Rural to Industrial Landscapes in Missoula County

Missoula Co Potomac school 1

Montana Highway 200 follows the Blackfoot River as it enters Missoula County from the east.  At first you think here is another rural mountain county in Montana, one still defined by community schools like the turn of the century one at Potomac above, and by community halls like the Potomac/Greenough Hall, which also serves as the local Grange meeting place.

Missoula Co Potomac Community Hall New Deal?It is a land watered by the river, framed by the mountains, and famous for its beef–which they even brag about at the crossroads of Montana Highways 200 and 83.

Missoula Co MT 200/83 jct roadside  1But soon after passing the junction, you enter a much different landscape, particularly at the point where the Blackfoot River meets the Clark’s Fork River.  This is an industrial world, defined by the company town design of Bonner and the active transportation crossroads at Milltown.  Suddenly you shift from an agricultural landscape into the timber industry, which has long played a major role in the history of Missoula and northwest Montana.

IMG_8005In 1881 the Northern Pacific Railroad was approaching the river confluence.  It contracted with a company led by E. L. Bonner, Andrew Hammond, and Richard Eddy to supply everything the railroad needed but steel as it passed through the region.  Two years later the railroad provided the capital for Bonner, Hammond, Eddy, and M.J. Connell to establish the Montana Improvement Company.  In c. 1886 the improvement company dammed the rivers and built a permanent sawmill–the largest in the northern Rockies, and created the town of Bonner.  The sawmill works and town would later become the Blackfoot Milling and Manufacturing Company and eventually by the late 1890s it was under the control of Marcus Daly and his Anaconda Copper Company.  Anaconda ran Bonner as a company town until the 1970s.

Missoula Co Bonner 8Although buildings have been lost in the last 30 years, especially at the sawmill complex which had a disastrous fire in 2008 and a heavy snow damaged another historic structure in 2011, I found Bonner in 2014 to remain a captivating place, and one of the best extant company towns left in Montana.

Missoula Co Milltown MT 200 bridgeMontana Highway 200 passes through the heart of Bonner while Interstate I-90 took a good bit of Milltown when it was constructed in the 1970s.  Both Bonner and Milltown are heavily influenced by transportation and bridges needed to cross the Blackfoot and Clark’s Fork rivers.

IMG_7320The Milltown Bridge has been restored as a pedestrian walkway over the Blackfoot River.  It is the best place to survey the Blackfoot Valley and the old sawmill complex.

Missoula Co Milltown wildflowers at bridge 5The pedestrian bridge and heritage trail serve as a focal point for public interpretation, for the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Mullan Road, and then the lumber industry, which all passed this way over time, a conjunction of rivers and history that lie at the heart of the local and state (Milltown State Park) effort to interpret this important place.

The industrial company town of Bonner is a fascinating place to visit.  On the south side side is company housing, a company store (now a museum and post office), and then other community institutions such as the Bonner School, St. Ann’s Catholic Church, and Lutheran Church.

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Bonner Museum and Post Office

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Missoula Co Bonner St Ann Catholic

St. Ann’s Catholic Church, Bonner.

Missoula Co Bonner Our Savior Lutheran

Our Savior Lutheran Church, Bonner.

The north side of Montana 200 has a rich array of standardized designed industrial houses, ranging from unadorned cottages to large bungalows for company administrators, all set within a landscape canopy of large trees and open green space. The mill closed in the first decade of the 21st century but the town remains and the condition of both dwellings and green space is ample testimony to the pride of place still found in Bonner.

Milltown is not as intact as Bonner.  One major change came in 1907-1908 when the Milwaukee Road built through here and then in the 1920s came U.S. Highway 10. A huge swath of Milltown was cut away when Interstate highway I-90 was built 50 years later, and once the mill closed, the remaining commercial buildings have fought to remain in business, except for that that cater to travelers at the interstate exit.

One surviving institution is Harold’s Club, which stands on the opposite side of the railroad tracks. Here is your classic early 20th century roadhouse, where you could “dine, drink, and dance” the night away after a hard day at the mills.

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The closing of the mills changed life in Bonner and Milltown but it did not end it. Far from it.  I found the residents proud of their past and determined to build a future out of a landscape marked by failed dams, fires, corporate abandonment, and shifting global markets.

 

 

The Pintler Scenic Route

 

Granite Co, Pintlar Scenic Route US 10AMontana Highway 1, designated the Pintler Scenic Route, has long been one of my favorite roads. It was the first Montana road to be paved in its entirety. During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, I documented the route as U.S. 10A, but once government officials decided to decommission the U.S. 10 designation in 1986, the name U.S. 10A also went away.  t.  In its early decades the route had passed through Opportunity to Anonconda onto Phillipsburg and then Drummond, but for all of my time in Montana, the highway has gone from Interstate I-90, Anaconda/Opportunity exit to the west and then north to the Drummond exit on the same interstate. There is a new 21st century rest stop center at the Anaconda I-90 exit that has a Montana Department of Transportation marker about the mountain ranges and the Pintler route.

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IMG_1285The town of Opportunity was not a priority for my travels in 1984-1985 but recent scholarship on how local residents have fought back against the decades of pollution from Anaconda’s Washoe Stack led me to give this small town of 500 a new look.  The book is Brad Tyer’s Opportunity, Montana: Big Copper, Bad Water, and the Burial of an American Landscape (2014). Tyler details how the success of Anaconda also meant the sacrifice of thousands of surrounding acres to the pollution belching daily from the Washoe Stack until it closed in 1981.  He then reviews in detail how in the 21st century, EPA heaped a new disaster on the town by moving Milltown wastes from the Clark’s Fork River near Missoula to Opportunity, telling locals that the Milltown soil would be new top soil for Opportunity.  The environmental solution didn’t work, leaving the town in worse shape than before.

IMG_1288Opportunity residents got a small fraction of  SuperFund monies for the environmental cleanup in the form of Beaver Creek park.  But the centerpiece of the park, the Opportunity School built for residents in 1914 by the Anaconda Company, has been mothballed for now.  It operated from 1914 until the smelter ceased operations in 1981 and

IMG_1287served as the community’s focal point. Restoration of the school is problematic due to the prior use of asbestos, meaning the federally funded park is only partially finished since the SuperFund support is now gone.

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Beaver Dam Park, Opportunity

The park’s sharp landscaping, with well-manicured green space, walking/jogging track, playground and picnic shelter is in stark contrast to other places merely hanging on.  The town’s Community Hall remains in use but the local store has shuttered its doors.

Opportunity Community Hall

Opportunity Store

This blog has already looked at Stack and the town of Anaconda, so let’s continue north on the Pintler route to Georgetown Lake and surviving ghost towns.

Georgetown Lake MT 1

Georgetown Lake, from St. Timothy'sSitting at 6,425 feet in elevation Georgetown Lake covers over 3700 acres.  Today it is very much a recreational landscape but when it was created in 1885 its job was to generate electrical power for the nearby mines since it stood roughly equal distance between

Anaconda (14 miles away) and Phillipsburg (10 miles away).  Taverns, motel, and rustic-style log buildings, both old and new, mark the lakeside today.

IMG_1645As the state highway historical marker above documents, this high country area was another mining region.  With an vantage point above the lake, Southern Cross is a significant remnant of the mining activities from the early 20th century.  The mines here

southern cross ghost town 13began operation in the mid-1860s and production continued for until World War II.  The settlement was largely Finnish and Swedish in the early 20th century when most of the remaining buildings were constructed.

Existing foundations, rubble heaps, and other archaeological remnants help to document the historic community and its activities.These sites are not open to the public but they are fascinating to explore from the existing roads.  One place that welcomes the public is St. Timothy’s Catholic Chapel, a wonderful example of Montana Modernism that I discussed in an earlier post.

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With Southern Cross–over 7,000 feet in elevation, representing the end of the Deer Lodge County section of the Pintler Route, I will stop now, and in the next post begin the exploration into the Granite County portion of the highway.

Butte’s railroad legacies

As the mines at Butte went into larger and larger production in the late 19th century, the railroads soon arrived to cart away the raw materials, and to deliver workers on a daily basis.  All three of the famed Montana transcontinentals built facilities in Butte–in a sense 100 years ago all lines led to Butte.  Remarkably, all three passenger depots remain today.   The Northern Pacific depot is now an events center.  The Milwaukee Road station remains a television headquarters. The Great Northern depot has been offices, a warehouse, and a bar. Its historic roundhouse also stands and it too has had many uses.

But in so many ways the real railroad story concerns a much shorter line–about 26 miles in length–but one with a big name, the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, designed by its founder Marcus Daly as a connector between his mines in Butte and his huge Washoe smelter in Anaconda. The BAP depot in Butte stood on Utah Street in 1985 but has been

BAP Depot Butte 1985

Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific Railroad Depot, Butte, 1985

demolished, a real loss for the city’s historic fabric.  Completed in 1894, the BAP connected the two cities, and its historic corridor has been recently transformed into a recreation resource that also unites the two cities and their counties.  It is also a physical thread that ties together the Butte-Anaconda National Historic Landmark.

A railroad office building still stands in Anaconda, with its Romanesque arch creating an architectural theme between the office building and the BAP depot that is extant at its commanding position at the end of Main Street.  Anaconda’s basic layout was

classic late 19th century railroad town planning:  the depot marking the entry from railroad to town and then the long Main Street of commercial businesses culminating in the lot for the county courthouse.

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View north to Deer Lodge County Courthouse from BAP depot in Anaconda.

Anaconda is also home to the extant BAP roundhouses and shapes.  Like the Great Northern facility in Butte, the BAP roundhouses have had several uses, and there was a short-lived attempt to establish a railroad museum within one of the bays.  The future for this important railroad structure is cloudy.

Between Butte and Anaconda two small towns have important extant historic resources. Back in the 1980s I considered Rocker to be a must stop for the It Club Bar–and it is still there, flashy as ever.

But now there is another reason for a stop at Rocker–the preservation of the historic frame BAP depot and the creation of the Rocker Park trail along the old railroad right-of-way.  Again here in Silver Bow County we see a recreational opportunity established in conjunction with the preservation and interpretation of a key historic property.  The trail was just opening when I took these photos in 2012.

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Ramsay is another town along the Butte, Anaconda, and Pacific, and served as a company town for the DuPont corporation which built a short-lived munitions plant there during World War I.  During the state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985, historian Janet Ore was preparing a study and survey of the town resources, which was completed in 1986.  The town’s historic district was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. Ore noted the division between worker cottages and manager homes, and the general layout in keeping with what DuPont was doing in other states at that time.  Although there has been the loss of some contributing resources in the almost 30 years since the National Register listing, Ramsay still conveys its company town feel. Below are some of the extant cottages, different variations of Bungalow style, along Laird and Palmer streets.

The superintendent’s dwelling is a two-story Four-square house, with its size, understated Colonial Revival style, and placement in the town suggesting the importance of the occupant.

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A few buildings also exist from the old powder works but most were torn away decades ago.  The pride of Ramsay today is its new school building, pointing toward a different future for the town in its second hundred years of existence.

 

 

Butte: A place transformed, and still going

Badger State Mine, 1883-1966, ButteButte–the copper city that was once the largest urban area in Montana–was a place undergoing tremendous stress at the time of state historic preservation plan work of 1984-1985.  The closing of the Berkeley Pit–the most scarred landscape of that time in Montana (the coal pits of Colstrip now surpass it)–shocked so many since Anaconda

Berkeley Pit in p.m.

The environmental disaster of the Berkeley Pit, as it has filled with water in the last 30 years, seems tranquil, even peaceful today

Copper Company officials had promised that when the town of Meaderville was destroyed for the pit generations of work would ensue.  Schools, homes, churches were uprooted, sometimes even buried so the frenzied mining could continue, tearing away half of the town’s built environment.  What had been lost to gain so little.

Butte hwy marker and pit, I-15

Note the gash of the pit to the left of the highway marker

Then in the early 1980s came the next blow: the Anaconda smelter closed too–an era had passed, with the boom of the 1970s suddenly crashing.  What would replace it, what could replace it, was there even hope in Butte?  I remember the pessimism of those days.

Butte 1985

Overview of Butte, 1985, from Montana Tech

Naturally some immediately said that the past was now in the way, that only massive urban renewal would save butte and create opportunity for the future.  Residents combined with professionals and activists to say no:  the past was the future for Butte.  The state office certainly provided what resources it could.  Butte was the largest National Historic Landmark in Montana.  We didn’t really have any idea of the number of resources and exactly what the boundaries included but everyone accepted that Butte was a place apart not only for Montana but much of the United States.  Really strong preservationists and archivists (I admired what Fred Quivik, Ellen Crain, and Brian Shovers were doing there in the mid-1980s) were already in place, doing everything they could to record, identify, and preserve the stories, places, and individuals who shaped this most unique place.  For me, in 1985, Butte was literally a morass: so rich in story, architecture, sense of place, ethnic identity that it was difficult to grasp.  And frankly it remained that way until I returned for a serious engagement with this place in 2012. That is when I stood at the Mile High, Mile Deep Mine, now accessible to the public through the marvelous Copper Trail.

Butte from Mile High MineFrom here you understood that Uptown–the state’s most sophisticated urban setting–was little more than a speck within a larger landscape where people lived and toiled, scratching out lives for their families, building communities, providing raw materials to a hungry industrial world.  But what seemed to me to be the vastness of Butte was actually a decidedly human response to the far greater vastness of the northern Rockies. Here was a landscape of work like few others in this nation.

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 001There are few better places in the United States to explore the landscape of work, and how opportunity attracted all types of people from all sorts of lands to mine the copper, to house the workers, to feed the families, to provide rest and relaxation, to do all of things big and small it takes to keep a place humming 24 hours a day for decades, taking from the earth materials that made modern suburban America possible.

Headframe from Mountain ConI cannot touch upon everything or everyone that define the Butte experience today but in the next several posts I want to dig deep into this landscape and discuss how this transformed place is now, for me, the most compelling spot of all in Montana.

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The Stack and the City: Anaconda

Anaconda Not RP3In my work across Montana in 1984-85 there was no more imposing structure than the smelter stack and works at Anaconda, in Deer Lodge County.  The image above was one I used in the 20 plus listening sessions I had across the state in 1984, gathering perspectives and recommended properties for the state historic preservation plan.  I used the stack because the smelter had just closed–and how this chapter in the state’s mining history could be preserved was on many minds.

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Whenever I visited the western part of the state in subsequent years, a stop in Anaconda was a must, to see if the stack was still there and what maybe was the latest of this modern landmark, this overwhelming symbol of corporate power from the early 20th century.  Some might recall the visitor center that existed there in the mid-1980s.

Club Moderne Anaconda Deer Lodge Co. MT

The stack and its fascinating impact on the landscape wasn’t the only reason I often stopped in Anaconda in the 30 years since the survey.  There was that far different place, the Club Moderne Tavern.When I traveled the state in 1984-1985 this jewel of mid-1930s modern design was not listed in the National Register of Historic Places–Mike Koop of the state office soon took care of that after I left–and now most of Anaconda is included within a massive National Historic Landmark district about Butte-Anaconda and the copper mine culture of the 20th century.  I want to explore the layers of history, and how heritage development have shaped both towns over 30 years, in a series of posts, beginning with my work in Anaconda in 2011-12.

IMG_1649The Washoe Stack is one of the state’s most dominant man-made environments.  For like the massive dams and reservoirs at Hungry Horse, Canyon Creek, and Fort Peck, there is the massiveness of the structure itself, and the thousands of surrounding acres impacted by the property.  Unlike the lakes created by the dams of the first half of the 20th century, however, the stack left devastation in its wake, not recreation, not rebirth.

IMG_1556The old gateway to the smelter introduces you to one lasting legacy of the stack–the tons of slag located along the highway leading in and out of Anaconda.  The huge pile of

IMG_1297seems like some sort of black sand that has washed up on a beach rather the environmental spoils left by 100 years or production.

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The Washoe Smelter almost 100 years ago was considered an engineering marvel. In my last piece of published Montana research, for the Drumlummon Institute’s special book on Butte and Anaconda, I wrote: “The Alphonis Chimney Construction Company built the Washoe Stock for the Anaconda Copper Mining Company in 1918. The stack is 585 feet high, 60 feet wide at the top with an interior diameter of 75 feet. Few industrial structures anywhere compare to it. The stack loomed over the company, its workers, its region, and its state.”

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Historian Laurie Mercier’s book on Anaconda has many valuable insights from local residents on what the stack means.  Bob Vine believed that the Company and God were all the same in Anaconda: “Everybody would get up in the morning and they look and see if there was smoke coming out of that stack and if there was, God was in his heaven and all was right with the world, and we knew we were going to have a paycheck.” (Mercier, Anaconda, p. 1)

IMG_1508In the 1980s, the Atlantic Richfield Corporation, a later owner of the Washoe works, announced the stack’s closing and possible demolition. A community-wide effort to save the stack was launched because, in the poetic words of local union activist Tom Dickson:
ARCO save that stack, touch not a single brick
Signify the livelihood that made Anaconda tick.
Still let it stand there stark against the sky,
Like a somewhat obscene gesture catching every eye. (Mercier, Anaconda, p. 217)

The toxic fumes from the stack infected thousands of acres, with the ironically named community of Opportunity, just north of the smelter works, bearing the brunt of the waste.  Community members continue to fight back for better cleanup of their damaged parks, yards, and businesses.  Indeed, it is still a moonscape around most of the smelter, and one wonders when that ever changes.

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Club Moderne was an oasis for me in Anaconda–an architectural landmark from the 1930s that still felt like stepping back in time, especially with a bartender so knowledgeable of the classic cocktails of mid-century.

IMG_0535That the place remained so intact in the early 1980s was impressive to me–that it remains that way 30 years later is a testament to local stewardship, and continued good times. The interior design of Art Deco details also remain to treat the eye and tempt

the drinking hand.  The place might not be as packed as in the heydays.  Anaconda’s population stood at just about 12,500 in 1930–just over 9,000 called Anaconda home in 2010.  But it, and the long lamented Copper Club (closed for years now) was why you came to Anaconda 30 years ago and spent a night–good food, good drink, and a chance

to experience one of the state’s most architecturally distinctive places.

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