I had not been to Buffalo in Fergus County, Montana since 1984–some 37 years ago in the summer of 2021. The place dates to the late 19th century with a post office and trading post. In 1908 it took on the town plan you find today–elevation at the head of town along with railroad line and the public school at the other end of town–as it became part of the Great Northern Railroad route between Billings and Great Falls.
The same landmarks I found in 1984 still defined the town. The First State Bank of Buffalo (there was never a second one) was slowly ebbing away then; the bank had closed during the Great Depression, when so many Montana towns from the homesteading boom had their economic life sucked away. In 1921 I was frankly amazed that it still stood, missing a roof and part of a wall but still expressing its small-town neoclassical style with pride.
The Buffalo school was another statement building from the homesteading era, its two-story brick construction expressing not only the need of a rapidly booming place but how the residents valued public education. The school was the community’s statement of pride.
The community church made a statement of faith and community spirit for the 21st century. The town numbers less than 200 inhabitants but actually that number had grown in recent years. The Craftsman-styled church is extremely intact for a 100 year old plus building–the maintenance of the church is a credit to its members.
Not everything was as it had been in 1984. The community hall had fallen on lean times indeed.
But the hipped roof post office–the one civic building–hadn’t changed a bit. Here was a statement of continuity, and thanks to everyone who fought the good fight last decade to keep post offices alive in rural Montana.
Documenting change of the last 38 years or it second half century gives us a valuable metric. with the photographic record one can be helped to understand the changes during the first half of the town’s life. When the boom to bust cycles were in rapid succession what was barely built new was canceled by external forces in far off capitals of the economy.
Great service to all Montanans, can you estimate how many miles you traveled in the eighties to cover every county?
I do know that number 25,000 miles from mid February to mid May 1984.