IMG_0588 A cold day at Big Hole Pass May 2012

Hi, I’m Carroll Van West and I have been documenting the Montana landscape since the early 1980s.  In 1984-1985, I undertook a major project for the State Historic Preservation Office at the Montana Historical Society to travel the state and to develop some sort of inventory of places, both known and unknown, that should be considered in the state historic preservation plan.  Beginning in February 1984 I went to every community in Montana, logging over 25,000 of traveling over the next four months.  I took over 3,000 black and white images and a much smaller number (about 300) color slides of significant landscapes and historic sites. During the travel I also had many meetings, both formal and informal, with Montanans and we talked about history and why it mattered.

The black and white images are now part of the collections of the Montana Historical Society in Helena.  The planning document was finished in 1985 and then in 1986 the Montana Historical Society Press published A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History, which interpreted all of the fieldwork within the context of the state’s history.

In 2007, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Montana Preservation Alliance, and Senator Lynda Moss began to urge me to return, and to develop a new plan, more focused on heritage development, and to record the changes the state’s heritage assets had experienced in the years since the mammoth survey of 1984-1985.  Finally in 2011-12, I agreed to take on the project, with fieldwork in the late spring of 2012, in the early summer of 2013, and then in the winter of 2013-2014.


44 thoughts on “About

  1. Hi – thoroughly enjoyed your website, but I think you need to change a spelling. “Dobson” in Phillips County is really Dodson, with a second “d.” I used to live not far from there 50+ years ago.

  2. Dr. Van West,

    This blog sets the gold standard for historical data germane to the whistlestop towns situated on north central Montana’s Hi-Line, and I would like to thank you for your work.
    I am a photographer living in the Bitterroot Valley, and produce photo documentaries and essays for a variety of magazines. My travels with camera and journal cover a lot of Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

    Recently, just prior to the current Arctic Blast which has enveloped us, I spent six days driving back and forth along the Hi-Line between Shelby and Malta, chronicling the status quo of many of the same towns you cover in your excellent blog piece. There is, as you know, an ongoing decline readily apparent and to varying degrees in most of these towns,—notable exceptions being the more easterly locations proximal to the Bakken Boom. My goal with this piece was primarily to appear in print in the January edition of Extraordinary Vision magazine. I was to appear therein as one of several “featured” photographers. I have since had misgivings about this venue, and have cancelled my submission to EV.

    What I really wanted to say is how much I value the work you have conducted, and often rely upon specific data from your blog. I was hoping to ask you for more info about the Chinook Hotel, as a paucity of details can be found online. But since I have tabled my publication for the time being, this and other queries are made moot.

    Thanks again for canvassing the back roads of Big Sky Country, and doing our homework for us! I think you would be a fascinating individual to sit down with over lunch, and just talk “Montana”! Keep up the scintillating endeavors.

  3. Just wanted to thank you for a great peek into the part of Montana I had never seen before. Thank you so much for investing your time and energy into it.

  4. The photo of the Gateway Hotel was a joy to see. My dad an orphan arrived alone (age eleven), on The Great Northern to Poplar, Montana in 1915. He mentioned in his book (Orphan Boy) the few buildings there and one was the Gateway Hotel. He worked numerous farms and ranches, rode the grub line, harvested fields encompassing Poplar, labored at Butte’s copper mines and rode many rails and kinds of trains when roaming.

    Thank you.
    R. J. Milne, Jr.

  5. Thank you so much for this work. You’re doing what I’ve been trying to do–and doing it so much better than I. I just found your site as I’m working on Liberty County. Wish I had seen it sooner. (I’m going through the state in County Number order, so I’m nearing the end of my journey.)

    Thanks Again,

    Bryan D. Spellman
    Glory of the West: A Photographic Portrait of Montana’s Fifty-Six Counties

  6. May I use your image of Trask Hall in a non-commercial website? I am a retired English professor from Mayville State in North Dakota working on a website to publish research on closed/merged colleges.

  7. First off, I have to commend you on the terrific work you have documented here!

    I am writing in order to obtain permission to use your image (with proper credit given of course) of the abandoned cabins at Zortman in a local-regional publication on Montana’s natural history. We specialize in small print runs of locale specific history titles and would love your image to accompany the mention of Zortman in the first chapter.

    On an unrelated note, I would love to talk with you more about your own endeavors and potentially working together in the future.

    I gratefully appreciate your consideration,

    Artie Crisp
    Commissioning Editor l The History Press
    ph: +1 843.577.5971 x239 and fax: +1 843.577.6712

  8. I am the grandson of Victor Dostert, whom you wrote about in your Nashua article. I was most intrigued by your term “civic capitalist” in describing him. My father Vernon Dostert, carried on the family businesses in much of the same tradition.

    Thank you for your efforts in preserving and documenting the colorful history of life in Montana I do have a sizable archive of photos of family and early history of Nashua if interested.

    Paul Dostert

  9. Thank you for setting this up. As a displaced Montanan, I appreciate very much being able to consult your site when we revisit the state. The entries on Butte are particularly fine.

  10. Thank you, Thank you, THANK YOU!!!
    It is nice to know that some people are able to learn from our little town! I know we have some “knocked down” buildings and all, but with this website those “knocked down” buildings can be something grand again!!!!!!

  11. My wife and I are making a 10 day journey through Montana and Idaho. I happened to do a search on Wise River. My father was the district forest ranger there in the 60’s. I have some interesting photos of that time if you are interested.
    Drop me a note if there is interest. (not trying to sell them, they just need a better home than a box in the closet)

    • I would very much like to see those. As you know from the blog I think the ranger station at wise river is important despite its lack of notoriety.
      My mail address is P.O. box 80, MTSU/ Murfreesboro TN 37130

  12. Hi, thanks for the history of this area of Montana. My husband and I bought the RIngling Church and we are making it our home. Last week, a reclaimed wood company out of Bozeman started taking the Ringling depot down and will repurpose the material. It is a sad day around the town. Anyway, we appreciate the time and effort you have put into this blog. Be well!

  13. The school in Bainville is not as new as one might think…it was built in 1986—they did a couple additions to it in the last few years but that is all…also the bank turned into the post office for several years before the new post office was built…the senior citizen building also houses the museum and we have a new fire hall…we also have very dedicated volunteer firefighters and EMTs…I know all of this because besides the fact that I live there now I was born and raised there

  14. Just a short question: is “Judith Gap” called after my Great-Grandmother, Judith Wight ? How can I find out more ?
    Thanks a lot in advance, regards from Frankfurt

    Claudia Duffield-Bräuer

  15. I just discovered your blog and am impressed at the great job your have done. I’ve been researching my roots and have discovered that in the time period around 1915-1919, my grandfather, Ellis Anderson (born in Kansas), obtained a homestead in Valley County, Montana, as his sister-in-law, Lucy Walters (born in New Mexico), had also done. Lucy was an independent woman who never married but became a nurse (as did my grandmother Vivian Walters Anderson), served in that capacity in World War I, homesteaded in Montana, eventually returning to the Midwest before finally settling in California.

    I have copies of several old family photos taken when they lived in Valley County, Montana. The one that especially interests me is a picture of what was labeled “Elta and Vera at Aunt Lucy’s hospital in Montana.” The “hospital” building looks more like a large two-story house, but has a sign on it (partially obscured by small trees) that may say MALTA HOSPITAL, or at least the first word ends in A. Based on the probable ages of the girls in the picture, it looks like it was probably taken in about 1918. Do you know anything about this hospital from that time period ??

  16. Outstanding website. I’ve been married for 42+ years to a Montana cowgirl who grew up on a ranch about 3 miles from Logan. As an electrical engineer, I’ve been fascinated by the Milwaukee Road and its pioneer use of HVDC electrification. It’s too bad that gross miss-management destroyed the Milwaukee. Thanks for an outstanding job documenting both the Milwaukee, the Northern Pacific and Great Northern.

  17. Thank you for this wonderful site ! While researching my grandfather I came across a government type document that shows him living in Inverness in 1917.. On may 29 , 1917 he was called to active duty and eventually served in France for 2 years in the medical corp. ( he was a physician, Jefferson Medical College 1909 ). He had been serving in the Indian Service ( not sure of the proper name ) on several reservations. Your February 23, 2014 article was very informative about Hill County and the great northern towns! Grandfather never returned to Montana , settling in his native western Pennsylvania, but he often spoke of his time there. John Reilly

  18. Enjoyed the article on Livingston, I helped work on the signs about Lewis and Clark with the community, as I was the Interpretive Specialist on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, at that time. The folks in the community were wonderful and worked so hard on the sign project and you could tell the community pride to tell their story too. So good to see the signs once again.

  19. Wondering if our company could use your photos in regards to the Scott Hart Building. We did their HVAC system and are featuring them within our main projects on our new website. Please contact me for further information!

  20. Thanks for doing this. Those of us who grew up on hi-line and moved away, love everything u show us about home. I lived north of Joplin about 20 miles and also graduated from Rudyard.

  21. I own a property in Broadwater County that includes a buffalo jump prehistoric district recently listed on the National Register. You can see the nomination by searching Stone Hill Springs Prehistoric District.

  22. I was so delighted to come across this treasure trove of Montana history and excellent photographs from around the state. Thank you so very very much for sharing with us. Thank you for this wonderful site!

  23. Some time ago, I inquired about the Malta Hospital, an old 1920-era photo of which I had inherited. At that time, you replied that you were unfamiliar with such a place. I have since been informed by a resident of Montana that the building is still there, though no longer a medical facility. I now have access to three photos of the building down through the years and wanted to share this information with you.

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