Two people asked yesterday, what about the Ox? In may 2012, the streetscape outside had changed but little in the interior. Still a mixing place for residents, students, and people passing through. But the barkeep related that fewer students come than in the past–she opined that it was a bit too rough and mixed for them. Certainly Missoula has many new places for students, brewpubs and taprooms seemed to be all over the Higgins area.
Modernism is another key theme for the work in 2012-2014. I explored this a bit in 1984-1985 but today, in the 21st century, buildings like this public school, with its multi-color panes and stilts strike you as emblematic of the era of the early 1960s. The boom in Butte had reached new heights, and growth still seemed unlimited as long as you were willing to sacrifice community for huge holes in the ground like the Berkeley Pit. Few guessed that the boom would not even last another generation.
Another trend I noted in 2007-8 is the unintended consequences of historic preservation. The older downtown core of Missoula is a different place with the streetscape improvements and reinvestment in buildings. A degree of authenticity is lost at a place like the Double Front. Chicken is still great, but a more suburban look to the exterior and interior masks the tavern’s original grittiness and railroad corridor location
As I discuss in the About section, I began to consider a new Montana heritage inventory in 2007 after speaking to the governor’s task force on historic preservation. On my way to Helena from Billings, I stopped at my favorite Milwaukee Road towns, Harlowton. It wasn’t yet a ghost town but was clearly hurting, and the National Register-listed Graves Hotel was closed. In 1985 it was still vibrant and the last place we stayed in Montana before leaving for Tennessee.
Roadside bars and taverns are crucial community landmarks throughout Montana; over time I will share some of my favorites, for here is where you can talk with residents and just learn much about rural community networks in a sparsely populated region.
I began the new statewide survey in May 2012, traveling about 3600 miles in three weeks in May. The major find was Butte–not that historians, writers, and folklorists had not long loved the place. I always found that it was difficult to understand what Butte was–a true cosmopolitan urban environment locked into the high mountains of Montana–if you could only look at it from the downtown up towards the mines.
But today as the city reclaims its mining landscape and builds a series of world-class greenway trails linking the city and its headframes and mines on top of the world’s richest copper mountain, you can visit this high country, peer down, and really understand why it is a special place.