Mineral County’s Milwaukee Road: A Superior Experience

Defined by the railroad, the highway, and the interstate, Superior overlooks the Clark’s Fork River and serves as the seat of government of Mineral County.  Since the bankruptcy

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Mineral Co Superior 2of the Milwaukee Road in 1980, the town has steadily lost population-2oo less residents in 2015 compared to my first visit 30 years earlier.  Never a large place–the town’s top population was 1242 residents in 1960–Superior has several landmark buildings from its railroad days but only one has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

IMG_7451That one place, the Superior School, is spectacular and its tall central tower has long served as a community beacon.  Built 1915-16 by contractor Charles Augustine, the high school reflected Colonial Revival style, and later community growth led to wing additions in 1925, shown above, and in 1947.

 

IMG_7445Another Colonial Revival-styled public building is the Mineral County Courthouse, 1920, complete with its colonial-inspired cupola.  Mineral County was created in 1914. This building is more complete rural interpretation of Colonial Revival style than the school.

Close by is the Mineral County Museum, which opened in 1976 as part of the American bicentennial.  It has substantially increased its collections since my first visit 30 years ago, and serves as an orientation point for the county’s heritage tourism opportunities.

Mineral Co Superior 6 movie theaterThe historic Strand Theater (c. 1915) operated in 1984 but closed in 2013 and remained shuttered when I visited in 2015, no doubt a victim of not only the home theatre phenomenon but also the switch to digital delivery of movies in this decade. This theatre, however, is a rare and important building from the homesteading era of the 1910s.

IMG_7447From the same decade, the historic Masonic Mountain Lodge still operates, serving as another community outlet and center in Superior.  The town’s population height in the 1960s led to the construction of the institutional Ranch-style of the Superior High School, one of two bits of mid-century modernism in Superior.

Mineral Co Superior high school

IMG_7471The other example dates to 1958 and represents yet another example of modern design in a rural Catholic Church in Montana. St Mary Queen of Heaven Catholic Church is also a

Mineral Co Superior St Mary Catholic 3Ranch-styled inspired design, although its stand-alone but visually and physically linked low bell tower is unique compared to other Montana Catholic churches from this era.

Mineral Co Superior St Mary Catholic 2The church is Superior’s best contribution to Montana modernism and complements well the Victorian influence found at the town’s historic United Methodist Church, built almost 50 years earlier. Note that both churches have low bell towers.

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Butte and its wonderful array of domestic architecture

In the early 1980s, when we talked about Butte houses, we had two new house museums on our mind:  the William Clark Mansion (above), home to one of the city’s three major copper kings, and then the very different abode of his brother Charles, known then as the Arts Chateau (below) for its conversion into the city’s art center.

As a historian and historic preservationist of my generation, it was impossible not to revel in the colorful diversity of Victorian era styles found in Montana’s historic mining cities, places like Butte and Helena in particular.  For someone who arrived in Montana from Colonial Williamsburg, the opportunity to finally explore a Victorian era landscape, from the late 1870s–the vernacular Victorian styled Jacobs House below dates c. 1879– to the turn of the century, was a delight.

It also was a responsibility.  Even in 1984 it was clear that there would never be adequate public monies for the needs of the town’s domestic architecture.  A new sense of stewardship, and the ability to solve preservation issues at the local level, would be required–and the Butte historic district commission is just one of the groups that has helped to fill that gap. Butte CPR–Citizens for Preservation and Revitalization–has made

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A Butte CPR project from May 2012

a significant impact through its grant programs for facade improvements and repair.  The organization formed in 1994 and has provided vital funds for historic preservation work on both private homes and businesses for over 20 years.

Butte from Main Hall 3

These efforts could come none too soon.  In the 1980s it seemed that three generations of historic houses would rot away because no one wanted to live on the hill and had headed to the suburban utopia of the flats.  Friends often kidded me about getting my Butte getaway for $25K.  Not that the depressed, and depressing, situation was without its temptations. The housing stock is fascinating in its variety, details, historical associations, and sense of time and place.

616 & 820 W. Broadway, Butte

W. Broadway, Butte

 

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Eugene Carroll House, c. 1880, a bit of late Italianate style in Butte.

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During the boom of the late 19th and early 20 centuries, housing on prominent streets was fitted in wherever possible, as private homes also became rentals for boarders and temporary residents.  At the same time, middle-class business owners and mine administrators engaged architects to design their homes, or duplexes, in the fashionable academic styles.   In c. 1890 John Patterson was the designer of the McHatton House while Moses Bassett designed the Largely Flats (both below).

These middle-class Victorians are prized today, and Butte has dozens, especially along West Granite and Broadway.

Let there be no doubt, however, Butte’s houses also documented the chasm between labor and capital in the copper city.  The small, vernacular-styled dwellings of the working class have disappeared from so much of the city–such places are almost always the first victims of urban renewal–but enough remain, stuck here and there to convey what most laborers had as home back in the boom era.

2011 MT Silver Bow County Butte 075In the north end, Walkerville still shows this working side of domestic architecture well.

Walkerville neighborhood, off of Main StHere are blocks upon blocks of the unpretentious, yet homey, dwellings of those drilling out a life below the ground.  And elsewhere in the city you have surviving enclaves of the

plain homes of the era, with some enlivened by glorious combinations of yard art.

 

IMG_1259Some places speak to larger truths, often hidden in the landscape, of segregated spaces and segregated lives.  This corner of Idaho Street (see below) was once home to the local African Methodist Episcopal church, which served a small surrounding neighborhood of black families.

Idaho St at Shaffers AME

By the turn of the century, the local titans of capital lived in a far different neighborhood, concentrated along North Excelsior and Park Avenue.  Here was the Hodgens-Ryan House of 1899, 1906 in flamboyant Colonial Revival style.  Nearby on Park was the Hennessy Mansion, c. 1900, with its two-story Colonial Revival-inspired portico providing a sense of the grandiose to what otherwise was just another brick four-square house.

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Hodges-Ryan House, c. 1899, 1906

847 Park, Hennessey Mansion, c. 1900, Butte

Hennessy Mansion c. 1900. 

In the early 1980s, we were not even thinking about the “contemporary style” homes of the 1950s and 1960s.  We saw ourselves as edgy when we even gave bungalows, like these

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along Gold Street, a second look.  When you come to Butte today, it is impossible to ignore how the city has several outstanding examples of mid-20th century domestic architecture.  Ophir Street might be the best destination, but Montrose Street also has its marvels.

501 Montrose, contemporary

This post has focused on detached houses–boarding houses and apartment complexes are also found throughout the city’s residential areas.  The Mueller Apartments may have been the most ambitious but many others, like the Scott, have been restored to new lives.

The comeback of Butte’s residential neighborhoods is no miracle–it is the legacy of a generation of long-term and new citizens determined to build the foundation for Butte’s future through homes for their families.

Bozeman’s neighborhoods

The quality of Bozeman’s historic residential area between downtown and Montana State University was apparent even to me in 1984-85–someone at the time much more in tune with public buildings, industrial corridors, and downtown blocks than the mix of Victorian, vernacular, and 20th century revival styles that you find in Bozeman’s historic neighborhoods.

Gallatin Co Bozeman Willson Ave 5 Willson House

Everyone at the state historic preservation office was excited about the 1985 listing of the Burr Fisher House, designed in distinctive Spanish Colonial style by Bozeman architect Fred Willson, and wherever you looked you saw potential for many other properties, if not entire neighborhoods. Passing decades had left to neglect, perhaps not the wisest choices in treatments or tenants, but the potential remained to be tapped.

As indicated by the above before and after photos, with the 1985 image on the left and the 2015 image on the right, the last 30 years have been a time of transformation and restoration in many of the downtown neighborhoods.  Indeed, where there were no historic residential historic districts, there are now multiple districts, crisscrossing the city and creating a real foundation for community stability, pride, identity, and growth.

What I didn’t notice as well in 1985 as I did last year was the neighborhood’s imprint of Montana modernism from the New Deal era, represented so well by the Longfellow School

and its long horizontal massing and stylish entrance, to the contemporary styles of the 1960s into the 1970s, as seen below, in the Grand Avenue Catholic Center, and the contemporary style house on Story Avenue.

Gallatin Co Bozeman Grand Ave Catholic Center 1950s

Gallatin Co Bozeman Story Ave 1950s modern

These dwellings are truly just a taste of the richness and diversity of architectural statements in the town’s historic neighborhoods from Main Street to the university.  Bozeman’s successful neighborhood districts represent one of the lasting achievements of historic preservation and property owner engagement in Montana over the last 30 years.