Thanks for Being One of 100,000

Ravalli Co, beaver slide at Sula

Over the weekend, the Revisiting Montana’s Historic Landscapes site received its 100,000 visit.  When I began this project, I thought that if it reached 10,000 people–about the number who purchased copies of my Traveler’s Companion to Montana History in 1986-87 that would be worth the four-year effort to drive Montana roads and resurvey all of the places I first visited in the mid-1980s.  Thank you for being part of this journey, thanks too to the Montana Preservation Alliance and the Montana State Historic Preservation Office for their encouragement and support along the way.

Daniels Co Flaxville 1At this time, my entry on Flaxville, the tiny place above in Daniels County, has received the most views.  Perhaps that changes as I continue to move into the northwest portion of the state, starting with one of the most rapidly changing places in the last 30 years, Missoula County.

IMG_7263I am on the back end of my trek across the Big Sky Country, with probably 50 entries to go–see you soon!

 

To the Blackfoot River and Ovando

Abandoned farm landscape, s MT 141, Powell CoMontana Highway 141 cuts north from Avon On U. S. Highway 12 to halfway between the towns of Ovando and Lincoln on Montana Highway 200.  Its is high mountains prairie travel at its best, although the height of ranching along this route disappeared a while back. About 12-13 miles north of Avon you cross into the Nevada Creek drainage, which has long watered the land, enhanced after the New Deal added the Nevada Creek earthen dam that created Nevada Creek Reservoir in 1938.

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Nevada Creek Dam Spillway.

Nevada Creek Reservoir, N, irrigation, MT 141, Powell CoAlong the east banks of the lake are remnants of the Fitzgerald Ranch, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I highlighted the property in my book A Traveler’s Companion to Montana History (1986). Jimmy Isbel established the property in 1872,

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Fitzgerald Ranch facing Nevada Creek Reservoir.

building a log cabin.  But he did little to develop it and c. 1885 he sold it to J.F. Fitzpatrick.  His family patented his homesteading claim in 1890 and in the next decade, they built a two-story log home, a wooden-frame barn, and other outbuildings before adding a Queen Anne-influenced frame wing to the house, totally transforming the look of the ranch.

Fitzgerald Ranch, NR, MT 141 Powell Co 1Thirty years ago, this significant collection of vernacular buildings were in good condition, but the years since have been hard on the property, and the complex now needs serious preservation attention. The loss of the roof on the log barn, and the general poor condition of the roofs of the outbuildings are major concerns.

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Fitzgerald Ranch, NR, MT 141 Powell Co 2

Fitzgerald Ranch, NR, MT 141 Powell Co 3 log

Fitzgerald Ranch, NR, MT 141 Powell Co 4 logBetween the Fitzgerald Ranch and Helmville is the Barger Ranch, also from the late 19th century judging from the more polished example of Queen Anne style in the ranch house. It is living proof that not all of the Nevada Creek ranches have passed away.  The Nevada Creek Water Users Association at Helmville still operates to distribute the invaluable water from the reservoir.  Barger Ranch, 18565 MT 271, s of Helmville, Powell CoHelmville was another topic in my 1986 book.  Throughout the Nevada Creek drainage, you could help but be impressed with the log construction, and the various types of notching used for the buildings.  Helmville had a particular interesting grouping of wood frame and log buildings, which were highlighted by a 1984 photograph in the book. That exact view could not be replicated 30 years later but several of the old buildings still stood.

Helmville, Powell Co (p84 62-15)

MT 271 log buildings, Helmville, Powell CoHelmville has a good bit of continuity.  Along with the row of buildings on Montana 271 there is a turn of the 20th century gable-front cottage and a two-story lodge building that has been turned into a garage.

There was also a good bit of change: new post office and community center, new Catholic church building, and the school has been significantly expanded, although someone thought enough of the past to keep the old historic school bell cupola.

Helmville had changed little, however, compared to Ovando, the next village to the northwest.  Ovando is on Montana Highway 200, north of the Nevada Creek drainage, past the 1960s era Blackfoot Waterfowl Production Area, and along the Blackfoot River.

IMG_2250Trixie’s was the same fun dive that I always recalled, but the village’s historic buildings had been restored, looking good.  Business appeared to be brisk. A new community church has been opened, and a major interpretive place for the “Lewis Minus Clark” expedition had been installed. Kudos to both the U.S. Forest Service and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail for allowing a bit of humor in this marker.

Ovando market and gas, Powell Co

Ovando store, Stay Bullet, Powell Co

IMG_2235Ovando school, Powell CoThe school had also expanded from its New Deal core of the 1930s, courtesy of the Works Progress Administration. But the most noticeable change was the town’s street signs–first the fact that a small place had street signs but then the nostalgic backpacker theme of these cast iron marvels.

IMG_2241Ovando is a good location on the Blackfoot River for sportsmen, anglers, and hikers headed into the Bob Marshall Wilderness–its recent change demonstrates the influence on those groups on the 21st century Montana landscape.Ovando highway sign, MT 200, Powell Co

 

 

 

Powell County’s Little Blackfoot River Valley

IMG_2251Between Garrison Junction, where U.S. Highway 12 and Interstate I-90 meet, to Elliston, at near the Mullan Pass over the continental divide, is a beautiful, historic valley carved by the Little Blackfoot River.  It is a part of Powell County that hundreds whiz through daily as they drive between Missoula and Helena, and it is worth slowing down a bit and taking in the settlement landscape along the way.

NP and Mullan Road, Powell Co

Mullan Rd marker and mining, E of Elliston, US 12Captain John Mullan came this way shortly before the Civil War as he built a military road between Fort Benton and Walla Walla, Washington.  A generation later, in the early 1880s, the tracks of the Northern Pacific Road used the Mullan Pass to cross the divide and then followed the Little Blackfoot River west towards Missoula.

Elliston was the first Northern Pacific town of note on the west side of the divide and while today it is perhaps best known for Lawdog Saloon–definitely worth a stop–it also retains key public buildings from the early twentieth century, including its Gothic-styled

community church, a large gable-front log building that to my eye reads like a 1930s era community hall (I have not verified that), and then a quite marvelous  Art Deco-styled brick school, built by the New Deal’s Works Projects Administration in the 1930s.

Elliston school, Powell CoThe oldest federal imprint in Elliston comes from the ranger’s headquarters for the Helena National Forest in its combination of a frame early 20th century cottage and then the Rustic-styled log headquarters.

Helena National Forest ranger station, EllistonThe next railroad town west is Avon, which is also at the junction of U.S. Highway 12 and Montana Highway 141 that takes travelers northwest toward the Blackfoot River. Like Elliston, Avon has several buildings to note, although the National Register-listed property is the historic steel truss bridge that crosses the Little Blackfoot River and then heads into ranch territory.

Powell 3 Little Blackfoot River Bridge US 12 AvonThe bridge is a Pratt pony truss, constructed in 1914 by contractor O.E. Peppard of Missoula, and little altered in the last 100 years. As the National Register nomination notes, the bridge’s camelback trusses are unusual and have not been documented in other Montana bridges from the early 20th century.

IMG_1919Avon has another clearly National Register-worthy building in its 1941 community hall, a late New Deal era building, which has served the community in multiple ways, as a meeting place for the Avon Grange, a polling place, and a place for celebrations of all sorts, including stage presentations and bands.

Avon Community Hall, 1941, probably WPA

Avon Community Hall, New Deal, 1941

Avon Community Hall 1941 New Deal interiorThe Avon School also has a New Deal era affiliation, with the Works Progress Administration. Although remodeled in the decades since, the school still conveys its early 20th century history.

 

Avon School US 12 2Avon even has its early 20th century passenger station for the Northern Pacific Railroad, although it has been moved off the tracks and repurposed for new uses.

IMG_1933In front of the depot is the turn of the 20th century St. Theodore’s Catholic Church.  The historic Avon Community Church incorporates what appears to be a moved one-room school building as a wing to the original sanctuary.

Early railroad era commercial buildings also remain in Avon, with a frame false front building serving both as a business and the community post office.  Birdseye Mercantile is an architecturally impressive stone building, dated c. 1887, that has for a decade housed a quilt business.  It too may be National Register worthy.

Birdseye Mercantile, 1887, AvonAnother important property in Avon, but one I ignored in 1984-85, is the town cemetery, which also helps to document the community’s long history from the 1880s to today.

Avon Cemetery, SE, Powell Co

Avon Cemetery, W, Powell CoHeading west from Avon on U.S. Highway 12 there are various places to stop and enjoy the river valley as it narrows as you approach Garrison.  I always recalled this part fondly, for the beaverslide hay stackers–the first I encountered in Montana in 1981–and they are still there today, connecting the early livestock industry of the valley to the present.

Deer Lodge’s heritage development

New Deal mural, Deer Lodge P.O. 1938

Verona L. Burkhard’s 1939 mural for the Deer Lodge Post Office.

In the thirty years between my first visits in Deer Lodge and my most recent, the town’s population dropped almost 25%–nearly 1,000 residents.  But when I spent a day there in May 2012 I witnessed one of the most impressive community revitalization efforts in all of my years in historic preservation–the grand opening of the historic Rialto Theatre.

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Rialto Theatre in 2007.

My first digital image of the theatre dates to 2007–and I was happy to see this monumental 1921 Beaux Arts-styled theatre, designed by the Butte firm of Arnold and Van Hausen, was still in business.  With rural population decline, the rise of home movie viewing, and the impact of satellite television, so, so many small town movie theaters were closing across the country.  I was glad to see this one still operating.  Then a few years later came the news of a fire that severely damaged the building–and from my vantage point way back east I thought, well that’s it–the building will be gone the next time I get to Deer Lodge–and I wondered if that would not be the start of a general abandonment of Main Street.

Rialto Theater, Deer Lodge 13Imagine my pleasure to be there for the theatre’s grand opening May 19, 2012.  Not only had the community raised the funds to repair and reopen the business, they also took great pains to restore it to its earlier architectural glory.  Such an achievement for a town of just over 3,000 residents–when you consider that the next city south on Interstate I-90 is Anaconda with its monument Washoe Theatre, I immediately began to think of future “movie palace” trips.   What a treat, both for the experience and architecture.

Rialto Theater, Deer Lodge 10

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Re-energizing the Rialto to once again be an anchor for community, both in an economic sense but also a cultural sense, is an achievement not to be taken lightly.  In the spring of 2016 a team of experts got together to inventory, consider, and make recommendations for Deer Lodge’s 21st century future.  The report covers much ground, is well meaning, yet is devoid of the type of passion that the theatre project involved.  Experience tells me that heritage assets can do that–the sense of the past, identity, promise, and nostalgia that they represent are important building blocks for any committed community.

Kohrs Library, Missouri at 5th, 1902In that same trip to Deer Lodge, I noted how the community had recently enhanced the National Register-listed W. K. Kohrs Memorial Library (1902), one of the region’s great Classical Revival buildings by the Butte architectural firm of Link and Carter (J.G. Link would soon become one of the state’s most renowned classicists), by expanding the library

Kohrs Library and 1995with an addition to the side and behind the commanding entrance portico. Although it has proven to be difficult for such a small town to keep the library professionally staffed, the care they have shown the exterior and interior indicate they understand the value of this monument from the past.

The town’s New Deal era post office–a Colonial Revival design from the office of Louis A. Simon–is another National Register landmark that serves dual purposes as both a post office, but also community art museum with the wonderful mural by Verona L. Burkhard.

U.S. Post Office, 1938, Main St, Deer LodgeThen add in the impressive examples of turn of the 20th century church architecture, represented by the Cotswold Gothic stone work of St. James Episcopal Church, the more former Tudor Revival of the 1st Presbyterian Church, and the more vernacular yet

St. James Episcopal, 4th at Cottonwood, Deer Lodge

expressive Gothic spire, with fish-scale shingles, of the Latter-Day Saints Church.  The care and respect here also says much about Deer Lodge’s understanding of the value of the past, a pattern reflected in the community’s historic school buildings that range from the Victorian Gothic of Trask Hall to the 1960s modernism of the elementary school–and

then there is Powell County High School campus that moves from the Collegiate Gothic style of the early 20th century to the New Deal functionalism of the gym for the Fighting Wardens and onto the modernism of 1960s school design.  The Vo-Tech Building is one of my favorite examples of public school modernism in all of Montana.

Powell Co HS 1917 Deer Lodge

 

Vo Ed Building, Powell Co HS, 1960s

When you add the decades-long care manifested in the Deer Lodge Woman’s Club building, what do you learn:  Deer Lodge gets it, and while the road is not easy I look forward to this community charting its course in the 21st century.  Next post:  some of the challenges ahead.

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Photograph from 2007.

The Deer Lodge Valley

Powell 1 Beaver slide Grant Kohrs NHS - Version 2Powell County’s Deer Lodge Valley  is another favorite western Montana landscape.  I visited there often during the 1980s, and in the years since I found myself often back in places like Deer Lodge, the county seat, if for nothing else to stop at the R&B Drive-In.

HPIM0652.JPGLet’s start with the town of Deer Lodge, a place that has changed much in the last 30 years, a process that was underway in the early 1980s after the Milwaukee Road closed its division point and declared the entire line bankrupt.  Besides Miles City, it is difficult to find a town more impacted by the Milwaukee’s failure than Deer Lodge.

My images of the wasting away roundhouses and other buildings that the Milwaukee once operated in Deer Lodge cannot be replicated today–the complex is gone, scrapped. The town’s Milwaukee Road depot survives, has been repainted, and now serves as the Depot Church, a great example of how Montanans practice adaptive reuse with historic buildings.

On the Main Street, there is a memorial to the Milwaukee’s impact, commemorating the line’s “silver spike” event in 1909 and the E-70 electric engine, one of the trains that ran through this region for most of the 20th century.

Another interesting remnant on the Milwaukee’s side of the tracks in Deer Lodge is the Civic Pavilion of 1911.  Here in this large brick building with stone quoins and pilasters is a statement both of the general movement to establish “community halls” in rural communities in the early 20th century plus the Milwaukee Road’s wish to have at least one landmark on its side of town. This was the city’s social center for most of the century.

City Pavillion, 1919, Deer Lodge, on Milwaukee Road side of townYet, Deer Lodge was not a typical small town base for the Milwaukee Road; railroads typically wanted to create their own place.  But Deer Lodge was one of the oldest places in the state, where ranchers in the 1850s first arrived–the early site is now interpreted at the Grant-Kohrs National Historic Site of the National Park Service–soon followed by Capt. John Mullan as he and his soldiers built the Mullan Road through this valley.

The Milwaukee in the first decade of the 20th century came to a town whose general outline had been imprinted on the landscape by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the early 1880s.  Deer Lodge, in other words, had been a Northern Pacific town for a generation before the Milwaukee arrived.

NPRR depot, Deer LodgeThe Northern Pacific passenger depot exists across the tracks from the Milwaukee Road station.  It too has a new use:  the Northern Pacific depot is now the senior citizens center.

Deer Lodge Main Street

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Main Street in Deer Lodge is a long symmetrical commercial district that links the Grant-Kohrs Ranch to another early territorial landmark, the Territorial (and later State) Prison.

State Prison, Deer Lodge 2 - Version 2Before Deer Lodge was a railroad town, it was a prison town, the location for the Territorial Prison, and later the state prison.  Most of the buildings you can visit today are from the state prison era.  It operated here until 1980 when it moved to a facility outside of town.

Trask Hall NR, 703 5thDeer Lodge also was an early center for education, represented by Trask Hall (1870s), which, like the territorial prison, is listed in the National Register. So with the themes of settlement, ranching, railroads, education, prisons, and the beauty of the valley why has Deer Lodge struggled to be recognized as one of Montana’s premier heritage designations? As the next post will discuss, citizens are taking steps to remedy the situation.

 

The Pintler Scenic Route at Drummond

Granite Co, Drummond Front StreetDrummond is the north entrance of the Pintler Scenic Route.  The first ranchers settled here in the 1870s but a proper town, designed in symmetrical fashion facing the railroad tracks, was not established until 1883-1884 as the Northern Pacific Railroad built through here following the Clark’s Fork River to Missoula.

Then Drummond experienced a second wave of railroad-induced growth in 1907-1908 as the Milwaukee Road also followed the Clark’s Fork River on its way from Butte to Missoula, an electrified track that many surviving wood poles mark today. Served by both lines, agricultural and ranching production expanded rapidly, especially when combined by the addition of U.S. Highway 10 through the middle of the town in the 1920s.

Granite Co, MR corridor at Drummond

Abandoned Milwaukee Road corridor in Drummond

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The Northern Pacific corridor is still active as part of the Montana Rail Link.

While transportation was readily available, Drummond was surrounded by larger towns so even at its height it rarely topped over 500 residents, meaning that today its historic buildings largely document a typical Montana rural railroad town of the mid-20th century.

Granite Co, Drummond gas station, Front St, meth mural, roadsideThere is a faintly classically influenced two-story brick commercial block, a Masonic Lodge made of concrete block, various bars and cafes, a railroad water tank, and a slightly Art Deco movie theater, which was open in the 1980s but is now closed.

Granite Co, Drummond Front st and sign

Granite Co, Drummond Rough Stock Bar, Front and Main St

IMG_2042Due to the federal highway and the later Interstate I-90 exit built at Drummond, the town even has a good bit of motel roadside architecture from c. 1970 to 1990.

Granite Co, Drummond Sky Motel off Front St roadside

Granite Co, Drummond Motel, Front St, roadsideBetween the Northern Pacific corridor and old U.S. 10 is the town’s most famous contemporary business, its “Used Cow” corrals, and now far away, on the other side of the

Granite Co, Drummond stock yards, Front Sttracks are rodeo grounds named in honor of Frank G. Ramberg and James A. Morse, maintained by the local American Legion chapter.

Granite Co, Drummond fairgrounds and memorial signs

Granite Co, Drummond fairgroundsThe rodeo grounds are not the only cultural properties in Drummond. The Mullan Road monument along the old highway is the oldest landmark.   The local heritage museum is at the New Chicago School (1874), an frame one-story school moved from the Flint River Valley to its location near the interstate and turned into a museum.

Ironically the town’s historic Milwaukee Road passenger depot is extant, but in the 1980s it was moved to the Fort Missoula museum complex in Missoula for its preservation.

HPIM0709.JPGAnother local museum emphasizes contemporary sculpture and painting by Bill Ohrmann.  A latter day “cowboy artist” Ohrmann grew up in the Flint River Valley but by the 12960s he was producing sculpture and painting on a regular basis.  The museum is also a gallery and his works are for sale, although the huge sculptures might not be going anywhere.

As befitting a Montana agricultural town, community life centers on the library and town hall, the historic Methodist and Catholic churches, and especially the Drummond schools, home to the Trojans.

Granite Co, 1st street, Drummond library and community center

When I visited Drummond this decade I was glad to learn that while the population almost bottomed out following the closing of the Milwaukee Road and the general economic gloom of the 1980s, it had started to grow, and now totaled approximately 330 people–still a 20% decline over 30 years. I hope this bounce back is not short lived–Drummond remains a favorite place and a good way to end this overview of the Pintler Scenic Route, Montana Highway 1.

 

Pintler Scenic Route and the Flint Valley

Flint valley S from Valley Cemetery, Mullan Rd, Granite CoMontana Highway 1, the Pintler Scenic Route as I knew it during the 1984-85 state historic preservation plan survey, provides travelers with two distinct experiences.  The southern half is a mining landscape, centered on the urban places of Anaconda and Philipsburg. The northern half is very agricultural, a place where cowboys and cowgirls still roam.  It is one of my favorite parts of the state.  Fret not, I won’t explore every nook and cranny but I will talk about three favorite places.

Granite Co, Hall post office, St 512First up is the village of Hall, which is north of Phillipsburg.  The Northern Pacific Railroad ran its spur line from Drummond to Philipsburg through the middle of the valley, leaving Hall as the halfway stop between the larger towns.  Just as in 1984, the old town bank still served as the post office.  Hogan’s Store still stood near the railroad tracks and a lone grain elevator stood along the old railroad corridor.

Hogan's store, MT 512, Hall

IMG_2076So too was the historic school at Hall still standing–in fact this c. 1920 brick building continues to serve local children as it has for decades. The same was true for the Stockman

Granite Co Hall school MT 513

Granite Co, Stockman bar and store, MT 513, HALLBar–maybe not as old as the school building but not far behind and still in business despite the proximity to Drummond and Philipsburg. Then there is a wonderful piece of yard art in Hall–leaving no doubt about the primary agricultural product here.

Yard art, Hall, US 10A, Powell co

Mullan Road, E, at Valley CemeteryAs you travel north on Montana Highway 1 you next, unexpectedly, cross the historic Mullan Road, one of the oldest roads in the northwest.  Parts of the road are graveled and graded, others are paved, but whatever the condition the road takes you to 19th century log

Log buildings at ranch off Mullan Road, s of Drummond, Granite Co

Log Building, Mullan Road, S of Drummond, Granite Cobuildings, even a dog-trot type log dwelling as well as the spectacular Valley Cemetery. I call it spectacular not for its cemetery art–although there is more than you would expect–but for its setting in the Flint Valley.

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Valley Cemetery, Mullan Road, Granite Co 2

Valley Cemetery, Mullan Road, Granite Co 3Wherever you look the vista is jaw dropping and can’t be that different than what Capt. Mullan and crew experienced in the late 1850s as they trekked this way.  The Annie Milroy grave marker and statue (1912) speaks to the sadness that many homesteaders experienced as they tried to make a go of it in this demanding land.

Union Army Civil War veteran Franklin Taylor found his final resting place here, an indication of the cemetery’s early date as is the beautiful cross marker for Michael Dooley, who died in 1886.

IMG_2297The nearby elaborate carving of the Bergman family marker is just another indication that this cemetery deserves additional, full research. (Not far away from Hall is the lone obelisk marker for the historic Emmitsburg Cemetery, another early settlement site.) My next post will finish the Pintler Scenic Route with a deep look at Drummond.