The Yellowstone’s Prairie County

Old U.S. 10 bridge over Yellowstone River, Prairie County, MT

Old U.S. 10 bridge over Yellowstone River, Prairie County, MT


From Glendive in 1984, I began to move up the Yellowstone Valley, taking a particular interest in the various Northern Pacific railroad towns–that over-arching pattern in the region’s historic landscape was clearly my over-riding interest in 1984. But places like Prairie County added their own intriguing challenges. Here the Milwaukee Road, coming from the southeast, entered into the valley. And then there was the real treasure trove of early settlement photographs produced by Evelyn Cameron. Thirty years ago, Cameron’s stark yet compelling images were just become re-discovered and appreciated. Her images were also in my head as I traveled this small eastern Montana county.
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Fallon was the first town I encountered in Prairie County. Established during the building of the Northern Pacific in the early 1880s, it has never been a big place. Its National Register landmark is probably rarely recognized, since it is the steel truss bridge on old U.S. 10 that crosses the Yellowstone at this place. This magnificent continuous span Warren through truss bridge is Montana’s longest truss bridge, 1,142 feet. It was built in 1944 as a wartime emergency project after a ice flow destroyed an earlier crossing at this place. It is also a reminder of how crucial old U.S. 10 was to the nation’s transportation system in the mid-20th century.
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When I visited Fallon 30 years ago, the school was a focal point of the community. In 2013, it was closed, and counted as one of the National Trust for Historic Places threatened rural schools of Montana.
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The old bank building was the post office, a great adaptive reuse I thought in 1984. This neoclassical brick building is still the post office–having survived the earlier postal service to close many small town Montana post offices.
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Another really important place of continuity was the Lazy Jo’s bar and cafe. Housed in one of those typical Eastern Montana buildings that grew, morphed, and changed again over the last 100+ years, it is still a great place, and an active community center.
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Across from the bar, between the town’s main street and the railroad tracks, was the water trough, a reminder of those days amply recorded in Cameron’s photographs 100 years ago, and the town’s only marked historic structure.
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Community pride is probably expressed best through the tiny but still active Fallon Town Park and the quietly dignified Grace Lutheran Church. These are anchors for a place that has experienced and survived much and faces an uncertain 21st century future.
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I apologize for the gaps in recent posts, just extremely busy in the job that actually pays money–hopefully I can catch up in what goes for winter in Tennessee. Next is Terry, Montana.

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