Nashua, Montana: stories of a railroad and a man

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Nashua is the eastern most town of Valley County, Montana, located where Porcupine Creek empties into the Milk River.  Its history mirrors those of many towns along the Hi-Line:  it too began as a Manitoba Road town in 1888-1889. The tall grain elevators that still dominate the townscape, as they did in 1984, document the days when the rails carried everything as does the moved and repurposed Great Northern Railway depot, not a Senior Citizens Center.

Elevators along Great Northern line, 1984

Elevators along Great Northern line, 1984

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Nashua is also a gateway along U.S. Highway 2 to the region’s New Deal era history, especially the construction of Fort Peck Dam and Reservoir.  As an eastern gateway to the dam, Nashua reached its peak population of over 900 in 1940 as the project neared completion.  Today less than 300 make Nashua home.  One key New Deal survivor–the 1935 school (with later additions)–is home to the Porcupines, and serves still as a community center.

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Another building in Nashua, the Civic Center, also looked New Deal in its origins, indeed similar in shape (but not materials) to the WPA-constructed civic center in Glasgow.  But in finding out the history of this building, I also found the story of a man and family who shaped Nashua in the post-World War II era.

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Victor Dostert (1886-1961) is a Montana small town example of a “civic capitalist,” a topic that I explored at length in my book Capitalism on the Frontier (1993).  He came and homesteaded south of the town along the Milk River during the boom of the 1910s but when the bust came in the 1920s Dostert, his wife Anna, and their three sons stayed, making their mark with construction projects (from a theater to the Catholic Church) and taking advantage of the thousands of construction workers passing through by building and operating Vick’s Bar in 1935.

Vick's Bar and Bowling Lane is at the center of the Nashua business district

Vick’s Bar and Bowling Lane is at the center of the Nashua business district

Then in 1957 the family added a adjacent Bowling Alley–and both institutions were still going when I visited in 2013.  The Civic Center, however, was Dostert’s crowning civic achievement.  He designed the building and had it constructed during his period as Nashua mayor (1945-1951).  It housed a movie theater as well as provided community meeting space. And as a community gathering point it anchors the adjacent Lion’s Park and is busy throughout the year, an anchor of identity for the dwindling population of eastern Valley County.

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15 thoughts on “Nashua, Montana: stories of a railroad and a man

  1. I have an old photo of my Dad, Clarence Arneson, (probably from the 1920s). On the back is penciled several names all with “Nashua, Montana” below each one. Lillian Wagner, Thomas Wagner, Mrs. Charles “Binder?”, Sottie “Harriet?”. Any names ring a bell? Just truing to figure out what Dad was doing in Nashua, Montana in the 1920s. We lived in Minneapolis.

    • I’ve looked into what I have and cannot connect those names. Nashua was a trade town on the Great Northern Railroad and the recently finished US highway 2. If he was there in 1920s perhaps he was taking advantage of new business opportunities with either Ft Peck Reservation or with the bottom coming out of the homesteading era

      • There are still Wagner’s there! There was a Scottie Bell, and he had a second hand store there at one time, has passed on. He may have been involved in some construction at the time, or went to school there.

    • How fun! Thomas Wagner was my grandfather, and Lillian and Mrs. Charles Binder were his sisters. I would guess they were building Fort Peck dam in the 1930s.

    • Thomas Wagner was my grandfather and those were his sisters. They would have been building Fort Peck dam in the 1930s.

    • Looks like you found the connection with Wagners, but there were and are Arnesons in our area also. Some lived in Nashua and some still reside in Glasgow just 14 miles down the road. You can find Char Arnesons on Facebook, and Darla Larson who are both married to Arnesons relatives. Good luck!

  2. My family lived in Nashua from 1951-1961. My father Elwin Holeton worked on second power house and Glasgow air base. Thanks for sharing this article. I’ll be there for Nashua all school reunion. My class was 1962.

  3. A while back, it seems to me someone asked a similar question, perhaps a different family. At that time I had created a partial Arneson Family Tree including the 1920 US Federal Census data: Thomas I Arneson (55, Norway, plumber) & his wife, Christine (52, Norway); a daughter – Clara (25, MN, Red Cross nurse); son – Clarence (14 May 1894, MN – 27 Jun 1952, CA, a plumber) and daughter – Helen (13, adopted, SD). In 1920 their home was Garretson, Minnehaha, South Dakota. There may be a connection birth, marriage, death dates are the only way to be certain.

    “Footprints in the Valley” p637 lists the Arneson’s as homesteaders Anna (Christina) -1913, Fred B, George J, and John – 1914. It may have been that as a relative they has shared with your father that they were leaving their farm per chance he wanted to buy it. The family doesn’t show up again in my reference books. Although on-line there was John Arneson, farmer in Opheim, MT

    Also re the other names, per the “Nashua History of 1897 -1977”: In June 1924 Tom & Margarette (Jackins) of Nashua married. (In those days friends came from all around to celebrate, the Wagners originated from Tabor, SD they may have been friends). Their children entertained as a 3 piece orchestra, playing around the country, Tom – drums, Joe – accordion, & Charlie Binder – violin, combined with the Hasslers for the wedding it must have been a big celebration. Plus it was the first wedding dance held at the Burrington’s Hall at Nashua. Your father may have been visiting then. That was the roaring 20s and the crops were good and the prices were good enough for many farmers to buy mechanical equipment. Prosperous times. It was also easy to travel by train to Nashua.

    In 1929 Lillian & her husband, Jim Efta left for Wagner, SD which is a short distance from Tabor, SD. Charlie Binder & Martha Wagner & son Bennie, all moved to Scotland, South Dakota, then retired to Tabor, SD. The Bell family were from Canada, to N/D, and then Nashua, MT in the 1920s. When the Wagner parents retired farming they returned to their hometown of Tabor, SD.

    notes:
    1928 “Dust Bowl”
    1929 “Start of the Great Depression”
    1933 “Fort Peck Dam”
    1939 “WWII”

  4. Hello, hopefully this is a simple question; how did Nashua get its name? I know that Nashua Iowa was settled by some people from Nashua New Hampshire. This first Nashua was named for the Nashua Indians who lived along the banks of the Merrimac and Nashua Rivers. Thank you – Mark Avey,. aveyms@aol.com or (865) 803-3419. I have a trip planned to Nashua Iowa. I guess I need to add your town to that list.

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