Beaverhead County, named for the prominent, ancient landmark on the Beaverhead River at the corner of Madison and Beaverhead county, was the first rural place I visited in Montana after my arrival in Helena in 1981. Why? No pressing reason, except that the place name of Wisdom called out to me.
Our first stop was at Fetty’s, a classic Montana bar that friends tell me burned a few years ago. In its place now stands The Crossing at Fetty’s, also a good place but a bit more upscale than the old c. 1930s bar/cafe. The new place wasn’t the only change in Wisdom. There was a new public school building and a new post office.
These were just the first of the changes since 1982. Wisdom is still the tiny homesteading era town that I recalled. Key community landmarks remain: witness the two-story Craftsman-style Masonic Hall and Gothic-styled church building.
The town’s large community hall remains in constant use. The separate Women’s Club
building once welcomed ranch wives and daughters to town, giving them a place to rest and providing a small library of books. It has been converted into a small lodge for skiers and hunters–a great small town example of adaptive reuse.
Of course the major landmark for travelers through Wisdom in the late 20th century was Conover’s Trading Post, a two-story false front building–clearly the most photographed place in town, and inside a classic western gun and recreation shop.
But the Conover’s facade, even the name, is no more. Not long after my 2012 visit to Wisdom, new owners totally remade the building and business, opening a new store named Hook and Horn.
One significant property I sought out in 2012 was the town cemetery, a resource type that I had ignored almost totally across Montana in the initial state historic preservation plan work. The cemetery marks the town’s height of population during the early twentieth century, and contains several interesting grave markers, including the headstone for Frederick Finsley, a veteran of the Civil War who served in a Union regiment from West Virginia, and the cast metal obelisk for the Gallen family.
Wisdom was where I started my exploration into Montana over 30 years ago. But, surprisingly, during the 1984-1985 state historic preservation plan work I sorta glossed over Beaverhead County, and didn’t spend the time there that I should have. In my new work I was determined not to repeat that mistake and have spent four long days in the county, exploring well known historic places (Big Hole National Battlefield, Bannock State Park) and even more time at the not so well known. In the next posts I want to consider the diverse types of landscapes that make up this county, from ranching to mining to railroad towns to river towns to special Native American landscapes.