Glendive and early 20th century domestic architecture

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Modernism in Glendive

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.

Historic Texaco Station in Art Moderne style, Glendive , MT

Historic Texaco Station in Art Moderne style, Glendive , MT


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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.
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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.
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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.
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Dawson County Courthouse, 1962, Glendive, MT

Dawson County Courthouse, 1962, Glendive, MT


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.
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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.
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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.

Glendive: the Yellowstone’s first railroad town

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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.
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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.

Northern Pacific corridor in Glendive

Northern Pacific corridor in Glendive


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.
Merrill Avenue Historic District, Glendive

Merrill Avenue Historic District, Glendive


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.
Closed for sometime now, the Lulhaven Bar is a classic example of Art Deco, with its black carrera glass and glass block entrance

Closed for sometime now, the Lulhaven Bar is a classic example of Art Deco, with its black carrera glass and glass block entrance


The Jordan Hotel combines both Art Deco elements and an overall International Style feel to reflect not only the depot across the street but to invite customers into its corner entrance

The Jordan Inn combines both Art Deco elements and an overall International Style feel to reflect not only the depot across the street but to invite customers into its corner entrance


The striking 1960s metal facade of the Rose Theater was layer over an earlier brick building

The striking 1960s metal facade of the Rose Theater was layer over an earlier brick building


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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.
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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.

A turn into the Yellowstone Valley

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.
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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.

Historic Hotel Albert, a 3-story brick relic of the homesteading boom

Historic Hotel Albert, a 3-story brick relic of the homesteading boom


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.
Ft. Gilbert highway marker, north of Fairview: note oil well to the right

Ft. Gilbert highway marker, north of Fairview: note oil well to the right


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.
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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.
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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.
Underpass separating MT 16 from the Northern Pacific mainline at Wibaux

Underpass separating MT 16 from the Northern Pacific mainline at Wibaux


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Sidney, Montana, and the Lower Yellowstone Irrigation Project

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.

Northern Pacific Railway corridor at Sidney, MT

Northern Pacific Railway corridor at Sidney, MT


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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

The Lower Yellowstone Project

Irrigation ditch at Intake, MT

Irrigation ditch at Intake, MT


Established by the Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902, the U.S. Reclamation Service moved early to transform the northern plains of Montana. The Lower Yelllowstone Project dates to 1904-1905, and the diversion dam and ditch established at Intake, north of Glendive, the seat of Dawson County, is the best single place to see the engineered landscape of the U.S. Reclamation Service.
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The dam, shown above, diverts water from the Yellowstone River into the big ditch, see below, which in turns waters thousands of acres of ranches in Dawson and Richland counties.
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Intake itself was initially a town of promise, as the two historic elevators suggest, but the spur line built from the Northern Pacific Railway at Glendive north to Sidney. But there is nothing left there now but the recreation area on the Yellowstone River.
Intake elevators

Intake elevators

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A much more successful story happened to the north at the town of Savage in Richland County. Here you cannot escape the ditch as it winds through the town. But residents also have established their own local museum about their community and the irrigation project, centered on the historic Breezy Flats school.
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Savage still has its high school, built by the New Deal in Art Deco style in the late 1930s, and new churches speak to recent growth. Like other Richland County towns, rapid growth as exploration of the Williston Basin could transform this little town that the railroad and federal irrigation projects built. That time has not arrived here yet–but at Sidney the county seat, the transformation is well underway. That story is next.
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Football field at Savage

Football field at Savage

The Yellowstone and Missouri Confluence

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In the Montana survey work of 1984, there were few places I was more excited about visiting than the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, on the border between North Dakota and Richland County, Montana. I had been working with the Western Heritage Center of Billings for a year on an exhibit, “Yellowstone: River of Life,” that would finally (to my mind) begin to refocus attention on the largely ignored history of the Yellowstone Valley. The story had many beginning points, but certainly where the Yellowstone emptied into the Missouri was one of the most important. This area had long been a Native American landmark. For the early Canadian and American traders, it was a crucial crossroads for the northern plains fur trade. The American Fur Company established Fort Union as its largest post in the region–and the site of the fort was still there, but little else, as the images above from 1984 indicate. Paul Hedren of the National Park Service promised me there was more to come–that the post would be rebuilt and its significant story told.
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When I returned to this spot in 1988, I found that Paul’s promise had already met with success. The Bourgeoise House–the post headquarters and residence of the fort’s administrator (or Bourgeoise) had been rebuilt, finally suggesting the commanding size of the fort. The stockade and the rest of the site awaited a similar reconstruction.
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Twenty-five years later, I returned to Fort Union and explored a fully rebuilt site that finally was starting to receive the visitor count it always deserved: due to the Williston Basin oil boom. Williston, North Dakota, was gaining population as never before, and significant numbers of new residents were also reshaping Sidney, the seat of Richland County.
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The reconstructed fort included a strong physical presence for the Native Americans who were the crucial economic actors for the post’s success. Without the reciprocity in relations and trade between the northern plains peoples and the American traders, the post would not have survived nor prospered.
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More could be done with the size and massing of this Palladian inspired classical styled dwelling–actually a rather late example of this architectural style but somehow a sensible design considering how the post was really on the far edge of the American empire. It would be decades later, after the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1980s, that a dwelling with such architectural pretension would appear in the Yellowstone country.
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More could be said with additional reconstructed spaces and exhibits about the fur traders’ on Native Americans in the fur trade era from 1830 to 1868, but the fort as it exists in 2013 certainly conveys more to the public than the displays I found in 1984. Few places in the yellowstone Valley had changed more than Fort Union between 1984 and 2014.
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