I hope you saw a great story in this week’s Great Falls Tribune about the “montimental divide.” It is a phrase coined by Doug Habermann of Montana State Parks, to discuss the landscape of eastern Montana created by the divide between the drainages of the Missouri and Yellowstone river. Don’t want to steal the Tribune’s and Habermann’s thunder, so I encourage you to look up the article. I am going to riff on some of the places Habermann outlines along the divide–especially the small towns and rural landscapes. I fully agree–and many of you know I have said so for many years–that eastern Montana has many special places and compelling landscapes. That is why I so enjoyed the article–Habermann and the Tribune highlighted places that often get forgotten when folks speak of the Big Sky Country.
Let’s start with one of the towns that many Montanans speed by–at least those in Billings heading north to central Montana via Montana Highway 3. Broadview was one of the railroad towns created in northern Yellowstone County once the Great Northern Railway took control of the state’s railroad lines at the turn of the last century. This image of a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train heading to Billings just south of Broadview.
In the fall of 1990 James J. Hill of the Great Northern announced plans to build the Great Falls and Billings Railway that would connect the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific Railroad and then connect both lines to the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy in Billings. Finally the city would have that northern rail connection businessmen had wanted since 1882-1883. The Billings Gazette proclaimed that the new line “would soon make Billings the trade center of eastern and central Montana.” That prophecy became true–for reasons more than just the railroad line. Broadview is now the largest of those rail towns created north of Billings in Yellowstone County.
The town’s extant, and nicely preserved, Great Northern standardized design passenger depot is a reminder of the railroad’s impact on the region. When you pull back from the depot and take in an overview of the townscape, you see the typical traits of the region’s built environment, from the grain elevators to the small scale of the other buildings to the general symmetry of the town layout.
The still thriving local school, home to the Pirates, speaks to the continued vitality of the community, despite its relative proximity to Billings. Broadwater is on the edge–of Yellowstone County and of the “montinental divide.”