Circle, Montana, is an isolated place in the big scheme of the western landscape. It is not close to any interstate nor is it served by any federal highways. It is at a key Eastern Montana crossroads, that of state highways 13 and 200. The seat of government for McCone County, the place has been an important trade and agricultural crossroads since the early 20th century. It was at that time that the two-story frame Gladstone Hotel was constructed–as a place of first residence for homesteaders coming into the region and later for highways travelers in the automobile age.
When I traveled the state in 1984 for the preservation plan, folks at the State Historic Preservation Office–Marcella Sherfy, Lon Johnson, and Pat Bick particularly–were eager to see what I thought about this recent addition to the National Register of Historic Places. They knew that it was already a rare yet fascinating relic of the early homesteading era.
The day and evening in Circle were memorable. Orville Quick, the head of the local museum and a heritage treasure in his own right, arranged everything, managing even to get a decent crowd there for my evening remarks, even though Circle was playing in the regional basketball tournament in Miles City at the same time. The Gladstone was just as memorable–creaky, yes, quaint, yes, but quiet except for a truck or two roaring through the town.
I wasn’t surprised just disappointed at its condition today. Certainly it is among the state’s threatened National Register landmarks. Anytime a business is closed, the lack of use is not good for its preservation. The solutions for a building of this size in an age of standardized lodging and marketing are daunting–where can the money come from to adequate conserve the building but yet recoup the investment when relatively few travelers come this way. But to lose this c. 1910s building, and the role it played in giving the early town a semblance and symbol of permanence and prosperity would truly be a loss for understanding and documenting the homesteading experience of the northern plains.