The Hi-Line is Montana’s major northern transportation corridor–first carved by the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba Railway in the 1880s and then extended by the Great Northern Railway a decade late. Today most travelers use U.S. Highway 2, which largely parallels the railroad, to traverse the Hi-Line. The first place you encounter of more than 500 people is Culbertson, established in the 1880s and named for Alexander Culbertson, who was once the factor (the manager) of the Fort Union fur trading post at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers.
Earlier in this documentary blog on the Montana landscape, I discussed Culbertson as part of the landscape of oil and fracking then taking place in the region. Today I want to share images of community institutions that link the town’s more than 130 year history to the present. Historic churches are a good place to start.
The United Methodist Church reflecting a vernacular Gothic type that can be found all across the northern plains in the late 19th and early 20th century. The Community of
God Church shares that similar vernacular Gothic style and retains its bell tower. Mid-20th century modern style can be found in St. Anthony Catholic Church. As regular readers of the blog may recall, I have explored the diocese’s choice of mid-century modern style for many Catholic churches in eastern Montana. The Culbertson church is a good example of that pattern. Another church that belongs to the modern design era of the 20th century is Trinity Lutheran Church, especially as this distinguished building expanded over the decades to meet its congregation’s needs.
One of the most interesting buildings in Culbertson is the Armory, part of the significant impact that New Deal agencies had on the built environment of Roosevelt County in the 1930s. Justified as part of the nation’s war preparedness efforts in the late 1930s, so many armories across the country have found second life as public buildings, serving local government and community events.
In my earlier post about Culbertson I should have focused more on surviving commercial buildings from the early 20th century–the time of the homesteading boom. The beautiful cast-iron cornice on the Moen Building (1908) is impressive, one of the best examples of that Victorian commercial style still extant on the Hi-Line.
Some of the extant two-story commercial buildings from the homesteading boom show some architectural styling, like the two below, but then a former town bank is impressive in its detail and masonry as any in the region. Culbertson had high hopes in the 1910s.
On either side of the town center are two additional important institutions. The Culbertson Museum serves as a community heritage center but also as a visitor center for travelers entering Montana. Its outdoor sculpture of the Lewis and Clark Expedition is a reminder to all travelers that traces of the Corps of Discovery can be found along so much of the Hi-Line.
On the west side of town is its historic cemetery, the Hillside Cemetery. At first glance, it seems unimposing, more quaint that important. But the cemetery is the oldest historic
resource in Culbertson, and in fact is the the burial place of two former Union soldiers, one from Illinois and one from Minnesota, who fought in the Civil War. The markers are a reminder that the mid-19th century roots of Montana are never far away, even at the small town of Culbertson.