Bozeman and two railroads

IMG_6990On Bozeman’s Main Street today there is a huge mural celebrating the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1882. The impact of the railroad on the town was certainly a topic of interest in the 1984-85 survey, and one image included the existing Northern Pacific Railroad and adjoining grain elevators and other businesses reliant on the corridor.IMG_2659Today that same place has been transformed, through adaptive reuse, into a micro-brewery and restaurant–pretty good place too, and a great place in 2015 for me to get out of a persistent rain.  The Northern Pacific reached a deal with rancher Nelson Story in 1882 to build through his property but also provide a spur line to his existing mill operations.  From the beginning both the railroad and local entrepreneurs saw an agricultural future for Bozeman and Gallatin County.

A similar re-energized future has not yet happened for Bozeman’s historic Northern Pacific passenger depot.  The depot is a turn of the 20th century brick building that received a remodeling and expansion from Bozeman architect Fred Willson c. 1922 that turned it into a fashionable (and for the Northern Pacific line, a rare) example of Prairie style in a railroad building.

IMG_6976The depot and adjoining buildings have been designated as a historic district, with a pocket city park providing some new life to the area.  But this impressive building’s next life remains uncertain even as the city encourages creative solutions for the area.

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IMG_6973The c. 1922 depot is adequately moth-balled–the new roof has lots of life left–and as the city maintains it is structurally sound with key interior features intact.  Yet graffiti now mars one end of the building, and any building that is empty, especially in such a booming local economy, is cause for concern.

Why?  Because Bozeman has a tradition of tearing down historic railroad depots.  The images above from 1985 were of the town’s Milwaukee Road depot (c. 1907).  It was abandoned then, and I was concerned because so many of the railroad’s buildings had already disappeared across Montana, and because the arrival of the Milwaukee Road in Bozeman had launched an economic boom that shaped the town from 1907 to 1920.  In 2003, despite howls of protest, the building was demolished–a new use for it had never been found.

IMG_2660The same fate did not befell the Milwaukee Road’s other significant building in Bozeman, its concrete block warehouse, shown above in an 1985 image.  The open space, solid construction, and excellent location helped to ensure a much longer life for the building, which is now a building supplies store, with a repainted company sign adorning the elevations of the building.

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IMG_6993It is encouraging that the city recognizes the significance, and the possibilities, for the historic buildings along Bozeman’s railroad corridor.  Let’s hope that a permanent solution soon emerges for the empty Northern Pacific depot.

Bozeman’s historic districts after 30 years

Bozeman, the county seat of Gallatin County, was one of my favorite Montana towns during the 1984-1985 survey.  In some ways, it was still a cowtown, a commercial center for the hundreds of surrounding ranches in Gallatin County.  Yet it was also a college town–bars, music, cheap eats–as home to Montana State University.  In 1980 its population was over 21,000–thirty years later by 2010 it had boomed to over 37,000.  By the time I explored the town in 2015 for this new survey there were an estimated 42,000 residents, double of that of the 1980s town I had so enjoyed.

In 2007 then State Senator Lynda Bourque Moss stopped with me in Bozeman as we traveled from Billings to Helena where I was to speak to the governor’s task force on historic preservation, a meeting where the idea that I would recreate the survey of 1984-1985 first took root.  We stopped because she wanted to show me changes.  The four photos above showed me that yes, change had come, and in a big way to Bozeman.  The old Hallmark Store, which had moved into an earlier Stockman Bar, had become an upscale wine bar–a bit of California in the old cowtown of Bozeman–and when I next returned “Plonk” had added sidewalk seating.  We could have been in Aspen, at least Breckinridge, Colorado.

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Plonk and the sporting goods store, 2007

Bozeman had eagerly embraced the idea of historic districts in 1984-1985 as a way of revitalizing its downtown–so much had moved, or was going to move, out to the interstate exits.  John DeHaas at Montana State University had done so much to promote historic preservation in the 1970s and early 1980s.  A tradition and commitment were in place.  That much was clear when I surveyed the town and talked with residents and decision makers in 1984-85. The next several posts will explore the impact of those historic districts in the last 30 years, and offer observations on where next steps may go.

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Let’s start with what I saw as the public landmarks, and anchors, for downtown Bozeman in 1984-1985.  None was more important than the New Deal era Gallatin County High School, a striking Art Moderne design by Bozeman architect Fred Willson.  At that time, the “new” high school–which stood right by an earlier 20th century brick high school building–was not “old enough” to be considered for the National Register.  This building, like many of the state’s New Deal era legacy, has since been listed in the National Register.  And its grounds have been re-energized for all who walk by through the installation of a statue in honor of Malcolm Story, designed by Belgrade, Montana, artist Jim Dolan and placed in front of the earlier high school in 1995.

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Across Main Street is another public anchor, also funded by the New Deal in the late 1930s and also designed by Fred Willson:  the Art Deco classicism of the Gallatin County Courthouse.  Next door is the historic county jail, in a distinctive castellated Gothic style, which already had been converted into headquarters for the local historical society and county museum when I visited in 1984.  The facility still serves that purpose today.

A couple of blocks away from this public landscape core of Bozeman were additional public buildings, on side streets to Main Street.  Tracy and Babcock Streets had the town’s first two federal buildings/post office.  The 1915 neoclassical styled post office operated until 1964 and filled several community roles, including a turn in the 1990s hit movie A River Runs Through It until it became home to the non-profit HRDC after a complete renovation at the turn of the 21st century.  The building also has been enlivened by the addition of Jim Dolan’s statue in honor of Jeanette Ranklin, the first woman U.S. Congress representative, elected in 2010 from Montana.

Nearby is the mid-1960s Federal Building, a grand though boxy five-story building that symbolized the growth of the federal government and its impact on Gallatin County in the Cold War era while also adding a modernist design landmark to the city’s mix of Victorian and Classical architectural styles.  The earlier post office was given attention in my 1984-85; due to its date of construction and style, I paid no attention to the new Federal Building.  I didn’t repeat that mistake in 2015–the Federal Building of 1964-66 is one of the region’s most impressive statements of Montana modernism. and a much more recent Federal Building, which I ignored, for reasons of chronology that no longer apply in 2015.

The final public anchor was the Carnegie Library of 1902-1903, one of the better architectural expressions of Classical Revival style in the state, designed by architect Charles S. Haire, who shaped so much of state’s architecture in the early 20th century.

IMG_6895Then Senator Moss took me for a quick tour of its late 1990s renovation in 2007–its conversion into law offices respected both its original spaces and interior design.

 

That brings me to the four commercial anchors you encountered on Main Street in 1984-1985.  Two were massive buildings on either end of Main Street that defined the entire district–the Renaissance Revival style of Hotel Baxter, individually listed in the National Register in 1984, and the massiveness of the Victorian Romanesque style of The Bozeman Block, reminding everyone of the town’s railroad era.

In the middle of the district were two other key National Register properties–the Ellen Theatre, a wonderful Beaux Arts design scaled for the small town that it served in the 1920s.  Everyone thought that keeping a movie house/ theater downtown would help keep it alive at night.  The second building, the Union Hall, was both historically important but also could serve as a symbol of what downtown revitalization meant–a building need not

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be spectacular to serve an important role in the historic district.  The c. 1880s building belonged to the town’s boom during after the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived, and originally served as a brewery.  Here was where the Bozeman historic preservation office was located when I conducted the state historic preservation plan survey in 1984-85. Next let’s consider the town’s railroad resources, a focal point of mine 30 years ago.

 

 

The West Yellowstone Gateway

Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD

When I think about nationally significant resources that are too rarely, for my taste, recognized as such, I think about West Yellowstone and its Union Pacific Railroad complex.  It is not that the residents of West Yellowstone, Montana, do not identify these places as vitally significant to their history–few districts have better public

interpretation courtesy of the West Yellowstone Walking Tour, one of the best examples of local heritage tourism I have seen in the country, period. But still within the history of the western national parks the role of the Union Pacific, as it extended far north of its mainline to reach Yellowstone National Park, is seldom considered, much less appreciated.

Officially the property was designated as the West Yellowstone Oregon Short Line Terminus and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Several buildings and structures, including a bit of the railroad line are included in the district.  Construction of the line occurred from 1906-1908 and the first passengers arriving in the latter year.  The passenger depot now serves as a museum, not just about the railroad but about the

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development of the park and the adjacent region.  Completed in 1909 and designed by the railroad’s engineering office using rhyolite stone, the depot with its prominent brackets and arches reflect elements of the Arts and Crafts style popular at the time.  When passenger traffic to the depot ended c. 1970, the railroad deeded the depot to the town of West Yellowstone and a private museum was installed c. 1972.  The Yellowstone Historic Center leased the depot in 2000 and has installed much improved exhibits–again part of the general improvement in public interpretation at the district in the last 30 years.

IMG_0873  The district’s architectural jewel, the Dining Room, dates almost a generation later to 1926.  Architect Gilbert S. Underwood designed one of the late marvels of the Rustic style as defined in the northern Rockies.  With its rugged stone exterior rising as it was a natural formation in the land, the dining room immediately told arriving visitors that an adventure awaited them, especially once they stepped inside and experienced the vast log interior spaces.

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Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD 34Other former Union Pacific buildings have been given adaptive reuse treatment by the town, with a baggage building becoming police headquarters and the former men’s dormitory has been converted into a local health clinic.

West Yellowstone is also an entrepreneurial landscape, with the early Madison Hotel, which is listed in the National Register, being just the beginning of a trend where local businesses began to serve visitors to the park, especially as the automobile replaced the train as the primary way to reach this gateway after World War II.

IMG_6580Thus, West Yellowstone is among Montana’s best examples of roadside architecture as distinctive 19502-1960w motels and a wide assortment of commercial types line both U.S. 191 but also the side arteries to the highway.

The Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191

When I was conducting the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191 was still outside of Bozeman, untouched by the subsequent suburban and commercial explosion of the county.  In wake of the Milwaukee Road’s bankruptcy and closure in 1980, the state historic preservation office’s focus was on one property in particular, the railroad’s spectacular Gallatin Gateway Inn.

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Built in 1927 and designed in a Spanish Revival style–not common in Montana in that time for major commercial buildings–by the firm of Schack, Young, and Myers, the Inn had been listed in the National Register in 1980.  The nomination noted both its distinctive, rich architectural statement but also its purpose in 1920s tourism traffic for

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the railroad–it was the Milwaukee’s gateway to the West Yellowstone entrance of the national park.  Electric trains would move passengers from the main line at Three Forks,

Gallatin Co Gallatin Gateway Inn 1 – Version 2

stop here, the end of the line, where bus transport would take them on to the park.  Consequently the “inn” was a bit of misnomer.  There were only a bit over 30 guest rooms, but huge dining rooms, and an expansive comfortable lobby and public space where travelers would wait for auto transport on U.S. 191 to the park.  The Milwaukee was a latecomer to the railroads’ push to Yellowstone:  the Northern Pacific had a generation earlier secured its gateway at Gardiner and built the magnificent Old Faithful Inn inside the park.  The Union Pacific had arrived from the south and built its gateway and rustic-styled dining room at West Yellowstone.  The Milwaukee could not duplicate that–but it could give travelers a bit of the exotic in its Spanish Revival railroad/highway gateway property.

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Here was a 1920s railroad terminal where the highway facade, shown above, was actually the more prominent feature, more than the second entrance, shown below, facing the tracks and the end of the line.

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The gravel road is what is left of the original Milwaukee roadbed, looking north towards Three Forks

I visited the Inn several times in the 1980s, staying in the period rooms, later having quite a fine dinner there when the inn was rehabilitated and opened as one of the “Historic Hotels of America” properties as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  With the overall boom in the economy of Gallatin County, I frankly assumed by 1990 that the inn’s future was secured–this rare jewel had been saved.

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Then in 2013 the inn closed, and it was still shuttered when I visited in May 2015 (although clearly the building and grounds were being maintained).  Surely a new use, and a new life, can be found for this Montana landmark in the 21st century.  Across the street from the inn is a community landmark that proves that the past has a future in this part of Gallatin County–the historic Gallatin Gateway school.

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Its simple yet forceful facade, with projecting central entrance and its solid brick construction has given it a life into this century as part of a growing community.  Let’s hope for the same for the Gallatin Gateway Inn, and soon.

Madison Buffalo Jump: The deep past in Gallatin County

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One of the first historic sites I visited in Montana was the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.  That ancient property–in use for an estimated 2000 years before the last kill c. 1750–reflected how Native Americans used the landscape resources in unique ways to feed their families, build their lives and create their material culture–the buffalo was so central to Plains Indian culture.

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The park then was little different than what I found in 2015.  Ranches and development have not yet encroached on this National Register listed property, about seven miles south of Logan.  The cliff over which the Native Americans would chase buffalo to their animals death is still stark, a foreboding intrusion over the surrounding landscape.

IMG_6794I used a slide taken in 1982 in all of my public presentations about the Montana state historic preservation plan back in 1984-1985.  I found out that few Montanans knew of the place and its history.  What has changed since the 1980s?  The park is still little known and receives infrequent visitors.  In my 2015 fieldwork, I saw signs of new heritage development–the park sign, a bit of improvement to the outdoor interpretive center, and new interpretive exhibits with a more inclusive public interpretation and strong Native American focus.

First Nations Buffalo Jump–then called the Ulm Piskun–in Cascade County was much like the Madison property 30 years ago.  Both had unbelievable integrity of setting and association–you actually felt like you were in a historic landscape hundreds of years old. But today with its new visitor center and museum, the First Nations site is a superb teaching tool about the ancient patterns of Montana’s historic landscape.  Let’s hope that the champion for the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park soon appears–with such growth in Gallatin and Madison counties the last 30 years both new and old residents need a place that tells of the deep Native American history impeded in the Montana landscape.

Willow Creek: end of the line

IMG_6775Willow Creek was the end of the line for both the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road railroads as they vied for dominance in turn of the 20th century western Gallatin County.  The Northern Pacific came first with its spur line to Butte in the late 1880s then the Milwaukee arrived c. 1908.  Both used the same corridor, along what is now called the Old Yellowstone Trail on some maps; the Willow Creek Road (MT 287) on others.  It was a route that dated to 1864–the town cemetery, according to lore, dates to that year and Willow Creek has had a post office since 1867.

To find Willow Creek you follow the tracks and go south, entering one of the most beautiful rural landscapes left in the county. At the head of town is a historic early 20th century grain elevator on the old Northern Pacific line.

From there the old highway curves into the town itself, creating a streetscape that takes you back 80 years at least, when Willow Creek was full of promise as a two-line town.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek

Two important commercial landmarks face each other.  First is the frame, false front early 20th century Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon, a local establishment that I cannot recommend enough.  It is the social heartbeat of the town.

IMG_6771Across the street is the “employment center,” the Willow Creek Tool and Technology which sells its wares across the west out of its brick building from the 1910s. (Note the faded advertising sign that once greeted travelers on the Yellowstone Trail highway.)

IMG_6762The cultural side of Willow Creek is represented by several places: homes and galleries of different artists, a monthly arts festival in the summer, and two special buildings from the 1910s.  The Stateler Memorial Methodist Church, c. 1915, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built from rusticated concrete blocks (from the cement factory at Three Forks) designed to resemble stone masonry, the church building is home to one of the oldest congregations (1864) in the Methodist Church in Montana.  The Gothic Revival-styled sanctuary is named in honor of its founding minister Learner B. Stateler.

IMG_6770Nearby is another crucial landmark for any rural Montana community–the local school.  The Willow Creek School is an excellent example of the standardized, somewhat Craftsman-styled designs used for rural Montana schools in the 1910s. Two stories of classrooms, sitting on a full basement, was a large school for its time, another reflection of the hopes of the homesteading era.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek school 3Additions in form of a gym and added rooms had come to the north and the school and its lot is the town’s community center. Although so close to Three Forks, the school kept its

enrollment enough to maintain a Class C status in athletics and its tiny football field and track, with a beautiful view of the Tobacco Root Mountains, might be one of the most scenic athletic field spots in the west. No wonder that residents do what they can to keep the school and the town alive in an era of great change in Gallatin County.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek football field 1

 

 

 

Montana’s Three Forks, Part 2

Gallatin Co Three Forks 6Three Forks, Montana, is unique in how competing railroads shaped this one small town between the 2008 and 2010.  The last post discussed how the Milwaukee Road came first, and its landmark Sacajawea Inn stands at the north end of the town’s main street.  On the east side–see the Google Map below–became the domain of the Northern Pacific Railroad and its spur line to the copper kingdom of Butte

Gallatin Co Three Forks bank/ Masonic temple

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Between the two railroads, Three Forks grew rapidly in the second decade of the 20th century during the homesteading boom.  Two places that help you decode the town’s history and built environment.  At the south end of Main Street is the Headwaters Heritage Museum, which is located in the National Register-listed Three Valleys Bank, a Romanesque Revival-styled two-story brick building from 1910, when John Q. Adams started the town. The museum opened in 1982–I can recall its beginnings as place of pride and energy, now it maintains a fine local history collection.

Other National Register properties from the 1910s help to tell the town’s story as they remain in use creating new futures in the 21st century.  These include the classical styled Ruby Theater of 1916, listed in 1982, and the 1913 United Methodist Church, later damaged during a 1925 earthquake but restored by the congregation to its Gothic Revival style in 1993.  All of these buildings speak to town hopes and dreams during the homesteading boom as much as the slowly deteriorating grain elevators at the north end, not listed in the National Register, speak to what happened to those dreams in the 1920s and 1930s.

You can also explore the story of transportation and Three Forks at a new visitor center facility–at least new to this traveler in 2015–at you enter the town from the north.

It is just north of the Sacajawea Hotel and the town’s historic Milwaukee Road depot, which is now a restaurant and casino.  The visitor center emphasizes the Milwaukee story, especially how the railroad viewed the town as its first gateway to Yellowstone.

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The planned centerpiece of the visitor center is the moved railroad depot from Trident, a planned company town from 1908 that produced cement from the abundant resources along the river.  The community is raising money for its restoration and adaptive reuse as a heritage center.  The original company name was the Three Forks Portland Cement

IMG_6785Company. In 1914  Charles Botcher bought the plant, renamed it the Ideal Cement Company and kept it in business under that name until the 1980s.

Little remains of Trident today, except for its concrete roads that help to mark the blocks of the town, although no houses remain today.  They were still there into the 1990s but later company owners, who still produce cement from the plant, and ship it by railroad across the region, tore them down early in this century.  Trident is now a fascinating remnant, a historical archaeology site, and its depot in Three Forks will probably become the place to tell that story into the future.