valley. The historic grain elevators along the tracks testify to generations of agricultural products shipped from the town, although today the incessant freight traffic serving the booming oil fields of the nearby Williston Basin overwhelm the earlier agricultural focus.
But the oil boom has not overwhelmed the city’s traditional agriculture-based economy, yet. The reason why is the persistence of two institutions that both received an economic shot-in-the-arm in 2002. First was the former Holly Sugar refinery that came to Sidney in the mid-1920s. Sidney Sugars Inc. took over the plant in 2002 and sugar beets by the thousands of tons are still processed here. The second key institution that speaks to the primacy of agriculture in Richland County is the USDA’s Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory, located just north of town. USDA established the center in the 1950s; the current complex dates to 2002, following a reorganization of its program two years earlier. One section of the unit stays focused on the center’s original program to support agriculture in the Lower Yellowstone project through research to enhance the productivity and profitability of dry land irrigated farming. The laboratory’s second focus studies how to better maintain weed and pest control through biological solutions rather than an over-reliance on chemicals.
The Richland County Courthouse, which was undergoing a massive renovation when I visited a year ago, spoke to the hopes and dreams of Sidney in the early 20th century. This neoclassical monument stood above all buildings in the town–save for the grain elevators. Another important building was the post office, a New Deal era project of Colonial Revival design that featured one of the handful of Montana post office murals, a depiction of the Yellowstone River landscape before the railroads and irrigation project by J. K. Ralston. This building since 1984 had been converted into county offices.
The 1930s also added two new buildings that have served the town’s youth ever since. Most prominent was the Sidney High School, now middle school, completed in the mid-1930s. A second was the log-construction Boy Scout Lodge, finished in 1932.
The town also retains several examples of 1920s domestic architecture, speaking to the impact of the sugar beet industry on its fortunes. Despite the on-going oil boom, these historic homes confer a bit of stability to a rapidly expanding area.
When I visited in 1984 the town proudly hosted a lecture about the state preservation plan at its brand new MonDak Heritage Center. The museum’s creators and leaders spoke with pride about how their history nor town would not disappear–the center was among the most impressive Eastern Montana history institutions of the time.
Little had changed over the past 30 years when I visited in 2013. The center had an over-flowing library and archives. Its art exhibits still celebrated J. K. Ralston. And its history exhibits still followed the model, set earlier by the Montana Historical Society in Helena in the 1970s, of a recreated frontier town, with period rooms, businesses, churches, and homesteading shacks.
The MonDak Heritage Center was a comfortable step back into time–not only for the persistence of museum interpretation from 30 years ago but also from the realization that despite the rapid change all around them, some in Sidney still retained that earlier sense of self, of ranchers making do and building a community out of the demanding environment of the Lower Yellowstone.