Ryegate, population of approximately 236, is the seat of Golden Valley County. Since it stands along U.S. Highway 12 at its junction with Montana Highway 300, it is a small town that I visit almost every time I am in Montana and making a trek between Billings and Helena. I always prefer the two-lane U.S. and state roads because they give you a sense of immediacy in the landscape that driving interstates do not.
But like most travelers I roar down the highway, perhaps noting the tall grain elevators facing the town proper, and pay little attention to anything else. In a post of four years ago, I spoke of Golden Valley County and its historic landmarks, highlighting the grain elevators, the Golden Valley Courthouse, the Sims-Garfield historic ranch, and the historic town bar in Ryegate. But like the other eastern Montana county seats, Ryegate deserves a closer look.
Although the depot and tracks are long gone, surviving railroad bed reminds us that Ryegate is a historic Milwaukee Road town, established c. 1910, and became a county seat in 1920 when Golden Valley County was established. As the seat, the town became the county’s center for public education. Ryegate School is still a K-12 school serving the entire county.
The intro photo to this post shows the athletic field; the school uses the historic gym below for sports and community events.
Ryegate received one of the standardized “modern” post office designs from the federal government in the 1970s–the town’s fortunes have remained basically frozen after the Milwaukee Road declared bankruptcy and shut down the tracks in 1980.
In my original posting I ignored a historic church building, below, St, Mathias Catholic Church, which was dedicated and opened in October 1914. From what I know it is the oldest institutional building in Ryegate. I want to research this compelling example of vernacular church architecture more!
Ryegate, like many of the towns along U.S. Highway 12, got the big whammy in the late 1970s of the interstate system being finished and the railroad going bankrupt. The amount of traffic passing through now is a fraction of what it used to be. The historic commercial building below once served different businesses and customers. It is mostly used for storage today.