In my 1984 travels in northern Beaverhead County, I found few local dives more evocative than the Wise River Club, which stands along Montana Highway 43 near the confluence of the Big Hole and Wise rivers. I have used this image in the decades since multiple times to illustrate the vernacular of the Montana roadside. At the Wise River Club, the food, company, and adult beverages were great then, as they were in the spring of 2012, when I repeated my visit.
The club was still there, and the food remained excellent but certainly the exterior had evolved over the past thirty years. A new stone veneer–like something out of the mid-20th century–had replaced the rustic log look of 1984. A portico was there too. But what you really missed were the racks, wagon wheels, and totem pole of the earlier exterior. Until you ventured inside.
The racks had moved into the ceiling, throughout the tavern area. Quiet when I first arrived and everyone stepped back to accommodate the photo. Residents could still tolerate visitors at the Wise River Club.
Wise River is a village, and like the club, little had changed there in 30 years. I did document one building that I had unwisely ignored in 1984: the Wise River Women’s Club, established in 1958. (Once again the so-called “50 year rule” clouded my vision). The impact of women on community institutions can be found in any diary or book about rural Montana in the 19th and 20th centuries. But we do not often look for the buildings that embody in a physical sense that impact. This unadorned frame building is just one of many across the state that deserve much more than a quick look.