The southern end of Valley County has forever transformed by the construction of the Fort Peck Dam, Powerhouse, and Reservoir during the New Deal of the late 1930s. The huge construction project, building an earthen-filled dam across the river near an old fur trading post, employed tens of thousands of Depression-era workers and left a permanent federal imprint in the lake, the huge, iconic concrete spillway, and the village of Fort Peck.
The massiveness of the project–reflecting the boundless ambition and optimism alike of government planners, engineers, and workmen–is difficult to grasp. As you drive across
the top of the dam, the high vantage point of the Montana plains is spectacular, and a reminder of just how radically the dam changed the Missouri River Country. An interpretive kiosk–in need of repair and refreshening–tells of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and what it found and learned. But as soon as you turn to the east, it is not a open, wild landscape, but one dominated by the soaring towers of the power plant turbines, two concrete and steel obelisks to the 1930s ability to transform, and that decade’s faith in hydroelectric power.
The Corps of Engineers has recently opened a full interpretive center, not only about the dam’s construction but of the environment and wildlife of the region. But the story of the federal imprint is most graphically portrayed in the village of Fort Peck, built for the key administrators and officials of the project as well as important guests in the 1930s. We will look at that story next.