Livingston: the river side of town

Park Co Livingston catholic school 1Livingston’s town plan from 1882 was all about the railroad, with the adjacent Yellowstone River an afterthought, at best an impediment since it defined the south end of town.  So far from the tracks to be of little worth to anyone, few paid it any attention.  100 years later when I am considering the town for the state historic preservation, I too was all about the railroad and the metropolitan corridor of which it was part.  I paid no attention to the river.  The town’s schools were on this end, but they were “modern” so did not capture my attention.

Park Co Livingston L&C at Yellowstone 3Consequently I missed a bit part of the town’s story, the effort to reform the landscape and create public space during the New Deal era.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) transformed this part of town from 1935 to 1938 expanding an earlier public park into today’s Sacajawea Park.

The agency built a diversion dam on the river to create the lagoon for Sacajawea Lake, and added a lovely rustic-styled stone bridge.  Later improvements came in 1981.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal pool

As in many other communities across the nation, the agency also added a modern outdoor swimming pool, and bathhouse.  Plus it built a public amphitheater–several of these still exist in Montana.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal 6The major addition, however, was the large combination Civic Center and National Guard Armory, an Art Deco-styled building that cost an estimated $100,000 in 1938.  It too survives and is in active use by the community.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal 1Tourists now come to this area more often than in the past due to additions made during the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial in the early 21st century.  The park is part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail.

Park Co Livingston L&C at Yellowstone 2

Local sources funded the additional of an interpretive memorial and statue in honor of the July 1806 stop at this place by Sacajawea and her baby Pomp. Mary Michael is the sculptor. The result is a reinvigorated

public space, not only due to the history markers about Lewis, Clark, Sacajawea, and Pomp, but also the obvious community pride in this connection between town, river, and mountains.

Park Co Livingston Sacajawea Park New Deal 9

 

The north side of Livingston

Park Co Livingston north side shops 16Livingston was one of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s most important division points.  Not only did the massive and architecturally ornate passenger station, discussed in the previous blog, serve as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, it contained various company offices, serving as a nerve center for the thousands of miles of railroad line.  If you do the typical tourist thing in Livingston, you pay attention to the depot and the many late 19th and early 20th century buildings south of the tracks.

Park Co Livingston north side shops 19But to find where the real work of the railroad took place, you have to locate the underpass that takes you to the north side of the tracks, and the extensive Northern Pacific railroad shops.  This area is not as busy as it once was, but enough buildings remain and enough activity takes place 24-7 that you quickly grasp that here is the heartbeat of the line.  In the photo above, one early shop building, the lighter color brick building to the right center, still stands.  Most others date to the line’s diesel conversion in the mid-20th century.

Park Co Livingston north side shops 11With the mountains to the south, and the outlines of the town visible as well, the shops are impressive statements of corporate power and determination, and how railroads gave an industrial cast to the landscape.

Park Co Livingston north side shops 18 - Version 2The north side, in many ways, was a separate world.  Here the homes may date to the Victorian era too, but they are not the stylish period interpretations found in numbers on the south side.  Rather they are vernacular styled cottages, or unadorned homes typical of America’s turn-of-the-century working class.

That quality carried over to the public buildings on the north side.  Its public school is an attractive building, reflecting standardized school design of the early 20th century but is built out of concrete block, resembling masonry, and not constructed of brick as the classically styled Lincoln School of the south side.

Park Co Livingston north side shops 2The school was converted into a community museum some 30 years ago, and if you visit the grand passenger station, you also need to stop at the school, to get a fuller picture of Livingston, the railroad town.

The railroad town theme is so dominant, that it can be overlooked even on the south side.  Let’s return there and look at some of the town’s more iconic commercial buildings, which, back in the day, served as railroad hotels, like the New York Hotel above, now much better known as the Mint Bar.

Park Co Livingston Montana Hotel Block 9The above block of commercial businesses was once better known as the Montana Hotel while the block below, called the Hiatt Hotel in more recent years, was the Park Hotel, opened in 1904 to take advantage of increased tourist business due to the new Northern Pacific depot.  Noted Montana architect C.S. Haire was the designer.

Park Co Livingston park Hotel J.g. Link 2These buildings served tourists in the summer months but throughout the years they relied on the “drummer” trade.  Drummers were a word used to describe traveling businessmen, who rode the rails constantly, stopping at towns large and small, to drum up business for their companies.  They too, like the machine shop workers on the south side, were a constant presence on the railroad lines of 100 years ago, and helped to make the lines hum with their travel and their stories.

Livingston: seeing the obvious but missing the big picture

Park Co Springdale NPRR corridor

In my work on the state historic preservation plan in 1983-1994, I was excited about the new insight I could bring to the state’s landscape–the impact of the transcontinental railroads and the transportation and settlement corridors that they established in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Railroads were of course not a new theme then–books abounded on the railroad barons and the romance of the rails.  But as a built environment–that was new, reflecting current scholarship from John Hudson, John Stilgoe, and Roger Grant.  So whenever I hit a major railroad division point–like Livingston–I only saw the rails and what happened around them.

Park Co Livingston

That was certainly easy enough to do coming into Livingston from the west on old U.S. 10.  The railroad tracks were directly to the north, as well older elements of the town’s roadside architecture, like the exquisite Art Deco-styled radio station, KPRK, now closed for broadcasting (the station’s signal comes from Bozeman) but listed in the National Register. William Fox, a Missoula architect, designed this jewel in 1946.

Park Co Livingston art decoContinuing west you soon encounter post-World War II service stations and motels, some updated, some much like they were, on the outskirts of town and then, boom, you are in the heart of Livingston, facing the commanding presence of the Northern Pacific depot complex with warehouses–some now converted to new uses–coming first and then

Park Co Livingston 3massive passenger station itself. Opened in 1902, the passenger station was an architectural marvel for the new state, designed by Reed and Stem, who would continue on to great fame as the architects of Grand Central Station in New York City.  The station, interestingly, is not Classical Revival in style–certainly the choice of most architects for their grand gateways along the nation’s rail line–but a more restrained interpretation of Renaissance Revival style, completed in red brick.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 12The building is not particularly inviting for locals coming from the business district to the depot–that was not its primary audience.  Rather the grand entrance is track side, where passengers headed to Yellowstone National Park could depart for food, fun, frivolity, whatever they needed before the journey into the wildness of Yellowstone.

Park Co Livingston NP depot

Park Co Livingston NP depot 9Travelers were welcome to use the grand covered walkways to enter the depot proper, or to take a side visit to the railroad’s cafe, Martin’s as I

Park Co Livingston NP depot 7knew it back in the day, a place that rarely slept and always had good pie. The cafe changed its orientation from the railroad to the road as automobile travelers on U.S. 10 began to dominate the tourist market.  Now it has been restored as a local brew pub.

Park Co Livingston NP depot 11

The interior of the passenger station once held large public spaces for travelers and then more intimate spaces themed to either men or women.

Upstairs were spaces for offices, company lodging, and other company business.  The station was the railroad’s urban outpost was what was then still the Montana frontier–its statement of taste and sophistication still reverberates today even as the depot no longer serves passengers (except for occasion excursion trains Amtrak doesn’t run here anymore) and serves as a railroad and Park County museum.

Park Co Livingston RR and Murray Hotel

Thirty years ago, the overwhelming imprint of the Northern Pacific on the surrounding built environment was all I could see.  At one corner was one of the first local historic preservation projects, an adaptive reuse effort to create the Livingston Bar and Grille (once popular with the valley’s Hollywood crowd).

Park Co Livingston bar and grilleDirectly facing the center of the passenger station was the mammoth Murray Hotel–a flea bag operation in the 1980s but now recently restored as a hipster place to be, especially its signature bar.

My throwback place back in the 1980s, however, was Gil’s.  It was next to the Murray and the place to get the cheesy souvenirs you equate with western travel in the second half of the 20th century.

MT 2007 Park County Livingston 3Imagine my pleasant surprise last year when I found that Gil’s still existed but now had been converted into a decidedly up-scale establishment, far removed from the 1980s.

Park Co Livingston Gil'sI don’t know if I have encountered a more fundamentally changed place–cheap trinkets gone, let the wood-fired pizzas come on.

Park Co Livingston main st blocksI was not so blinded in 1984 by the concept of the “metropolitan corridor” that I ignored the distinctive Victorian storefronts of Livingston–how could I since they all, in a way, fed into the tracks.  But when I got to the end of that distinctive business district and watched the town, in my

MT 2007 Park County Livingstonmind, fade into the Rockies, I had captured the obvious but had missed the bigger picture–that’s the next story.

Eastern Park County and the Yellowstone River

Park Co US 89 Horse Thief Trail bridgeTraveling south of Clyde Park on U.S. 89, you pass by the turn-off for Horse Thief Trail, where a historic steel bridge still allows for one-lane traffic over the Shields River; this bridge and snippet of road is part of the original route of U.S 89.  That means you are nearing the confluence of the Yellowstone and Shields rivers, and where U.S. Highway 89 crosses the Yellowstone River and takes you into the heart of Park County. Paralleling the modern concrete bridge is a c. 1897 steel Pratt through truss bridge, to serve the Northern Pacific Railroad spur that runs north to Clyde Park then Wilsall.  The Northern Pacific called this the Third Crossing of the Yellowstone bridge; the Phoenix Bridge Company constructed it.

Park Co US 89 Yellowstone River NPRR bridge  Before jogging slightly to the west to head to Livingston, the county seat, two places east of the Shields River confluence are worth a look.  First is the site of Fort Parker, established as the first Crow Agency in 1869 or the first federal facility in the valley.  It operated from this location until 1875.

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Interstate I-90 traffic passes directly by the fort site, which was on a low bluff overlooking the Yellowstone

In conducting the 1983-1984 survey for the state historic preservation plan, the location of Fort Parker was understood, but not explored and certainly not interpreted.  Here was a very important story of how the Crow Indians initially interacted with federal agents within 4 years of the end of the Civil War and 7 years before the battle of Little Big Horn. Nothing was marked; it was in danger of becoming a forgotten place.

MT 2007 Park County Ft ParkerGladly all of that changed in the 21st century.  As a result of another innovative state partnership with land owners, there is an interpretive center for the Fort Parker story, easily accessible from the interstate, which also does not intrude into the potentially rich archaeological remains of the fort.  The story told by the historical markers is accurate and comprehensive, from the agency’s beginnings to the land today.

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I really like how the metal tipi poles not only make the site easy to locate but it gives it a Native American centeredness, a presence, that otherwise is missing when all that the visitor finds is an interpretive marker. After all the story of Fort Parker is very much the story of the Crow Indians, and how they resisted, accommodated, and came to terms with the increasing white presence in the Yellowstone Valley in the 1870s.

MT 2007 Park County Ft Parker 1Few remnants of that early white settlement remain today; you can find some just north of Springdale, at Park County’s eastern border, on the north side of the Yellowstone River.  Hunter’s Hot Springs was the first attraction, established by Andrew Jackson Hunter in the 1870s, and receiving its last update in the early years of automobile tourism in the 1920s, as shown below in this postcard from my collection.  Today, as the Google image below also shows, there are just scattered stones and fences from what had been a showplace for the valley.

The disappearance of Hunter’s Hot Springs from the valley landscape is also reflected in marked decline at Springdale, the railroad town south of the river that provided access to the resort, over the last 30 years.  One of the Yellowstone’s famous early 20th century highway bridges once crossed here; remnants are all that remain now.

Park Co Springdale Yellowstone River bridgeCommercial businesses once lined the town side of the Northern Pacific tracks.  Nothing is open today although trains rumbled down this historic main line every day.  What does survive is impressive and worthy of

 

landmark status in my opinion:  the Springdale school.  Once nestled on the edge of town (what was then the least valuable land since everything was focused on the tracks) but now easily found from the interstate exit, this school may be the most accessible rural school in the state.  Built in 1918, it is still the town’s focus almost 100 years later.

Park Co Springdale school 4

Park Co Springdale school

 

U. S. Highway 89 heading south

After taking a long look at the depth of nationally significant heritage stories and historic places in and around Great Falls, I want to change regions, to the Upper Yellowstone valley and get there by one of my favorite western highways, U. S. Highway 89.

Cascade Co Neihart US 89 NAs the highway leaves the central plains east of Great Falls, it heads east through coal country (see the earlier post on Belt) and south into the Little Belt Mountains and the old mining towns of Monarch and Neihart (above).  Both Cascade County towns are proud of their heritage, a story embodied in the Monarch-Neihart School, a wonderful bit of log craftsmanship from the New Deal era, a WPA project finished in 1940 that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

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Another point of pride is the ongoing renovation of Neihart’s Great Northern Railroad depot, a mark of the town’s beginnings, which also serves the greater Monarch-Neihart area as the local museum and heritage center. While on the other side of the road, another turn of the century historic building has been converted into a self-described junk shop where you can acquire bits and pieces of the past.

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After traversing through the mountains, by a sky resort, you suddenly drop back into the central Montana plains, a landscape shaped by the Smith River, one of the state’s most compelling natural and historic landscapes.  You are now in Meagher County, discussed in an earlier post, where the town of White Sulphur Springs is the county seat. It too has its New Deal landmark, the Classical Moderne styled county courthouse.

IMG_7160When I last visited there in 2015 the combined route of U.S. 89 and 12, which passes in front of the courthouse and the center of town, was being rebuilt, giving the historic business district the look of a ghost town.

The Fort Logan Road, on the east side of town, was not under construction, allowing for easy access to the other significant transportation link, the railroad, and the still surviving White Sulphur Springs depot, a place certainly worth of listing in the National Register.

Meagher Co White Sulpjur Springs depot 3U.S. Highway 89 continues south, crossing the historic corridor of the Milwaukee Road at Ringling, another Meagher County town discussed in an earlier post, marked by the landmark St. John’s Catholic Church.

IMG_9498Travelers continuing south soon find themselves in Park County, entering the Shields River Valley just north of Wilsall, where highway markers and monuments, like that for “Thunder Jack” (2006) by sculptor Gary Kerby, convey the significance of the place.

Park Co US 89 Thunder Jack statue N of Wilsall 3

IMG_1158Wilsall was not much a place 30 years ago, a small trade town on the edge of a Northern Pacific Railroad spur line, a past still recalled by the tall elevator and old railroad corridor.

Park Co US 89 wilsall elevator 1But the growing popularity of the Shields River Valley has led to a new boom in Walsall, with old banks converted into bars and old general stores

being revived and expanded. The town has its own museum now, in a converted gas station from the 1920s that served travelers and locals. The stories preserved there, along with the mural of Walsall over 100 years ago, show the residents’ sense of place and the past.

Park Co US 89 wilsall crazy little museum 2

Park Co US 89 wilsall mural

The next town down the old Northern Pacific line, Clyde Park, has a similar story of revival from 30 years ago. Glenn’s Shopping Center is still going strong, as is the town community hall across the street, and the town park is neatly kept and in regular use.

Park Co US 89 Clyde Park stores 1Clyde Park Tavern is still the place to go for an adult beverage, or two.  Historic grain elevators still serve local ranchers, marking the railroad line that defined the town’s landscape until the impact of the highway in the early 20th century.

The sojourn to the Yellowstone Valley will stop here, on the edge before we cross bridges, backtrack to Springdale and Fort Parker, before we explore in some depth Livingston, Montana’s gateway to Yellowstone National Park.

 

Great Falls Heritage Area, Part 6: the cultural side

Cascade Co Great Falls business district 15

Few American cities are as obviously in love with a 20th century artist as Great Falls is with Charles M. Russell, often called the “cowboy artist.”  Russell became an icon in American western art by the mid-20th century, and Great Falls is home to multiple shrines, from the 1986 statue downtown of “Kid Russell and Monte,” the centerpiece of what was then a new downtown renewal project, and Bob Scriver’s earlier statue of “C.M. Russell: Cowboy Artist” outside of the C. M. Russell Museum, located adjacent to his historic home and studio in an unassuming Great Falls neighborhood.

Western art is a significant cultural phenomenon of the 20th century, no matter how one views it today.  And Russell, as the statues suggest, is a giant within the field, one of the handful whose work is still admired by devotees and critics today.

Cascade Co Great Falls CMR museum 3

Cascade Co Great Falls CMR museum 1

Russell’s Victorian cottage home and adjacent log cabin studio were really nothing out of the ordinary in Great Falls in the early 20th century while vernacular still easily stood side-by-side more identified forms of domestic architecture.  But his achievement rates these properties among the few 20th century National Historic Landmarks in the state, and they have been so recognized for many years now.

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But there is much more to the cultural side of Great Falls that the looming presence of Charles M. Russell.  The city has an impressive range of architectural statements from the late 19th to the mid-20th century, with the Art Deco-styled New Deal-funded buildings of the county fairgrounds shown above falling in the middle of this architectural timeline.  Many of these are listed in the National Register of Historic Places as individual properties or as historic districts.  The historic neighborhoods have scores of worthy Victorian-style homes.  There are

then gargantuan statements of style and purpose constructed by the town’s Catholic community in the early twentieth century, from the Ursuline School to the massive Columbus Hospital, once of the city’s most important landmarks of its progressive era.

Cascade Co Great Falls Ursuline Center 3 - Version 2

The town’s soaring Arts and Crafts styled Masonic Temple has recently found new investors willing to tackle this early 20th century landmark and find a new future for it some 100 years later.

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Great Falls residents know such conversions can work, since when I first visited the city in 1982, everyone wanted to go and appreciate the conversion of the Dichardsonian Romanesque styled high school into the Paris Gibson Center, a new focal point for the arts in the city.

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Paris Gibson Center was just the start of 30 plus years of successful historic preservation and adaptive reuse projects, keeping such mid-century modern landmarks as the Whittier School, another New Deal

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls Whittier School 084project, and the Art Moderne landmark Intermountain bus station–once so proudly featured in the Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges movie, “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot,” part of that decade from the mid-1970s to mid-1980s when Montana was suddenly in the lens of Hollywood.

Cascade Co Great Falls bus station DecoAll of these buildings and places help to give Great Falls its unique sense of self, and its sense of achievement and promise.  And that is not to even mention the fun, funky stuff, such as the Polar Bears and having the

IMG_9102supper club experience of 50 years ago at Borrie’s in Black Eagle.  Stepping back into time, or looking into a future where heritage stands next to the

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 130atomic age, Great Falls and its environs–from Fort Benton to the northeast to Fort Shaw to the southwest–can give you that memorable heritage area experience.

Great Falls Heritage Area, Part 5: Rails,Rivers, and a Smelter

2011 MT Cascade County Great Falls 024Many heritage areas in the eastern United States emphasize the relationship between rivers, railroads, and industrial development and how those resources contributed to national economic growth and wartime mobilization.  Great Falls can do that too.  Situated on the Missouri River and designed by its founders to be a northwest industrial center, entrepreneurs counted on the falls to be a source of power and then on the railroads coming from Minnesota, especially the promising Manitoba Road headed by James J. Hill, to provide the transportation.

IMG_0961Paris Gibson, the promoter of the Electric City, allied his interests to two of most powerful capitalists of the region:  Marcus Daly, the baron of the Anaconda Copper Company interests and James J. Hill, the future rail king of the northwest.  Their alliance is embodied in several different properties in the city but the most significant place was where the Anaconda Copper Company smelter operated at Black Eagle until the last decades of the 20th century.  When I surveyed Great Falls for the state

preservation plan in 1984 the smelter stack had recently come down but a good bit of the surrounding industrial plant remained.  When you look at the same place today, the site has been nearly wiped clean, still closed off to the public but ripe for the day when it could be a center for public interpretation of the impact of the smelter on the city, state, and nation.

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Great Falls already has shown an ability to reimagine and find new uses for its industrial landmarks, as demonstrated by the adaptive reuse projects surrounding its railroad corridors.  Yes, railroad corridors because while the Manitoba Road and its successor the Great Northern Railway dominated the city, the Milwaukee Road also built into the city in the first

 

Cascade Co Great Falls Milwaukee Road depotdecade of the 20th century and soon erected its tall tower depot right on the Missouri River.  But wherever you go along the river you find significant buildings associated with the Great Northern and its allied branch the Montana Central Railroad, especially the downtown warehouses.  Some are still fulfilling their original function but others

have taken on new uses as offices and museums, such as the local history center and the well-regarded children’s museum.

Still at the head of the city, as appropriate for its role in creating and sustaining Great Falls in its early decades, is the magnificent depot of the Great Northern.  Montana has many small town examples of the

“metropolitan corridor” written about by historian John Stilgoe; Great Falls is superb extant example of how the corridor shaped the landscape and architecture presence of urban centers across the northern plains. These properties suggest the richness of the industrial and transportation stories associated with the rise of Great Falls and its role in western history.