The Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191

When I was conducting the fieldwork for the state historic preservation plan in 1984-1985, Gallatin Gateway and U.S. 191 was still outside of Bozeman, untouched by the subsequent suburban and commercial explosion of the county.  In wake of the Milwaukee Road’s bankruptcy and closure in 1980, the state historic preservation office’s focus was on one property in particular, the railroad’s spectacular Gallatin Gateway Inn.

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Built in 1927 and designed in a Spanish Revival style–not common in Montana in that time for major commercial buildings–by the firm of Schack, Young, and Myers, the Inn had been listed in the National Register in 1980.  The nomination noted both its distinctive, rich architectural statement but also its purpose in 1920s tourism traffic for

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the railroad–it was the Milwaukee’s gateway to the West Yellowstone entrance of the national park.  Electric trains would move passengers from the main line at Three Forks,

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stop here, the end of the line, where bus transport would take them on to the park.  Consequently the “inn” was a bit of misnomer.  There were only a bit over 30 guest rooms, but huge dining rooms, and an expansive comfortable lobby and public space where travelers would wait for auto transport on U.S. 191 to the park.  The Milwaukee was a latecomer to the railroads’ push to Yellowstone:  the Northern Pacific had a generation earlier secured its gateway at Gardiner and built the magnificent Old Faithful Inn inside the park.  The Union Pacific had arrived from the south and built its gateway and rustic-styled dining room at West Yellowstone.  The Milwaukee could not duplicate that–but it could give travelers a bit of the exotic in its Spanish Revival railroad/highway gateway property.

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Here was a 1920s railroad terminal where the highway facade, shown above, was actually the more prominent feature, more than the second entrance, shown below, facing the tracks and the end of the line.

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The gravel road is what is left of the original Milwaukee roadbed, looking north towards Three Forks

I visited the Inn several times in the 1980s, staying in the period rooms, later having quite a fine dinner there when the inn was rehabilitated and opened as one of the “Historic Hotels of America” properties as designated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  With the overall boom in the economy of Gallatin County, I frankly assumed by 1990 that the inn’s future was secured–this rare jewel had been saved.

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Then in 2013 the inn closed, and it was still shuttered when I visited in May 2015 (although clearly the building and grounds were being maintained).  Surely a new use, and a new life, can be found for this Montana landmark in the 21st century.  Across the street from the inn is a community landmark that proves that the past has a future in this part of Gallatin County–the historic Gallatin Gateway school.

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Its simple yet forceful facade, with projecting central entrance and its solid brick construction has given it a life into this century as part of a growing community.  Let’s hope for the same for the Gallatin Gateway Inn, and soon.

Madison Buffalo Jump: The deep past in Gallatin County

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One of the first historic sites I visited in Montana was the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park.  That ancient property–in use for an estimated 2000 years before the last kill c. 1750–reflected how Native Americans used the landscape resources in unique ways to feed their families, build their lives and create their material culture–the buffalo was so central to Plains Indian culture.

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The park then was little different than what I found in 2015.  Ranches and development have not yet encroached on this National Register listed property, about seven miles south of Logan.  The cliff over which the Native Americans would chase buffalo to their animals death is still stark, a foreboding intrusion over the surrounding landscape.

IMG_6794I used a slide taken in 1982 in all of my public presentations about the Montana state historic preservation plan back in 1984-1985.  I found out that few Montanans knew of the place and its history.  What has changed since the 1980s?  The park is still little known and receives infrequent visitors.  In my 2015 fieldwork, I saw signs of new heritage development–the park sign, a bit of improvement to the outdoor interpretive center, and new interpretive exhibits with a more inclusive public interpretation and strong Native American focus.

First Nations Buffalo Jump–then called the Ulm Piskun–in Cascade County was much like the Madison property 30 years ago.  Both had unbelievable integrity of setting and association–you actually felt like you were in a historic landscape hundreds of years old. But today with its new visitor center and museum, the First Nations site is a superb teaching tool about the ancient patterns of Montana’s historic landscape.  Let’s hope that the champion for the Madison Buffalo Jump State Park soon appears–with such growth in Gallatin and Madison counties the last 30 years both new and old residents need a place that tells of the deep Native American history impeded in the Montana landscape.

Willow Creek: end of the line

IMG_6775Willow Creek was the end of the line for both the Northern Pacific and Milwaukee Road railroads as they vied for dominance in turn of the 20th century western Gallatin County.  The Northern Pacific came first with its spur line to Butte in the late 1880s then the Milwaukee arrived c. 1908.  Both used the same corridor, along what is now called the Old Yellowstone Trail on some maps; the Willow Creek Road (MT 287) on others.  It was a route that dated to 1864–the town cemetery, according to lore, dates to that year and Willow Creek has had a post office since 1867.

To find Willow Creek you follow the tracks and go south, entering one of the most beautiful rural landscapes left in the county. At the head of town is a historic early 20th century grain elevator on the old Northern Pacific line.

From there the old Yellowstone Trail highway curves into the town itself, creating a streetscape that takes you back 80 years at least, when Willow Creek was full of promise as a two-line town.

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Two important commercial landmarks face each other.  First is the frame, false front early 20th century Willow Creek Cafe and Saloon, a local establishment that I cannot recommend enough.  It is the social heartbeat of the town.

IMG_6771Across the street is the “employment center,” the Willow Creek Tool and Technology which sells its wares across the west out of its brick building from the 1910s. (Note the faded advertising sign that once greeted travelers on the Yellowstone Trail highway.)

IMG_6762The cultural side of Willow Creek is represented by several places: homes and galleries of different artists, a monthly arts festival in the summer, and two special buildings from the 1910s.  The Stateler Memorial Methodist Church, c. 1915, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Built from rusticated concrete blocks (from the cement factory at Three Forks) designed to resemble stone masonry, the church building is home to one of the oldest congregations (1864) in the Methodist Church in Montana.  The Gothic Revival-styled sanctuary is named in honor of its founding minister Learner B. Stateler.

IMG_6770Nearby is another crucial landmark for any rural Montana community–the local school.  The Willow Creek School is an excellent example of the standardized, somewhat Craftsman-styled designs used for rural Montana schools in the 1910s. Two stories of classrooms, sitting on a full basement, was a large school for its time, another reflection of the hopes of the homesteading era.

Gallatin Co Willow Creek school 3Additions in form of a gym and added rooms had come to the north and the school and its lot is the town’s community center. Although so close to Three Forks, the school kept its

enrollment enough to maintain a Class C status in athletics and its tiny football field and track, with a beautiful view of the Tobacco Root Mountains, might be one of the most scenic athletic field spots in the west. No wonder that residents do what they can to keep the school and the town alive in an era of great change in Gallatin County.

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Montana’s Three Forks, Part 2

Gallatin Co Three Forks 6Three Forks, Montana, is unique in how competing railroads shaped this one small town between the 2008 and 2010.  The last post discussed how the Milwaukee Road came first, and its landmark Sacajawea Inn stands at the north end of the town’s main street.  On the east side–see the Google Map below–became the domain of the Northern Pacific Railroad and its spur line to the copper kingdom of Butte

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Between the two railroads, Three Forks grew rapidly in the second decade of the 20th century during the homesteading boom.  Two places that help you decode the town’s history and built environment.  At the south end of Main Street is the Headwaters Heritage Museum, which is located in the National Register-listed Three Valleys Bank, a Romanesque Revival-styled two-story brick building from 1910, when John Q. Adams started the town. The museum opened in 1982–I can recall its beginnings as place of pride and energy, now it maintains a fine local history collection.

Other National Register properties from the 1910s help to tell the town’s story as they remain in use creating new futures in the 21st century.  These include the classical styled Ruby Theater of 1916, listed in 1982, and the 1913 United Methodist Church, later damaged during a 1925 earthquake but restored by the congregation to its Gothic Revival style in 1993.  All of these buildings speak to town hopes and dreams during the homesteading boom as much as the slowly deteriorating grain elevators at the north end, not listed in the National Register, speak to what happened to those dreams in the 1920s and 1930s.

You can also explore the story of transportation and Three Forks at a new visitor center facility–at least new to this traveler in 2015–at you enter the town from the north.

It is just north of the Sacajawea Hotel and the town’s historic Milwaukee Road depot, which is now a restaurant and casino.  The visitor center emphasizes the Milwaukee story, especially how the railroad viewed the town as its first gateway to Yellowstone.

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The planned centerpiece of the visitor center is the moved railroad depot from Trident, a planned company town from 1908 that produced cement from the abundant resources along the river.  The community is raising money for its restoration and adaptive reuse as a heritage center.  The original company name was the Three Forks Portland Cement

IMG_6785Company. In 1914  Charles Botcher bought the plant, renamed it the Ideal Cement Company and kept it in business under that name until the 1980s.

Little remains of Trident today, except for its concrete roads that help to mark the blocks of the town, although no houses remain today.  They were still there into the 1990s but later company owners, who still produce cement from the plant, and ship it by railroad across the region, tore them down early in this century.  Trident is now a fascinating remnant, a historical archaeology site, and its depot in Three Forks will probably become the place to tell that story into the future.

 

 

 

 

 

Montana’s Three Forks: Crossroads of Rivers and Rails

 

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The Missouri River headwaters, located just north of the town of Three Forks, is one of the most important places in all of the United States.  Here, within the boundaries of a state park that has improved its public interpretation significantly in the last 30 years, was one of the primary goals that President Thomas Jefferson gave the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1803–to find the headwaters of the Missouri River.  When the expedition

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traversed this land in 1805, they followed the footsteps of Bannock, Shoshoni, and Flathead Indians who had found this place and hunted the abundant game along the rivers long before the “explorers” arrived.  Nevertheless, it was the Corps of Discovery that named the place.  They found three sources–that they named the Jefferson, the Madison, and the Gallatin after the president and two of his cabinet officers–creating the Missouri River.

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While fur trappers such as John Colter, who was an expedition member, soon returned to this site, and in the 1860s the settlement of Gallatin City was established, but only the

historic log Gallatin City Hotel of 1868 remains to mark a place where early Montana settlers thought an important town along the rivers would develop.

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Recreational and interpretive features are now much more plentiful than 30 years ago but the park still exudes that feeling of openness and wildness that attracted that only the

Native Americans but later waves of 19th century trappers and settlers.  It is a very special place within Montana and certainly earns its National Historic Landmark designation many times over.

IMG_6668As you leave the Missouri Headwaters State Park access road (Montana 286) and return south to old U.S. Highway 10, you encounter a plaintive sign hoping to attract the thousands of heritage tourists who come to the state park–go a bit farther south and west and find the town of Three Forks.

IMG_6711The story of Three Forks, on the western edge of Gallatin County, is not of rivers but of railroads, of how both the Northern Pacific and the Milwaukee Road corridors shaped this part of the state at the end of the first decade of the 20th century.

Gallatin Co Three Forks Sacajawea Hotel

The Milwaukee Road came first, with Milwaukee Land Company agent John Q. Adams establishing the townsite in 1908, and later contributing its first landmark building, the two-story Colonial Revival-styled Sacajawea Hotel in 1910.  Adams began the hotel in true Montana vernacular fashion, having contractors tack together existing moved buildings

into some type of lodging for railroad workers.  Bozeman architect Fred Willson finished the building with a new facade along with various additions, leaving housing for railroad employees along with providing services for travelers.  Heritage tourists were part of that mix, especially once the Montana Daughters of the American Revolution in 1914 placed a large boulder with a bronze plaque in honor of Sacajawea across the street from the hotel. Here was one of the state’s early examples of public interpretation of the Sacajawea story. In 2005, as part of the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Three Forks Area Historical Society commissioned artist Mary Michael to add a stylized statue of Sacajawea and her baby Pomp, turning the spot into a 21st century memorial to the Shoshoni woman.

Thirty years ago, the hotel was a renovation project we all at the Montana Historical Society wanted to happen.  Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, it was a proud relic of that railroad that had just closed but also of the early automobile age when travelers could stop here, spend the night, and then travel by car to Yellowstone National Park far to the south.  I would stay here when working in the region, reveling in

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Sacajawea Hotel, 1990

the feel, the look, the sounds of a historic railroad hotel.  Unfortunately the restart only lasted about 20 years.  The hotel closed in 2001, and looked to have a bleak future in the new century.  From 2009-2010 new owners, however, took this historic hulk and have

polished back into a jewel, better suited for more upscale travelers than in the past.  It is the center point of a renewal of Three Forks, and part of a minor population boom that has seen the town, which basically had a flat population of 1100 to 1200 from 1950 to 1990 reach a population of almost 2000 in 2015. More on Three Forks in the next post

Logan: A forgotten railroad junction in Gallatin County

Gallatin Co Logan Gallatin RiverLocated between the Gallatin River and Interstate I-90, Logan is a forgotten yet still historically significant railroad junction on the Northern Pacific Railroad.  Established c.

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1890 the place was first known as Canyon House, for early settlers, and then named Logan in honor of a family who owned land there.

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The original Canyon House name has reappeared in Logan since my last visit in 1985 with the name given to this conversion of an old store/hotel to apartments

Logan became the place where Northern Pacific trains went one of two ways:  crossing the river and heading to the recently established state capitol of Helena or staying south of the river and heading to the copper mines at Butte.

In time the railroad company developed Logan as a mini-division point with a roundhouse, other railroad support buildings, and offices.  Today none of that remains–the roundhouse burned during the depression and was not replaced–but the tracks still dominate all views of the town.

One key community building that documents the early 20th century prominence of Logan is the two-story brick school.  It has been closed since my last visit in the 1980s but was converted into private use, and was for sale when I stopped in 1985.  Its size, brick construction, and classic progressive school architecture design speaks to the

 

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The school (far left) dominates the town’s built environment as you approach on old U.S. 10 from the west

promise that residents held for the town c. 1920. A historic church building also exists from the founding decades of Logan.  It too is now closed and faces an uncertain future.

As the various images of the railroad corridor indicates, Logan is still a busy place for train traffic but its population never rebounded after the depression decade.  Train traffic during World War II boosted local fortunes a bit–and the town’s large depot served hundreds of customers a day into the late 1940s. But once the Northern Pacific switched to diesel, coal stops like Logan was no longer necessary.  When I visited in 2015 I expected to find little to nothing but the tracks–or much more than I ever expected if the boom that had overwhelmed Belgrade and was consuming Manhattan had reached Logan.  A bit of whimsy instead has come into Logan, along with one of the best bar/steakhouses in this region:  the aptly named Land of Magic Dinner Club–the type of Montana oasis you cannot get enough of.