In considering Fort Benton from 1984 to today, I have compared the early efforts to preserve the town’s nationally significant mid-19th century history in the latter part of the twentieth century to the massive effort to re-interpret the place in the 21st century. I am not the first writer to do so, but we all then leave out the history of the town from the end of the Victorian period to the 1960s. And Fort Benton has something to say there as well.
There is the county fairgrounds and its early 20th century landscape and buildings–here is the community center for the entire county during the summer. And a reminder of how the county’s and town’s economy became so dependent on agriculture from the 1880s to the present.
Let’s look at the New Deal era school–a huge sprawling brick complex, full of encouraging words for a time when agricultural hopes and dreams for Chouteau County had been dashed. “Industry is worthless without culture”–words that almost perfectly sum up the community’s efforts in the second half of the 20th century to celebrate its past.
Then let’s shift to the town’s prosperity and hopes as expressed in contemporary design from the 1960s. Two compelling modernist statements continue to serve–the Catholic Church and Lutheran Church, anchoring the west end of town.
Fort Benton has much to say about the 20th century too–just walk away from the riverfront and find it.