For many visitors to Fort Peck, the grand, mammoth concrete spillway (which is actually in McCone County) is the takeaway lesson of this nationally significant New Deal project. Photos in Life magazine made this place famous, and its modernist design was lauded not only in the United States but overseas as well. When he visited the construction site in 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt insisted: “people talk about the Fort Peck Dam as the fulfillment of a dream. It is only a small percentage of the whole dream covering all of the important watersheds of the Nation.”
Fort Peck Village, constructed for officials of the project, visitors, and workmen, is on a wholly different scale. One and two-story buildings, a general Arts and Crafts aesthetic with Colonial Revival buildings thrown in for good measure, curvilinear streets, open public spaces: an attempt in general to establish a 1930s suburb feeling among the key administration buildings of the project.
Historian Fred Quivik has written insightfully about the townsite, its development, and the changes it has experienced since, especially the expansion of the 1950s and the addition ranch-style houses and a contemporary-design school.
Fort Peck Village provided respite and recreation for administrators and workers. The village’s most impressive legacy–and one of the most important buildings of New Deal Montana, is the Fort Peck Theatre.
Nothing in Montana matches its Arts and Crafts-infused Swiss Chalet styling. Details abound on both the exterior as well as the interior.
In 1984 I marveled at the building. My colleagues at the Montana SHPO, especially Lon Johnson, had prepared me for it by sharing images and stories. But nothing quite matches being in the space, as then experiencing a stage show as I did in 2013.
The theatre, the town, and the colossi of the dam, reservoir, spillway, and powerhouses create a landscape like none other in the northern plains and one of the nation’s most powerful statements of the New Deal landscape.