Phillips County Courthouse (1921), Malta

Phillips County Courthouse (1921), Malta

This image comes from my last quick trek through part of northeast Montana in 1988. The unstated classical beauty of this courthouse in Malta impressed then, and I trust it will still be as well maintained and preserved 25 years later. I’m in Malta at the end of Memorial Day weekend. Compared to Tennessee, where I have now worked for 28 years, courthouses and their grounds often appear as afterthoughts in the Montana landscape. Whereas the central courthouse square plans of Tennessee are at the center of the historic commercial district, I was reminded in my 2012 work in southwest Montana that often the Montana courthouses are on the margins (like the Beaverhead County Courthouse in Dillon) or nestled within residential districts (like in Deer Lodge). In the railroad towns of the Hi-Line, the depots are at the head of town and serve as the entrance to the primary commercial district. This spatial difference speaks both to when Montana county seats were created and to the overwhelming influence of the railroads in the region one hundred years ago. It is one of the most interesting patterns in the Hi-Line’s historic landscape.

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