Flathead County’s Gateway Communities to Glacier

Flathead Co Columbia Falls mural

U.S. Highway 2 east of Kalispell has grown into a four-lane highway (mostly–topography thus far has kept it as a two-lane stretch west of Hungry Horse) designed to move travelers back and forth from Kalispell to Glacier National Park.  In my 1984-85 state historic preservation plan work, I thought of Columbia Falls, Hungry Horse, and Martin

Flathead Co Hungry Horse HuckleberryCity as one large tourism funnel.  After spending a good part of 2006-2007 working with local residents and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park about the heritage and preservation of Gatlinburg, Tennessee–one of the most notorious gateways into any national park–I learned to look deeper than the highway landscape and find some real jewels in each of these Glacier National Park gateway communities.

There is much more than the highway to Columbia Falls, as the three building blocks above indicate, not to mention the lead image of this blog, the town’s Masonic Lodge which has been turned into one huge public art mural about the town’s history as well as its surrounding landscape.  Go to the red brick Bandit’s Bar above, and you soon discover that Columbia Falls has a good sense of itself, and even confidence that it can survive new challenges as its population has soared by over 2,000 residents since the 1980s, totaling over 5,000 today.

Once solely dependent on the Montana Veterans’ Home (1896), which is now a historic district, and then relying on the Weyerhaeuser sawmill for year round employment, Columbia Falls faces a different future now once the mill closed in the summer of 2016, taking away 200 jobs. As the historic business buildings above indicate, historic preservation could be part of that future, as the downtown’s mix of classic Western Commercial blocks mesh with modern takes on Rustic and Contemporary design and are complemented, in turn, by historic churches and the Art Deco-influenced school.

Once you leave the highway, in other words, real jewels of turn of the 20th century to mid-20th century design are in the offing.  In 1984–I never looked that deep.

Flathead Co Hungry Horse 1At Hungry Horse, however, I did leave the highway and explored the marvelous landscape created by the Hungry Horse Dam and Reservoir, a mid-20th century project by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The agency justified the dam as a hydroelectric power project for a growing Flathead County and as a boost to local irrigation.  The irrigation side of the project–the real reason the agency exists–never happened and Hungry Horse today is an electric power and recreational project.

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Flathead Co Hungry Horse Dam 10I appreciated the vastness of the concrete arch dam–the 11th largest concrete dam in the United States–as well as the beauty of Hungry Horse Reservoir, an under-appreciated tourism asset as anyone in Flathead County will tell you.  But again, I let just the size and impact of the dam distract me from some of the details of its construction that, today, are so striking.

Here I am thinking primarily of the contemporary design of the Visitors Center–its stone facade suggesting its connection to the now covered river bluffs but the openness of its interior conveying the ideas of space associated with 1950s design.

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img_8779I am concerned, however, about news in September 2015 that Reclamation has contracted for updates and renovation at the Visitor Center–let’s hope that the classic 1950s look of the property is not sacrificed.

Flathead Co Martin City

 

Martin City is just enough off of U.S. Highway 2–it is situated more on the historic Great Northern Railroad corridor–to miss out on the gateway boom of the last 30 years, although with both the Southfork Saloon and the Deer Lick Saloon it retains its old reputation as a rough-edged place for locals.

For railroad travelers in the first half of the 20th century, West Glacier was THE west gateway into Glacier National Park.  The Great Northern Railway developed both the classic Rustic-styled passenger station and the adjacent Arts and Crafts/Chalet styled Belton Chalet Hotel in 1909-1910, a year before Congress created Glacier National Park.

img_8785Architect Kirtland Cutter of Spokane was the architect and the chalet design was actually just a smaller scale and less adorned version of the Idaho State Exhibition Building that he had designed for the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. Cutter is one of the major figures of the Arts and Crafts Movement in the American Northwest and we will look at another of his buildings for the railroad and Glacier in the next post about Lake McDonald Lodge.

The Cutter buildings for the railroad between 1909-1913 set a design standard for West Glacier to follow, be it through a modern-day visitor center and a post office to the earlier mid-20th century era of the local school and then gas stations and general stores for tourists entering the national park by automobile.

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This blog has never hidden the fact, however, that my favorite Glacier gateway in Flathead County is miles to the east along U.S. Highway 2 at the old railroad town of Essex, where the railroad still maintains facilities to help push freight trains over the Continental Divide.  The Izaak Walton Inn was one of the first National Register assignments given to

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me by State Historic Preservation Officer Marcella Sherfy–find the facts, she asked, to show that this three story bunk house, railroad offices, and local post merited exceptional significance for the National Register.  Luckily I did find those facts and shaped that argument–the owners then converted a forgotten building into a memorable historical experience. Rarely do I miss a chance to spend even a few minutes here, to watch and hear the noise of the passing trains coming from the east or from the west and to catch a sunset high in the mountains of Flathead County.

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Butte’s Uptown Funk

IMG_1134.JPGIn thinking about returning to Montana in 2012 and carrying out a huge “re-survey” of the places I had explored for the state historic preservation plan process 30 years earlier, Butte was high on my list of priorities.  Not that the city and its surroundings had been given little attention in the early 1980s–the Copper City was already recognized as a National Historic Landmark, and a team of historians, architects, and engineers had just finished a large study of its built environment for the Historic American Building Survey and the Historic American Engineering Record.  No, I wanted to go back because by 1985 many people counted Butte down and out, yet it had survived and started to reinvent itself.  Not

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 064as a ghost town or the skeleton of a great mining city but as a revitalized place, both economically and culturally, centered in a strong core community, even though the challenges in front of it remain daunting, even overwhelming at times.

Mountain Con Mine EThe environmental degradation left when the hard rock mines shut down is one burden that Butte has shouldered, with the help of the federal superfund program.  Still, no matter how scientifically this landscape has been “cleaned up,” it remained scarred, and it is a far different challenge to build back hope into a place stripped of its life.  Yet high over the city is a sign of the change to come in the Mountain Con Mine site.

Mountain Con Mine 6Still labeled as a Mile High and a Mile Deep place, the mine property is stunning, not only for its technological assertion–imagine working that high, and going that deep–but for its conversion into the walking/hiking/biking trails that encircle the city and present it with such potential as a recreational landscape.

Transformation, that it is what strikes me as I wander down the trail and into Butte’s famous, or is it infamous, “Uptown” district.  Butte is far from the place it was 30 years

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 030ago, with all sorts of signs of new investment, new pride, and community identity.  It may have lost a step, or two, and its swagger may not be quite as exaggerated as it was in the mid-20th century, but it remains a place with its own feel, its own funk.  For me, the reopening of the M&M Bar on Main Street–a legendary dive once shuttered, reopened, and shuttered again–gives me hope for Butte in the 21st century.  Around the corner is

another institution, Gamer’s Cafe, which is situated within the marvelous Victorian eclecticism of the Curtis Music Hall of 1892.

Both establishments are for locals but visitors are tolerated, even welcomed.  Indeed a degree of openness and acceptance have grown in Butte, a marked change from when the city’s Chinese residents lived and operated businesses on the edge of Uptown, along

IMG_0842Mercury Street; at the same time the sex trade was alive and well to the east of that same street in a series of boarding houses and hotels.  The Dumas Brothel, discussed in an earlier post, is listed in the National Register and its future as an adaptive reuse project and place for public interpretation is promising but not yet realized.  African Americans in

early 20th century Butte lived even farther down the hill from Uptown, in a small neighborhood around Idaho Street and the Shaffers African Methodist Episcopal Church, now a pentecostal meeting house.

Idaho St at Shaffers AME

Uptown today is more a place for everyone, and has become the center of the community’s identity.  It is easy to see why:  massive, soaring buildings like the Metals Bank and Trust Tower and Hotel Finlen lend architectural dignity to the surroundings.  Early 20th century classicism gives character and substance to Metals Bank whereas the Finlen has a classy

Renaissance Revival-style skin but then it has a spectacular contemporary Colonial Revival interior design, reminding us of Butte’s resurgence during the heyday of the Berkeley Pit boom from the mid-1950s through the turbulent 1960s.

The Hennessy Block is another commercial landmark, from the city’s founding generation, that has looked for a long-term solution for decades now.  Built in 1898 with support from mine magnate Marcus Daly, the building housed what most consider to be the state’s first full-fledged department store, headed by and named for Daniel Hennessy.  Minneapolis architect Frederick Kees designed it in a Renaissance Revival style.  In 1901 the Anaconda Copper Company moved its executive offices to the top of the building, making it perhaps the leading corporate landmark in the city.

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2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 038The massive building still dominates the Uptown building, making its closure in Butte in 1980 that more disturbing for residents.  When I did my preservation plan work in 1984-1985 the issue of what to do with the Hennessy was at the forefront.  By the end of the decade, ENTECH renovated the building and reopened it fully for business.  In 2010 came the popular Hennessy Market–giving the growing number of Uptown residents a grocery store once again.

IMG_0790The Sliver Bow Club building (1906-7) also has shifted its purpose, from being the stately and eloquent clubhouse of the city’s elite to becoming a place for public offices and meetings in its once exclusive spaces.  Originally conceived by the same Spokane architects who designed the Lake McDonald Lodge in Glacier National Park, according to recent research by museum curator and preservationist Patty Dean, the building’s architects ended up being Link and Haire, the noted Montana architectural firm.

The interior design came yet from another important firm, William A. French and Company of St. Paul, Minnesota.  Here you find one of the state’s best “Arts and Crafts Movement” themed interiors–and one of the best in the entire West.

The interior design speaks loudly to the gender and class focus of the social club. Its success set there table for Link and Haire’s next Butte masterpiece, the Beaux Arts-styled Silver Bow County Courthouse (1910-1912).  Few public spaces in the state, save, perhaps the State Capitol, rival the Butte courthouse for its ornate exterior and interior, representing an overstatement of public authority and power in a city where a handful of mining interests made so many of the decisions.

Two years after it opened, the courthouse was not a refuge for those in need but a barracks for the state militia during the violence of 1914.  Today, however, it is most definitely the people’s house, and was duly celebrated during its 100th birthday in 2012.  It is part of the city’s distinguished public landscape, including the Victorian City Hall and the Beaux Arts classicism of the Police Department.

Of course, there is much more to see and say about Uptown Butte, but hopefully this is enough to show community pride at work, the value of historic preservation, and a proud city on the upswing, despite the obstacles before it.

The West Yellowstone Gateway

Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD

When I think about nationally significant resources that are too rarely, for my taste, recognized as such, I think about West Yellowstone and its Union Pacific Railroad complex.  It is not that the residents of West Yellowstone, Montana, do not identify these places as vitally significant to their history–few districts have better public

interpretation courtesy of the West Yellowstone Walking Tour, one of the best examples of local heritage tourism I have seen in the country, period. But still within the history of the western national parks the role of the Union Pacific, as it extended far north of its mainline to reach Yellowstone National Park, is seldom considered, much less appreciated.

Officially the property was designated as the West Yellowstone Oregon Short Line Terminus and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  Several buildings and structures, including a bit of the railroad line are included in the district.  Construction of the line occurred from 1906-1908 and the first passengers arriving in the latter year.  The passenger depot now serves as a museum, not just about the railroad but about the

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development of the park and the adjacent region.  Completed in 1909 and designed by the railroad’s engineering office using rhyolite stone, the depot with its prominent brackets and arches reflect elements of the Arts and Crafts style popular at the time.  When passenger traffic to the depot ended c. 1970, the railroad deeded the depot to the town of West Yellowstone and a private museum was installed c. 1972.  The Yellowstone Historic Center leased the depot in 2000 and has installed much improved exhibits–again part of the general improvement in public interpretation at the district in the last 30 years.

IMG_0873  The district’s architectural jewel, the Dining Room, dates almost a generation later to 1926.  Architect Gilbert S. Underwood designed one of the late marvels of the Rustic style as defined in the northern Rockies.  With its rugged stone exterior rising as it was a natural formation in the land, the dining room immediately told arriving visitors that an adventure awaited them, especially once they stepped inside and experienced the vast log interior spaces.

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Gallatin Co West yellowstone Union Pacific Depot NRHD 34Other former Union Pacific buildings have been given adaptive reuse treatment by the town, with a baggage building becoming police headquarters and the former men’s dormitory has been converted into a local health clinic.

West Yellowstone is also an entrepreneurial landscape, with the early Madison Hotel, which is listed in the National Register, being just the beginning of a trend where local businesses began to serve visitors to the park, especially as the automobile replaced the train as the primary way to reach this gateway after World War II.

IMG_6580Thus, West Yellowstone is among Montana’s best examples of roadside architecture as distinctive 19502-1960w motels and a wide assortment of commercial types line both U.S. 191 but also the side arteries to the highway.