Gallatin County is one of the oldest white settlement landscapes in Montana. The Bozeman Trail to the western gold fields introduced settlers from the 1860s to 1880 to the potentially rich land of the Gallatin Valley. Then the Northern Pacific Railroad opened the heart of the valley to development as the tracks crossed the Bozeman Pass in the early 1880s.
Manhattan was not originally Manhattan, but named Moreland, as discussed in an earlier blog about the effort to build a barley empire in this part of Gallatin County at the turn of the century by the Manhattan Malting Company and its industrial works here and in Bozeman. But the existing railroad corridor, along with the surviving one- and two-
story commercial buildings facing the tracks (and old U.S. Highway 10), always made a drive through Manhattan a pleasant diversion as I crisscrossed Montana in 1984-1985. The town has a strong 1920s feel, in large part because of an earthquake that destroyed a good bit of the town’s original buildings in 1925.
Manhattan has changed significantly over 30 years–as the storefronts above suggest–just not to the degree of Belgrade. But you wonder if its time is not coming. From 1980 to 1990–the years which I visited the town the most–its population barely ticked up from 988 to 1032. In the 25 years since the population has expanded to an estimated 1600.
The historic auto garage from c. 1920 above is one of the most significant landmarks left upon old U.S. 10, and I am glad it is still used for its original function in the 21st century.
Community landmarks-fraternal lodges, the wonderful 1960s modernism of the Manhattan public school, and historic church buildings add character and a sense of stability to Manhattan.
Different variations on the Bungalow style characterize the town’s historic neighborhood. Buildings, like along old U.S. 10, have changed but still that sense of the early 20th century comes strongly across as you walk along Manhattan’s sidewalks.
At the same time, the new face of Manhattan is appearing in developments just south of the railroad corridor and in new construction facing the tracks. Both buildings “fit” into the town but stylistically and in materials belong more to the 21st century American suburb, especially when compared to the remaining vernacular commercial buildings.
Is Manhattan at a crossroads between its long history as a minor symmetrical-plan town along the Northern Pacific Railroad and its new place as one of the surrounding rural suburbs of the Bozeman area? Probably.
But it has many positives in place to keep its character yet change with the times. Many residents are using historic buildings for their businesses and trades. Others are clearly committed to the historic residential area–you can’t help but be impressed by the town’s well-kept historic homes and well-maintained yards and public areas.
Like at Belgrade, historic preservation needs to have a greater focus here. Nothing in the town is listed in the National Register but as these photos suggest, certainly there is National Register potential in this town.