Lennep Revisited

In the winter/spring of 2020, a new German newspaper contacted me about using several images from the website taken at Lennep, a small Milwaukee Road Town, along Montana 294 in Meagher County. The newspaper wanted to consider its American counterpoint, its isolated location in Montana, and is history. The editors named the story Ghostown Lennep.

I won’t provide a translation of the entire article, but the author Leon Hohmann provided me a transcript in English, from which I learned quite a bit about Lennep, Montana. The author wrote:

“But the history of the small town begins with another person: Martin T. Grande settled in 1877 in the place that was probably still nameless at that time. This is what history books tell us. He was the first white man in this area an immigrant from Norway who made his living by keeping 3000 sheep. Shortly afterwards, other settlers from Grande’s home village came to the mountain region, worked on his ranch or built their farms. 

But this arrival does not seem to have gone very smoothly: A descendant of the first settler reported in an interview that Indians had burned down the first buildings because the border between the area of the natives and the immigrants was moved further and further to the west. Thus the territory of the Indians became smaller and smaller. 

In the following years, Martin T. Grande’s ranch became bigger and bigger, more Norwegians came, whom he gave work, and he took an increasingly important position. His countrymen called him “good old patriarch”. 

But quite fast the contemplative collection of some ranches and farms became a bigger village. Almost overnight the actual town of Lennep, west of Martinsdale, was built along the Jawbones railway line and served as a small stopover, according to a dissertation on the history of the region. That must have been in 1899. It was also the year that an auditor from the operating company Montana Railroad travelled there and named the place after his German homeland. His name: Johann Wilhelm Fuchs “

Since interest in Lennep, Montana, has an international audience and it has always been among my favorite Milwaukee Road places, I made plans to revisit in 2021–ten years since my last visit–and see the condition of the town.

Lennep Memorial Park Cemetery

I started with a resource given a brief look in 2011–the town cemetery, which is well maintained as the Lennep Memorial Park. The names of the early settlers such as the Grande, Hoyem and Hereim families are prominent as are the Thompsons, who were Masons. The wives–not named–of Andrew Berg have a distinctive obelisk grave marker.

Martin and Karen Grande grave maker. Martin Grande founded the town in late 1870s.

Leon Hohmann continued with the story of Johann Fuchs–who became Wilhelm Fuchs in his new adopted town of Lennep, Montana. Hohmann wrote:

“Johann Wilhelm Fuchs was born on September 2, 1859, in Lennep, Sarah Baldy from the Remscheid town archive found out. His parents: Hermann Fuchs from Elberfeld, who was a teacher at the higher citizen school in Lennep, and his wife Elise a born Hilger. 

Growing up on Munsterplatz, he was a young adult when he decided to train as a businessman, which was quite astonishing since his father did not have this profession. But Sarah Baldy has an idea why young Johann Wilhlem took this path: Because his maternal grandfather, Johann Wilhelm Hilger, who died only a few months before the birth of his grandson, was a merchant. 

The archivist suspects that this Johann Wilhelm Hilger founded the company Gebrüder Hilger with his brother Daniel. Around 1856 the brothers built a large cloth factory in Wilhelmsthal in Radevormwald, where up to 600 people worked at times. After a fire in 1890, the company had to file for insolvency. Later, the cloth factory became a paper mill, whose production was only stopped on November 30 1970. Since then, the main building has been empty and neglected. 

To what extent Johann Wilhelm Fuchs became active in his grandfather’s business has not been communicated. If he did, then probably not for too long. For at the age of 23, he left his home country to start a new life in the United States of America. This is the conclusion drawn from data in the North Rhine-Westphalia State Archive. 

He arrived as Johann Fuchs on August 11, 1882, on Ellis Island, New York with two pieces of luggage. He started his journey from Antwerp on the Belgenland I of the Red Star Line as passenger number 23. What he did after his arrival is unclear. 

His name only reappears around 1894, when Montana Railroad is founded as the third railway company in the state. At that time, however, he called himself Wilhelm J. Fuchs. He is said to have already planned a train route from Helena to the East with Montana Railroad President Richard A. Harlow. In 1899, in the course of the construction of the Jawbones Railroad, he also travelled to the village of the settlers from Norway. He named the railway station there “Lennep”. Whether he also lived in Lennep is not known, however. His trace is finally lost in 1904 after the operating company of the Montana Railroad had left.”

The buildings that remain today appear to date to the decade of the railroad’s arrival, from c. 1907 to 1917. Certainly that decade marked the height of population and activity here. The wind-swept setting of Trinity Lutheran Church is unchanged. This Gothic Revival church remains the town’s commanding landmark, and remains the active community center. Hohmann noted: “In 1914, the beautiful building was constructed from wooden shingles. The invitation to tender for the church was published in The Harlowtown News on 25 July 1913 with the aim that the construction should be completed by 15 November of the same year. But apparently, the structure of the Trinity Lutheran Church had been delayed. The new building cost 4300 dollars, paid by the Lutheran church congregation, which was founded in 1891.” 

Trinity Lutheran Church. The handicap access ramp is an addition in the last 10 years.

The old town general store remains closed, and it has been mothballed to a degree with plywood over damage windows, I suspect. Hohmann wrote about this building: “The train line was necessary for the inhabitants of the ranches around Lennep because the trains supplied the grocery store with food. The goods were not only sold to the people of Lennep, but also inhabitants of the neighbouring villages. Also, the gold-digger camps in the Castle Mountains to the north are said to have supplied from Lennep. At least some hobby historians in American internet forums suspect this. Furthermore, a gravel road connected the village with the Cumberland Mine. Silver and lead were mined there.” The building clearly was a center point for trade and communication. Some deterioration has occurred, but relative minor repairs and a new coat of paint would correct that. The congregation renovated the church in 2016 and at that time added the new porch and handicap access ramp.

The school house–which has not had students since 2011– remains in decent condition although some missing roof shingles could pose water problems. Water and moisture is not the threat in this part of the west as I am accustomed to in the east but a leaky roof is never a good thing. A nearby dwelling has that modern replacement metal roof–it too stood quiet at the time of my visit in June 2021 but appears to be in solid condition.

The dwelling between the store and school, however, is in danger of serious deterioration. Half of its shingles are missing–the deck is not in great shape. You wonder if this building is not the next to disappear from Lennep.

Yet, when you stand back at the church and took back southeast toward the railroad line and town, the view of the buildings and landscape is little changed in ten years. Lennep might be a ghost town but it is still there, as a marker of the impact of the Milwaukee Road on the Meagher County landscape.

A final marker to the east can be found by continuing on Montana Highway 294, which closely follows the old Milwaukee Road corridor for several miles before the track and the highway diverge.

A portion of the Milwaukee Road corridor along Montana 294, now turned into a ranch road.

That would be the brick powerhouse necessary to power the electric engines that the Milwaukee Road used in this section of its route. Cows might surround it today but in the early 20th century the brick powerhouses scattered along the line were signs of modernity, of the electric power that distinguished the Milwaukee from all of the other transcontinental railroads in Montana.

Transformations in Helena

St Mary’s Catholic Church became a 6th Ward landmark upon its opening in 1910 and a recent renovation will keep the building in community service for another generation.

The sixth ward in Helena in the late nineteenth century was a focal point for the new capital city of Montana. The arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad and the location of its railroad yards some mile and a half southwest of Last Chance Gulch created a new part of the city with plenty of bars and cafes for rail workers and travelers but also a historic neighborhood that often gets forgotten.

The historic block o& commercial buildings facing the depot
Hap’s has served customers for decades along this commercial block.
Nationally recognized railroad architect Charles Reed of the St Paul firm Reed & Stem designed a new modern passenger station for the Northern Pacific in 1904.
Northern Pacific depot’s clock tower. The passenger station is the centerpiece of the neighborhood’s National Register-listed historic district

The architecturally expressive Northern Pacific passenger station of 1903-1904 led to new investment of brick buildings in the neighborhood but many small vernacular dwellings remained in use and today the neighborhood retains a railroad workers’ feel.

Hap’s Beer Parlor transformed from a rail workers’ hangout to a neighborhood institution. It was a popular place when I lived in Helena almost 40 years ago—it remains legendary.

In 2016 the city of Helena established the Railroad Urban Renewal District which encouraged new investments in the neighborhood and its immediate environs, such as the Vanilla Bean coffee shop and bakery. Another key addition was the Sixth Ward Garden Park, an impressive example of the community garden movement.

The changes in the neighborhood are promising but also challenging as new businesses such as Headwaters brewery move to the outskirts. Let’s hope the modern does not crowd out the historic in Helena’s Sixth Ward.

The new Headwaters brewery

The Phillipsburg Boom

Over eight years ago I wrote about Phillipsburg as a Victorian mining town that had the “bones” to become a heritage tourism magnet along the Pintlar Scenic Route.

A booming weekday in Early June 2021

I was astounded at the number of people there in early June 2021 Thursday—not the weekend. Certainly the reputation of the Sweet Shop has grown, and grown. it was a busy place.

The other attraction was just under construction when I visited in 2012. The Phillipsburg Brewery, located in the late 1880s Sayres Building, is a great local micro brewery but you can taste its wares at restaurants statewide.

It’s an impressive adaptive reuse project for even the interior still retains a late 19th century. Not over built or over restored. Just re-energized to serve the town again.

There was a historic change from 2012 at the most unlikely place—the city cemetery. In 2012 I commented on the Victorian theme of several of the burial plots. It remains a remarkable place for that artwork in cast iron.

What was new? A commendable effort to address the silences of the past, in the case of Phillipsburg the large Chinese community who once lived there, worked there, and many prospered there during the mining boom of 1890-1920s.

The Granite County Historical Society in 2014 placed an interpretive marker in the cemetery to tell the story of the Chinese burial ground—located in a corner far from the Victorian center of the cemetery. We are now challenged to learn more about the names on the plaque and understand better their contributions.

The marker stands alone, as did the Chinese community in the era of racial segregation. The burials in this section range from the late 1880s to 1932. When were the headstones removed? I don’t know yet. But here is the place, several names are listed in primary sources. The next steps to end this silence await.

Shawmut school, Then and Now

I always enjoy driving along US Highway 12 in the Musselshell Valley. It is lightly traveled plus it was the historic route of the Milwaukee Road. Ever since the railroad ceased operations in 1980, the small towns along the line began to fade away.

Shawmut school, 1984

Shawmut was one of those towns but in 1984 it still operated an elementary school, then about 50 years old, having been built during the New Deal of the 1930s. Towns that retained enough population and commitment to keep their school but had a chance.

Shawmut school, 2021

Shawmut school district, as shown above, continued to renovate the building and make it last for another generation. The school made it into the 21st century but closed in 2015 due to declining enrollment.

The Silos of Canyon Ferry Lake, then and now

As I traveled through Montana in 1984 documenting the state for its historic preservation planning, I photographed all sorts of structures. None were more compelling than the 40-foot plus brick silos between the west side of Canyon Ferry Lake and US Highway 12/287 north of Townsend.

The Silos on Canyon Ferry Lake, 1984

At that time, they were the only remnants of the ranching operation of A. B. Cook, constructed about 1920 as he and his ranch hands were raising sheep along a stretch of the Missouri River. The construction of Canyon Ferry Dam in the 1950s forever changed that landscape, but the silos were an important reminder of the earlier past.

The Silos on Canyon Ferry Lake, 2021

Thirty-seven years later, the Silos are no longer just lonely reminders of a sheep ranch. They are the landmarks for a lake-focused suburb of Townsend. The community embraces the brick structures and has recently carried out preservation and restoration. May The Silos remain a landmark along this federal highway for generations to come.

Montana’s National Historic Landmarks: Burton K. Wheeler House, Butte

I’m looking to the time when I can resume my exploration of Montana’s historic places, hopefully in the late summer when travel may be easier as the pandemic eases it impact on everyone. In the meanwhile, I wanted to make several posts about Montana properties that are listed as National Historic Landmarks–the highest possible federal designation for national significance. Montana has its fair share of NHLs because so much nationally significant history has happened within the state, and so many nationally historic individuals has passed its way for its centuries of history.

Burton Kendall Wheeler (1882-1975), however, does not carry the name recognition, say of Lewis and Clark. However, as a national political leader of the first half of the 20th century, Wheeler more than made his mark just on the West. He served four terms in the U.S. Senate, from 1923-1947, and ran as the Vice-Presidential nominee for the Progressive Party third party candidacy of Robert La Follette of Wisconsin in the 1924 presidential campaign. He strongly supported the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, but then emerged as an isolationist as the storm clouds of World War II gathered from 1939 to 1941.

His bungalow on Butte’s E. 2nd Street is known locally as the “blue house,” for obvious reasons. Wheeler began his career in Butte c. 1905 and was elected to the Montana legislature in 1910. He served as U.S. Attorney in Butte later that decade and ran as the Democratic nominee for governor in 1920 but lost that election to Joseph Dixon.

The Sentinels of Toole County

Kevin, Toole County, Montana

Grain elevators not only record the industrialization of plains agriculture; they also show you places–where the railroad left a siding and some sort of town, mostly gone now, took root over 100 years ago. Kevin is in northern Toole County, maybe 20 minutes south of the Canadian border. This lone elevator documents its homesteading era, that with the bust of the 1920s gave way to a boom in oil production in the middle decades of the 20th century. several oil tanks still remain from that era.

Kevin, Toole County, Montana

Kevin is the outlier–the rural grain elevators of Toole County record places that were once large agricultural communities, and have not been in population decline for decades. But elevators, both from the early days and from more modern times, remain as the sentinels of Toole County.

At Devon, Toole County, the elevators face U.S. Highway 2 and the tracks of the Great Northern Railway, now the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. I wonder if you can see them from the Sweet Grass Hills. some 30 miles to the north.
More recent metal grain silos surround the older grain elevator at Dunkirk, a land-locked place surrounded by grain fields for as far as the eyes can see.
Galata, on the eastern end of Toole County, captures the fundamental nature of the Hi-Line landscape–bands of steel on raised roadbeds, dotted here and there by tall grain elevators and the spare building or two.

A new future for Missoula’s City Cemetery?

The City Cemetery is one of Missoula’s oldest extant public properties, if not the oldest since it dates with a year of the arrival of the tracks of the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1880s. Recent news stories have spoken of surplus land and new development. I hope that as those plans for change are implemented that city officials also consider listing the cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the most interesting public cemeteries I have encountered in Montana. The cemetery also meets the criteria for eligibility of the National Register.

One of the best ways to document a cemetery for the National Register is to explore its historical significance. In the case of the Missoula cemetery, it dates to c. 1883-1884 as a public institution and represents an important way that early town officials began to build the public infrastructure for the city to come. Also the cemetery has several important markers that commemorative key groups and events in local history.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 12

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 11

For example, this section of early graves of the Montana Pioneers at the cemetery, marked initially by the large cross, has been memorialized by a recent (1982) commemorative tablet.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 3 Relief Corps

This large obelisk marker dates to 1919 and refers to the effort of a once large and significant women-led group, the Women’s Relief Corps, who initially led the commemoration of Union dead from the Civil War, as an auxiliary organization to the Grand Army of the Republic.  The WRC stayed active through the Spanish-American War and World War I and this marker recognizes veterans from all of those conflicts.  

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 4

Fraternal organizations were very important in Missoula’s late nineteenth and early twentieth century history.  Their membership is well represented throughout the cemetery; here are images of the Order of the Eastern Star and then a strategically placed Masonic monument at one of the cemetery’s crossroads.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 1

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 17

The image above speaks to the cemetery’s overall design, a reflection of the mid-nineteenth century Rural Cemetery Movement, which perceived a well designed cemetery serving almost like a city park, with curvilinear drives, landscaped grounds, and lots of ornamental plantings, from boxwoods to large, expressive trees.  The Missoula City Cemetery, as the next images show, has all of the traits of a Rural Cemetery Movement property.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 7

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 13

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 6These images speak to the cemetery’s architectural significance, another point of emphasis for a National Register nomination.  The cemetery has several elaborate grave markers, a virtual sculpture garden that also speaks to the city’s artistic expressions.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 15

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 9

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 14

Yet as the image directly above suggests, the cemetery also represents the community and many of its grave markers are small and largely unadorned, reflective of a working to middle-class centered place as Missoula was for so much of its first 75 years.

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 16

Missoula Co Missoula Cemetery 8

Nestled as it is south of the Northern Pacific mainline, the cemetery is a relaxing but noisy environment at many times.  Let’s hope that its new future reflects the importance of its past and this urban cemetery is not surrounded by high-rise buildings and development that transforms what has been an urban oasis for over 130 years into a mere dead end.

Fort Owen: 2020 update

Great news this weekend from the Stevensville newspaper. A new parking area and expansion of the Fort Owen State Park is now in its planning stages. Parking a car and not being in the way of the ranchers who live next door has been problematic for decades. As the photo below indicates the ranch is immediately adjacent to the park.

The new parking area will be at the south entrance to the fort, eliminating traffic snafus and creating new possibilities for public interpretation rather than the only single marker of today.

Plus the new parking area should not distract from the marvelous view of the Bitterroot Valley from this oh so important place. let’s hope the archaeological work before the lot is built uncovers new information.

The Milk River Project and its Impact on Northern Montana

Phillips Co Dodson ditch

Milk River Irrigation Project Ditch at Dodson, Phillips County

In today’s New York Times (June 15, 2020), Montana Jim Robbins reported on the looming disaster facing Montana’s northern states if the St. Mary’s canal, which recently collapsed, is not repaired.  The informative, insightful story focuses on the beginnings of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Milk River Irrigation Project, its pathway through southern Alberta, and its emergence in central Montana’s Hill County.  It included several wonderful images of Havre, the seat of Hill County, and discussed the wide-ranging disaster faced by ranchers and small towns along the Hi-Line if the ditch did not get its long overdue repairs–to the tune of $200 million.

Valley Co Tampico ditch

The Great Northern, the Milk River Project, and original U.S. 2 at Tampico

Robbins’ story immediately took my mind back to my travels throughout the Milk River Valley, from Hill County to Valley County, in 2013.  The story of how modern transportation and engineering combined to transform the northern plains is so fundamental to the region’s history, yet it remains a story seldom told (another reason Robbins’ New York Times story matters).  The image above represents the forces that led to the settlement and development of the Milk River Valley.  Taken outside of the village of Tampico in Valley County, it centers the ditch between the two transportation systems–the Great Northern Railway on the left and the original route of U.S. Highway 2 on the right– that served the settlers drawn by the water.  The image below shows the village of Tampico from the perspective of the ditch–the place would not exist without the ditch.

Valley Co Tampico ditch 3

Valley Co Tampico Milk river bridge hwy markerOne of the very few historical markers in Montana that touches on the state’s irrigation history focuses about a historic bridge that once stood nearby at Tampico.

Hil Co Fresno dam 2

Hil Co Fresno reservoirLarge man-made lakes capture water to reserve it for use throughout the growing season.  The images above are of Fresno Reservoir, on a rainy morning, in Hill County.  While the two images below are of Nelson Reservoir, on a typically bright sunny day, many miles downstream in Phillips County.

Phillips Co Nelson reservoir sign irrigation

Phillips Co Nelson Reservoir USBR 1The Milk River Project shapes so much of the Hi-Line, it has become just part of the scenery.  I wonder how many travelers along U.S. Highway 2 in Phillips County even notice or consider the constant presence of the ditch along their route.

Phillips Co Milk river irrigation ditch near Robinson ranch

Not only are their scattered small towns along the Milk River Project, early agricultural institutions are often centered on the project.  A great example is the Phillips County Fairgrounds, outside of Dodson, and the question may be well posed–why there?  Dodson

Phillips Co Dodson Phillips Co FairgroundsPhillips Co Dodson Phillips Co Fairgrounds 3is a tiny place, almost 20 miles from the county seat of Malta.  But at the time of the Milk River Project, Dodson was vital; the ditch neatly divided the town into two halves, and a major diversion dam was just west of town.  Here was a perfect place, at the turn of the century, for a fairgrounds.  And it is a gorgeous historic fairgrounds.

Phillips Co Dodson Phillips Co Fairgrounds 6

Phillips Co Dodson Phillips Co Fairgrounds 7

Phillips Co Dodson Phillips Co Fairgrounds 4

My first encounter with the Milk River Project and the beautiful valley it serves came in February 1984 when Eleanor Clack took me on a tour of the bison kill historic site just west of downtown Havre.  It remains an excellent place to see how the waters of the Milk have nurtured countless generations of peoples who called this place home.

Hill Co Havre Wapka Chugn Site 7

Just last week I posted about two other Milk River Project towns–Lohman and Zurich–in Blaine County.  My next post will continue this second look at the Milk River Project as I revisit Chinook, the Blaine County seat, where the ditch once again is almost everywhere, but rarely given a second thought.

Blaine Co Chinook Milk River ditchs of cemetery